In a surreal setting, cradled in between the Vaca Mountain range, vineyards and giant oak trees, we sat down for a tasting of the current releases of Wilson Foreigner wines. David and Christine Wilson graciously led me through their wines on this ideal afternoon at Rancho Chimiles.
This vineyard dates to 1940s when David’s parents, Terry and Virginia Wilson, made the decision to plant several acres of Valdeguié, a varietal also known as Napa Gamay.
it is a varietal that eventually gave birth to the Wilson Foreigner brand. Terry Wilson, a former surfer and professional photographer, had the vision of planting grapes when Virginia’s family acquired the ranch in the early ‘40s. The two had met at the Fillmore Theater in San Francisco in the 1960s while attending a show, and the rest is history.
Rancho Chimiles is now a well-established vineyard that serves as source for a number of Napa Valley wineries from Pahlmeyer Vineyards to Andy Erickson’s own Favia Wines with varietals ranging from Napa Valley’s King Cabernet Sauvignon to Spain’s Tempranillo.
Currently, Wilson Foreigner produces three wines with a well-defined focus on the so-called New California approach, a movement that champions exciting wines from historic varietals with a compelling and balanced approach to winemaking.
The project launched with two wines in 2015; the Wilson Foreigner Valdiguie from Rancho Chimiles, where David grew up, and the Wilson Foreigner Albariño from the historic Rorick Vineyard in Calaveras County. Later, they came across a fascinating source for Zinfandel planted in the early 1900s at the foot of Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County.
The story of Wilson Foreigner was born when David spent some time in Swartland in South Africa in 2005 making wine. During this period, he met Chris Alheit, a South African native who shares David’s passion for wine. The two hit it off immediately and started planning for the brand that now produces less than 600 cases annually.
The wines we tasted that afternoon are part of the current offerings, including the 2017 Wilson Foreigner Albariño, Rorick Vineyard, Sierra Foothills ($28). The vines were planted in 2013 in soils that David describes as “a mosaic of layers including limestone, schist, granite and volcanic soil types making it ideal for Albariño”. These vineyards stand at 2,000 feet elevation with a cool climate and eastern exposure. The wine is simply stunning, with hints of orange marmalade, an ocean mist layer, saline and cleansing.
Also sampled was 2017 Wilson Foreigner Zinfandel ‘Del Barba Vineyard’ Contra Costa County ($30); some of the oldest vineyards planted in California at 108 years old, “A rare and exciting sighting when you first come across this landscape of head trained bushy and ancient vines,” David said with excitement.
“We were very lucky to have access to this unique vineyard,” he adds. The notes on this wine are extensive and generous, starting with plum, blueberry jam and bramble leading into a lush and velvety mouthfeel with elegance and sculptured finesse.
Lastly, the wine that made me a lifelong fan and believer of this varietal, 2017 Wilson Foreigner Valdiguié, Rancho Chimiles, Napa Valley ($33) a production of only 160 cases from old and healthy vines that make a wine exploding with violets, grapefruit and white pepper with silky tannins and a long and cleansing finish, unique in my world. This wine’s nature allows it to be enjoyed either at cellar temperature or a recommended slight chill. The pairing possibilities are endless, from a holiday dinner to picnic fare in the beach.
The wines were graciously orchestrated by Christine to pair with an array of dishes from Foodshed in Napa where the Wilson Foreigner wines can be spotted.
An array ranging from a summer beet salad to rustic Italian style pizza paired perfectly with the wines.
There are many reasons Wilson Foreigner wines are amongst my top-rated California expressions. In a few words — honest, expressive and worth sharing with friends.