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In California, Red Wine Producers Embrace a Nonvintage Model

There’s nothing novel about blending multiple vintages of wine into one bottle. It’s the basic formula for things like Champagne, Sherry and Port, after all. But a growing number of California producers are applying the concept to still red wines.

“Wineries and winemakers get too hung up on vintage-dated and vineyard-designated wines,” says John Falcone, a veteran of Napa and Santa Barbara wine regions who makes Falcone Family Vineyards with his wife, Helen Falcone, from their small estate in Paso Robles. About 15 years ago, the couple launched their multivintage Annaté, inspired by pre-1980s California bottlings that embraced the nonvintage (NV) model.

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Their current release blends Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah from 2019, 2020 and 2021. “Not being limited to a single vintage is a great advantage because the texture, aromas, flavors and color can be quite distinct from one year to another with most red grape varieties,” says Falcone. “This allows us to select barrels with more texture and structure from older vintage barrels, and fill the remaining blend with higher tone fruit or varietals from younger barrels to craft a particular style of wine.”

Gary Robinson of Left Bend Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains started his solera-style Mashup in 2010. He was inspired by Sherry as well as the proof-of-concept success of nonvintage Abacus by ZD Wines, which fetches up to $800 a bottle. “Consumers often don’t have the space or patience to age wine,” says Robinson, whose Mashup 7 features five grapes from nine different vineyards across 10 vintages. “Mashup lets our customers experience an aged wine when it’s released. We are committed to a winemaking process that takes time, and you can’t manufacture time.”

Smith Devereux is one of the few Napa brands on board, making the Setta blend as a collaboration with Cedric the Entertainer. “You get to make the best wine from the grapes you grow without the constraints of a number,” says Ian Devereux White, whose current release blends Cab, Merlot and Syrah from 2018 and 2019. “That’s an open door to creativity and a sweet taste of freedom!”

The Sierra Foothills are a nonvintage hotbed. For Lava Cap Winery, it was innovation by necessity. “Our neighborhood bear’s favorite food is our Mourvèdre, and just the Mourvèdre,” says winemaker Nolan Jones, who races the bear each harvest. “Most years, the bear is on the winning side of the battle, and the result has been consistently small yields.”

Recalling his experience at Bollinger in Champagne, Jones combined multiple vintages into a blend. They were initially worried, but everyone loved it, so they kept making the NV Mourvèdre and have since added a Tempranillo and the American River Red blend to their NV portfolio. “It might take breaking some long held traditions, but there is an untapped opportunity for producers across the industry to craft spectacular wines through the use of multiple vintages,” says Jones. “This opportunity will only become more important as the industry grapples with the increasing environmental pressures associated with global warming—fires, frost, drought, flooding … and hungry bears.”

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About 25 minutes south, Miraflores Winery produces Rojo Red; the most recent release is a blend of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Primitivo and Syrah from the 2018 and 2019 vintages. “There is something simplistic and refreshing, yet still challenging, in the winemaking process, by creating a nonvintage wine,” says general manager Ashlee Cuneo. “It is also an incredibly efficient, sustainable and economical way to utilize any extra wine that we have leftover from a previous vintage, which prevents waste along with being able to produce a quality wine that will always be affordable for our customers.”

Nonvintage Wines to Try

Falcone NV Annate XIII Red (Paso Robles)

This is a blend of mostly Petite Sirah plus Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from across three vintages, making for a unique and exquisitely layered wine. Intensely dark in the glass, the bottling offers stewed and roasted blackberry, black olive and purple-flower aromas. The black fruits of the palate are heavy and impactful yet balanced by graphite, fine tannins and just enough acidity. Editor’s Choice. 93 Points  — Matt Kettmann

$65 Falcone Family Vineyards

Smith Devereux NV Setta Red (Napa Valley)

Opening with toasted oak and graphite aromas, this big, Merlot-dominant blend is deep in dark chocolate, black currants, cedar and oak-char flavors that show good concentration. It boasts a full body, moderate to full tannins and will develop with age. Best from 2027–2033. 93 Points — Jim Gordon

$84 Smith Devereux

Miraflores NV Rojo Red (El Dorado)

This big, mouthfilling and generous wine blended from mostly Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and Barbera shows delicious ripeness and plenty of blackberry and dark-chocolate flavors on a full body supported by nicely integrated tannins. It’s broad, easy and luscious to sip. 90 Points  — J.G.

Lava Cap NV American River Red Cabernet Sauvignon (California)

A big structure and powerful oak and black-fruit flavors give this full-bodied wine a lot of presence. Aromas of cedar, tobacco and black cherry are followed by punchy berry and cassis flavors wrapped in firm tannins. Best after 2022. 90 Points  — J.G.


Left Bend NV Mashup Version 7 Red (Santa Cruz Mountains)

The initial batch of this nonvintage, solera-style bottling began in 2010, and it’s been intriguing to follow along through the annual releases. This version offers rounded aromas of blackberry and prominent woodspice show on the nose. The palate combines blackberry, cracked pepper and ample herbs with a redwood spice. Editor’s Choice. 90 Points   — M.K.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2024 of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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