I worked for a couple of years in marketing for winemaker Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard. During my tenure I split time between my native New England and the Central Coast. After a long haul flight and long Monday at the winery offices in Westside Santa Cruz, I would amble across our small parking lot to the New Leaf Market next door. There I’d buy my food for the week: yogurt, bread, cheese, granola, fruit, a heap of Coastal Kale Salad, and a few slabs of savory something-or-other.
And I would browse the wine shelves. I turned an especially keen eye to wines made by Bonny Doon’s peers, winemakers working with Rhône wheelhouse grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, and Carignan. These varieties do well in that curl of land along Monterey Bay for the same reason they do well in southern France. Both terroirs are sunny and dry, but also washed by cooling breezes. Both sport a shock of brushy herbs in the waste and margins—in Gigondas and Vacqueyras it’s called garrigue—that seem, poetically at least, to contribute resinous top notes. In certain spots, especially the higher hillsides, the grapes ripen slowly and inexorably, but even by the end of the season they can still pop with acidity.
Morgan was one of the wineries on New Leaf’s shelves. Also Tablas Creek, Martin Ranch, Qupé, Birichino. There were many others, and many that don’t ever make their way East. I’d add a couple of bottles to my cart, push toward the check-out, bantering with the smiley front-end team, then trundle the haul to my tinny rental car. During crush our shared lot was a hive of activity around the clock, and even if my day was ending and the sky was velvet black, the cellar crew might still be zipping forklifts through canyons of bins. I always felt sheepish leaving that job in process, but I would console myself that all beautiful projects require many hands, and mine were supposed to be on a keyboard, not in the must.
Which is all to say that this was not the first time in my life I had tasted Morgan’s wines, but it is what Morgan evokes to me: long days, late nights, and California wine in process.
Morgan’s Cotes du Crow’s* is their entry-level red Rhône style blend. It’s a little more than half Grenache, a little less than half Syrah, with a soupçon of the Spanish black grape Tempranillo. They ferment it in open top tanks and transfer the wine to French oak, mostly neutral, and finish it (as Bonny Doon does) with a screw cap. This makes it a genie in a bottle, needing some time to acclimate to air. Once it wakes up it reads as a ripe wine, with candied red fruits and dark plums sparkled by a wink of spice. Juicy and drinkable, I like it with snacks and sandwiches, picnic foods, pizza—and New Leaf’s Coastal Kale Salad.
2015 Morgan Cotes du Crow’s Monterey
14.2% abv | $18 (sample)
*Morgan omits the circumflex from the o in the French-origin côtes (meaning slope); France’s Côte-Rôtie is Syrah based, while Côtes du Rhône is heavy on Grenache. Crow’s is an evident pun on Crozes-Hermitage, a Northern Rhône appellation focused on Syrah.