Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Shepherds' Wine Part One: Interview With the Winemaker

This is the first blog of a two-part series introducing a new California wine producer. William Allen, a friend and fellow wine blogger, recently released wines under his Two Shepherds label for the first time. These wines express his passion for Rhone varieties as well as his belief that wine should be interesting, unique, and accessible. I support William and the Two Shepherds wines so I sent him ten questions, hoping to gain some insight into his motivations, goals, and dreams. William was kind enough to respond and I am posting his answers verbatim for you to read.

In the next blog installment, I will be tasting and sharing my thoughts on his three current white wines as well as an un-released red Rhone blend (hint: it's great!). For now, pour a glass of your favorite wine and get inside the bottle with Two Shepherds Vineyards.

1. What got you into Rhone varietals?

"As my palate progressed away from over extracted New World styles, to wines that were more subtle and nuanced, I fell in love with Rhones. Rhone wines and blends offer complexity more succinctly. Rhone varietals sing when blended, and each variety offers more unique contribution, then say, Bordeaux varietals. They also tend to be less tinkered with by wine producers. Rhone lovers are passionate about their wines and this category."

2. Why make your own wine?

"I have been a garagiste wine & beer maker for over ten years. Making wine in very small lots has its limits to what you can do. I really wanted to start making blends, which meant producing at least a barrel of each varietal. It turns out even that was too limited for the tools I wanted. I also wanted to put my money where my (wine writing) mouth was: after many years of tasting and writing, I felt I could bring wines to the world that would be enjoyable, and unique."

3. Biggest challenge in making these wines?

"Working with varietals I haven’t before, so not knowing how they are doing during each phase, and projecting how they would taste in the future, and if they would achieve the stylistic goal I clearly had in mind for each. Using techniques like broad scale use of native yeast. Triangulating the many inputs from other winemakers into the many decisions I had to make.
Ask 10 wine makers the same question, and you’ll get 7 answers back."

4. Did you model your wines on any particular producer or more of a regional style?

"It’s a combination of Old World focus, and wines that were epiphanies for me, like Kinero Grenache Blanc, that stylistically I loved. Certainly Tablas Creek blazes a bright trail for me. Successful small winemakers, in my opinion, make wines to their own palate and passion. I have been preaching about balanced, modest, distinct wines and rampaging against Parker-esque extracted styles for years. By sourcing varietals from cool climates, like the Russian River Valley, I was determined to make wines that were properly ripened, but lower in alcohol and higher in acidity."

5. Future plans for the label? Burgundy or Bordeaux varieties perhaps?

"The goal right now is Rhones, but never say never. Artistically I love to play, and its easy to chase shiny objects, but the marketer in me knows the importance of focus. That said, I will always be on the lookout for interesting varietals and vinification techniques. This year for example, I did two ‘orange wine’ projects, one from an obscure white, that could end up as a wine club offering. Two Shepherds is focused on bringing consumers interesting & unique wines."

6. Is there one thing you're most proud of with the current releases?

"That stylistically they expressed what I wanted, and have been so widely received by some very picky people, like the girl & the fig, the Bay area’s most Rhone focused cult restaurant, and Mike Jordan, a very picky wine buyer for K&L Wines, one of San Francisco’s best wine shops. I adore Grenache and I think the Grenache Blanc and Grenache based GSM are wonderful. I’d gladly drink every bottle if they didn’t sell, but they are flying off the shelves and I have already had to limit sales. Luckily, we boosted 2011 production from 175 cases, to ~500."

7. Why the name Two Shepherds?

"We struggled on the name for a long time, it actually delayed our launch by months. So many great names were taken, and wanted something that captured our old world philosophy. Our friends at Cartograph finally gave us the idea, commenting I was a shepherd for the local wine industry with my networking. It also fit my view of myself as a writer, trying to help and guide consumers on the voyage of wine exploration. The other Shepherd, or Shepherdess is Michelle my girlfriend, to whose creative talent we owe much of the design credit, as well as our brilliant label designer Nick McNeil at Agency Orange. Her last name is Berger, which is French for Shepherd. We ran the idea past a few people, and its been a big hit."

8. Any winemakers in particular whom helped you?

"Very many, including some coaching by none other than Randall Grahm. Anthony Yount in Paso Robles, of Denner & his own label Kinero. Alan Baker of Cartograph, the Sheldons. Many of my good friends offered advice. Direct supervision and consulting came from Darek Trowbridge (Old World Winery) and Kevin Hamel (Preston, many others) both known for the minimalist intervention focus. Jon Philips of Inspiration Vineyards, where we presently vinify at, was a huge asset during blending, bottling, and this tricky 2011 harvest."

9. What's the best bottle of wine you've ever tasted?

"That’s pretty tough one for someone who tastes a ridiculous amount of wine each year, wearing my blogger hat. The Sheldon 2009 Graciano comes first to mind."

10. Is there one thing in particular you want people to know about the Two Shepherds wines?

"More about our wine philosophy overall, than us. I want consumers to always be open minded, try new things, and push their palate. I hate when I hear things like “I don’t drink white wine” (try my Rhone winter white MRV blend), or "I hate chardonnay" (ever tried French?). I can’t stand that consumers have been trained to think that all red wine must be dark, or all whites clear. That’s like saying all cheese should come in single wrapped slices. The world produces hundreds of great varietals, and unique wines are finally coming into vogue. Open up, live a little, and try them."

We now have a more complete picture of the Two Shepherds label, and I will reiterate how cool it is to see a blogger put his money where his mouth is. Read the next blog post, Two Shepherds' Wines Part Two: Tasting New Releases, to see my tasting notes on the current releases.

To purchase the Two Shepherds wines, visit the website or email them direct. If you're in the Bay Area or don't mind having the wines shipped, K&L Wine Merchants also carries the Two Shepherds label. Tomorrow I will post the second part of my Two Shepherds blog series discusses each wine in more detail, along with tasting notes and some food pairings.

Two Shepherds on Facebook
Two Shepherds on Twitter
Two Shepherds on the web

Beau Carufel


  1. Great interview... wished more approached winemaking this way

  2. Looking forward to Part Two! I wasn't familiar with this winemaker. Love the logo!

  3. Thanks for the great article Beau, and the community love. Looking forward to your review today, right before we fly to the Rhone valley for a research trip. :p