The Wild, Wacky, Wonderful World of John Williams of Frog’s Leap and the Sparkling Brilliance of Gloria Ferrer
By Len Presutti
Frog’s Leap Winery
This is one of those fairy tale-like stories you would be hard pressed to make up! John Williams had pitched a tent in a yard in Napa that was apparently owned by Larry Turley. To hear Larry explain it, as told to Wine Spectator in the June 30th, 2013 issue, “The day I bought it, I had worked all night and I come home on my motorcycle and there’s a tent in my front yard. I was a little cranky so I drove through the tent. The occupant was somewhat startled, and I said, ‘What are you doing?’ and, to his credit, he said, ‘Well I’m about to have a drink of wine.’ And he pulled a bottle from beneath his pillow.” As previously mentioned, the man in the tent was John Williams. In 1981, he and Larry – who left Frog’s Leap the early 1990s to work on his own projects – decided to start a winery. John found an abandoned plot along Mill Creek called ‘The Frog Farm.’ An old ledger revealed that around the turn of the century frogs were raised there and sold for 33 cents a dozen, no doubt to supply the needs of Victorian San Francisco gourmets. John felt many Napa wineries were taking themselves too seriously at the time and decided to call his winery the amusing name, Frog’s Leap. The motto he adopted was “Time’s fun when you’re having flies.” The wines, on the other hand, are quite serious. Here are some favorites with tasting notes from the winery:
2012 Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc (Rutherford, Napa Valley) $23 – The nearly picture perfect growing season of 2012 has imprinted its own character onto the 2012 Sauvignon Blanc. Make no mistake, the slate and minerality typical of Frog’s Leap Sauvignon Blanc is all there and anchors the wine in its Rutherford roots. It offeres a hint of white peach or perhaps a bit of lychee that only is there in the best vintages.
2011 Frog’s Leap Chardonnay (Napa Valley) $30 – Much of the complexity and style of this wine comes from the unique combination of barrel fermentation followed by aging in concrete vats. The result is a wine with compelling flavors and a bright crisp mouthfeel. Lightly scented citrus and stone fruit aromatics are followed by flavors of apricot, wet-stone and vanilla. Seductive and elegant, you will be tempted for a second and third sip. The beauty of this wine immediately opens up culinary possibilities rarely found in bigger California Chardonnays. Try it with halibut, oysters, oven-roasted chicken breast, or fresh Dungeness crab with some hot garlic butter.
2010 Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) $50 – Deep, intense black fruit, bright acidity and long gorgeous flavors are a hallmark of this long growing season and a reason to celebrate the intense effort and sacrifice it took to get there. The 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon is a classic. Made to accompany that herb-crusted standing rib roast, it surely will not disappoint. Throw a few bottles in the cellar…they will certainly reward the effort over the next 20 years.
2009 Frog’s Leap Rutherford (Rutherford, Napa Valley) $90-To meet the standard to be included in a ‘Rutherford’ blend, it is not enough to be an outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. A select barrel of our Rutherford Bench Cabernet must transcend varietal convention to become truly ‘Rutherford.’ Marked by dusky aromas of cocoa and cassis, succulent flavors of ripe blueberries, distinctive ‘dust’ and the long full mouth-feel that is like “running your hand over velvet…against the nap.” Meant for a lifetime of aging this wine will nevertheless tempt you to open it up the next time you grill those Colorado lamb chops or break out some well-aged N.Y. strips.
Gloria Ferrer Winery
The wine roots of the Ferrer family run deep, going back to the 1500s in Catalonia, Spain. Pedro Ferrer Bosch and Dolores Sala Ferrer united two prominent Spanish wine families who would go on to become the world’s largest producer of method champenoise sparkling wine. In the early 1930s, Pedro came to America looking for land to expand their operations beyond Spain. Being called back to take part in the Spanish Civil War, where he lost his life, put the family’s plans on hold until Pedro’s son, Jose traveled to the Sonoma side of Carneros. His wife, Gloria, fell in love with “the beauty of rolling Carneros hillsides underscoring an impossibly blue sky of sun-drenched vineyards and cool afternoon breezes.” It reminded her of Catalonia. In 1982, Jose, Gloria and their two sons, Pedro and Jose Maria, returned to found the first sparkling wine house in Carneros, named Gloria Ferrer in honor of Jose’s wife. The award-winning winery has never looked back.
Twenty years ago they sent both Executive Winemaker Bob Iantosca and VP of Production (and vineyard management) Mike Crumly to France to learn more about clonal research. This extensive and ongoing commitment benefits not only Gloria Ferrer, but continues to be shared with the California wine industry at large. “Wine growing at Gloria Ferrer is all about collaboration. My job is to provide the winemakers with a variety of different choices, so they become like painters with many different colors on their palette,” says Mike Crumly. The wines speak for themselves.
Gloria Ferrer Brut $22 – Consistently one of the best sparkling wines in its price category, the Brut is unabashedly Californian in its styling, which makes it the perfect summertime sparkler. This works marvelously well with BBQ ribs, pulled pork, and even burgers and dogs! Always well regarded and rated, it made the prestigious Wine Spectator Top 100 in 2009.
“The only California Sparkler on the list! ‘Lively and fun to drink, with creamy Asian pear and citrus aromas that lead to crisp, easygoing apple, yeasty cinnamon and mineral flavors…’” Wine Spectator, 2009
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs $22 – This just received a 90-point rating in the December 15th, 2012 Wine Spectator, who said of it, “Fun and festive, with floral raspberry and graham cracker aromas leading to crisp and succulent lemon and strawberry flavors. A reliable value in California bubbly. Drink now.”
Gloria Ferrer Va di Vi $22 – All about fun, a touch of Muscat is added to the base wine of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, resulting in beautiful aromatics and a definite hint of fruitiness. The wine offers abundant aromas of ripe apple, Asian pear and Bing cherries amid enticing yeasty tones. On the palate, rich flavors of ripe peach, Meyer lemon, fresh berries and vanilla join with creamy textures in a lasting finish. Try it with Thai food!
P.S. – It received an 88-point rating in the Wine Spectator issue listed above.