Crackin’ 90 is an ongoing series that talks with winemakers about the first time their wine “cracked 90,” with a 90+ score in Wine Spectator or by Robert Parker.
It was little over two years ago when Bart Hansen, Winemaker and Owner of Dane Cellars, cracked 90.
And it was a double whammy.
In April 2013, Hansen’s 2009 Dane Cellars Zinfandel Los Chamizal Vineyard ($36) and 2008 Dane Cellars Old Vine Zinfandel ($34), both Sonoma Valley grown, were both awarded 92 and 90 points, respectively, by Wine Spectator.
A friend told Hansen via Facebook. “I was shocked to have the first two wines I submitted both score that well, totally amazed,” shared Hansen. Wineries and winemakers must submit their wine for review by the acclaimed publication, which is read by not only wine lovers, but industry insiders.
“It helps bring validation to the work you have done,” acknowledged Hansen, and “it might help you get the attention of a wine buyer that hasn’t tasted your wines,” especially for Hansen, who started his small lot, Dane Cellars label in 2007. “When you are a new winery that no one is familiar with it’s hard to get the attention of the gate keepers sometimes.”
Hansen entered the winemaking realm like so many others – with a summer gig, delivering grapes in a 1-ton truck over, and over, again. In 1986, he joined Kenwood Vineyards.
Mike Lee, co-owner and winemaker at Kenwood is credited with giving Hansen that opportunity. “Mike was a huge influence on me. The whole winemaking crew at Kenwood was the reason that I fell in love with this business,” it was at Kenwood where Hansen learned how to craft quality Sonoma Valley Zinfandel and Cabernet wines.
In 1998, he left his position as Cellarmaster at Kenwood to join Benziger Family Winery. He explored the realms of biodynamic and organic farming, and began specializing in Zinfandel, making wines for the Benziger and Imagery labels.
Like many emerging winemakers in Sonoma Valley, the Benziger’s left a lasting impression on Hansen. Working with Mike Benziger, Hansen learned the techniques that have helped make Benziger’s wines notable: using wild yeast, not filtering, and trusting the vineyard to “help lead you,” through the winemaking process.
Joe Benziger helped Hansen build a love for varietals that are outside the standard “Big 5” of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Merlot. To this day, Hansen is a Rhone fanatic and loves working with varietals like Grenache and Mourvèdre.
Hansen left Benziger and joined Lasseter Family Vineyards in 2007, making wine for the brand owned by Pixar Chief Operating Officer John Lasseter, who is also a Sonoma Valley resident. That year, Hansen decided to launch his own label – Dane Cellars, named after his son, Dane.
While Hansen hit the 90+ point jackpot in 2013, it didn’t mean that the demand for his wine increased overnight, “…just because you got a 90+ doesn’t mean a wine is sold out, I still had to work very hard to sell those two wines.” Both wines, which use grapes from a vineyard within a mile of Sonoma Plaza.
Wine Spectator featured Hansen’s two wines in a Sonoma County feature. Dane Cellars topped the list, with Hansen’s 92 point Zinfandel being described as “distinctive for showing a sense of place,” in representing Sonoma Valley and the 40+ year old Los Chamizal vines. His 90+ point Old Vine Zin was called “briny and ripe,” with flavors of “caramel” “cherry” “grilled anise and white pepper.
Yup, grilled anise.
“I think the point system is a good thing for the public” Hansen states. He understands why it is beneficial for smaller companies like his – who don’t have the large advertising budgets like other, competing wineries, including his former employers. “It’s a way for the public to feel confident buying a brand that they might not have heard of…”
But oh, that 90+ pointer. I make read the reviews, I add them to my “buy list” on my notepad app on my phone and seek it out at wineries and grocery stores. Forgetting about the 80 pointers below.
“Let’s not forget,” mentioned Hansen, “that a wine that scores in the 80’s is most likely, still, a very nice bottle of wine.”
Indeed sir, indeed.
Suite D is hosting a Dane Cellars winemakers dinner on November 13. It’s $65 per person, with Mexican food being paired with Hansen’s wines. Visit figsuited.com or call 933-3667 for tickets. Learn more about Dane Cellars at danecellars.com.