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Striking a Match

matchbook Several decades ago I met an enthusiastic young couple with a new winery located in the Dunnigan Hills of California's Yolo County. No one had heard of Yolo County in those days or, for that matter, these days. Yet, that young couple, John and Lane Giguiere, built their new winery, R.H. Phillips, into a national brand that reached 750,000 cases in sales by the time they sold the brand in the year 2000. What made the Giguieres so successful was that they made wines that were great values and then took them to market in some of the most fun, innovative packaging in the industry. The labels got people to try the wines, but once they tasted what was inside they were hooked because of the quality. Having not tasted the Phillips brands after their departure, I have no idea if that tradition has been continued.

Like most entrepreneurs, once they attained their success, they longed to get back to what got them into the business in the first place. For the Giguieres this meant getting back to, "making wine again, instead of making sales forecasts." Their new venture, Crew Wine Company, is taking them back to their winemaking roots in the Dunnigan Hills, with some side trips to the Russian River and Mendocino. The several brands under the Crew umbrella include: Mossback, which features pinot and chardonnay from the Russian River; Sawbuck, which offers chardonnay, cabernet and malbec for around $10; and Matchbook, that is built on the Giguiere's estate vineyards in the Dunnigan Hills.

There is a growing buzz for Spain's most important variety, tempranillo, up-and-down the West Coast. Oregon's Abacela Vineyards has been making an outstanding tempranillo for years and there's even a new trade association for tempranillo producers called the Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society or TAPAS, which just had their first convention last August in Napa, where more than thirty American tempranillo producers shared their wines and exchanged ideas. The Giguieres and their Matchbook wines are in the forefront of this New World tempranillo revolution offering two excellent wines from this variety that, as you would expect from them, are also good values.

Their 2006 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Tempranillo is just simply delicious. Round, deeply fruity with just enough tannin to hold its edge, this is a wine that just draws you in and invites another sip. There's big fruit here, but it's no simple fruit bomb. At only $15 a bottle, this tempranillo is a great bargain. The 2005 Matchbook Dunnigan Hills Tinto Rey (43% syrah, 40% tempranillo, 7% malbec and 6% petit verdot) is a bigger, more powerful wine with the syrah showing through in the gamy, butcher shop highlights in the nose and on the palate. It's deep and rich with a bitter chocolate backbone to balance the extracted, ripe blackberry fruit. While these wines are big, they're not monsters. Both are under 14% alcohol and are the better for it as these are two wines you can really enjoy with food. Match these wines with chops, steaks and sausages hot off the grill.

The name Matchbook came from John Giguiere's childhood tendency to play with matches. With their new brand Matchbook he may have started another fire.