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Forkmedia LLC


by Fred McMillin
for Jaunary 11, 2001


Bad News, Good News


The Bad News

Robert Mondavi sold S.F. Chronicle journalist Davis Bynum 50 pounds of Petite Sirah grapes back in 1951. "I lucked out on that vintage that totaled 3-1/2 gallons. It was really quite good. I thought, hey, there's nothing to this."

Davis Bynum

Davis Bynum.

Nineteen years later, that 50-pound crush in the basement had grown to 80,000 pounds in an abandoned plumbing shop. My calculations indicate Davis was releasing something like 65,000 cubic feet of grape-scented fumes. The town of Albany (east side of San Francisco Bay) smelled like a winery! The residents were getting restless. Davis knew it was time to get out of Dodge. Bad news. He would have to move.


The Good News

Davis tried to set up shop in the Napa Valley, but met considerable resistance from the competition. Hence, he chose the lightly-regarded Russian River Valley, which merely turned out to be possibly the best Pinot Noir district in California. Not only that, in 1974 he hired a young man who merely turned out to be one of the best winemakers in California, Gary Farrell. Needless to say, Bynum made great Pinots (see WineDay March 23,1998). But what about the...


Cabernet Conundrum

The Russian River Valley was never thought to be a good area for Bordeaux reds [like Cabernet Sauvignon].

...Stephen Brook, The Wines of California

Sounds like Bynum can't participate in the huge Cab market. BUT WAIT! Let's see what else author Brook says about the winery.

In addition to the outstanding Pinot Noir, the winery also produces a finely balanced Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, the conundrum: How does Gary turn out good Cabs in a hostile (too cool) district?


The Answer

In April 1994 I received a letter from Davis' son, Hampton, with the secret. "With new advances in trellising systems, which tone down herbaceousness, our Cabernet Sauvignon is showing great promise."

Is it ever. In fact, a Bynum Cab is...


This Week's Wine

'97 Davis Bynum Cabernet Sauvignon, Hedin
Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
My Panel's Reaction—Good now with a great future. They gave it a rare EXCELLENT.
Food Affinities—Will stand up to the most full-flavored dishes...beef, lamb, even a smoked-salmon soufflé (was delicious).
Contact—Office of Christina Welling, (707) 433-5852, X-15, FAX (707) 433-4309
Price—$30 range.


Postscript—The Three Generations

  • Lindley Bynum—A wine writer and wine judge at the major California competitions in the 1940s and 1950s.
  • Davis Bynum—Lindley's son.
  • Hampton Bynum—Davis' son. Even as a youth, Hampton liked grapes. I recall this incident. He went along with dad to buy grapes. The empty truck was weighed in, and the loaded truck weighed out to determine the pounds purchased. After observing the amount of grapes Hampton had eaten, the vineyard owner said, with a smile, "We should have weighed Hampton in and out, too."

    Anyhow, Hampton went on to a grape education at U.C.-Davis, was the first winemaker when the family shifted to the Russian River, and has gracefully moved into a dual administrator-winegrower role since...just like his dad, a real gentleman with many talents.


    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers. For information about the wine courses he teaches every month at either San Francisco State University or San Francisco City College (Fort Mason Division), please fax him at (415) 567-4468.



    This page created January 2001