Stop 4 - Buehler
Buehler Vineyards was the 4th and last stop in the short trip to Napa . This stop was fascinating because everything visually was like stepping into a Napa romance novel. We got to the front gate of the estate, and we saw the horse who lives near the gate. We saw Page, the son of John Buehler, Jr, tending to the care of their horse (obviously well cared for) next to a wood-sided barn like you would see in the Pennsylvania countryside. We drove up the winding driveway to be greeted by the John at the front of his house, which is villa-esque. John is completely the rugged-man's rugged man. If you were on a ranch, and you imagine the seasoned ranch manager, who is friendly and welcoming, on a grand chestnut colored horse, it would be John. He gives the impression that he is a working man, is doing work of a working man, and is providing a fair priced product for every working stiff out there. The reality is that he is a working man who does very well for himself and his family, he does work at his family vineyard, and he provides very fair priced products for everyone to enjoy worldwide.The interesting part about the Buehler vineyard is that they are completely traditional and low tech when it comes to growing zinfandel grapes. About the Buehler zin, forget about trying to buy this wine, as it flies of the shelf in a day (after the Robert Parker write up saying this is the best value ever for red zin), and is reasonably priced at about $15/bottle. I was able to try a few bottles from 1998 on a cruise, and the zin had a nice balance of tannins and fruit, had a deep purple garnet red color, and had a velvety feel. It is a great value if you can find it.
What impressed me the most was the old French way Buehler grows the zin grapes. Buehler was the only vineyard I saw to do this: Each vine has a wood stump placed next to it, and the zin vines are not "trained" onto vine-lines, not pruned, not pampered, and the zin vines are allowed to grow naturally around the stump as it would in the woods around a tree. They do not irrigate the vines either. This is as traditional as you can get to growing grape vines. I love the idea of taking excellent old world techniques, tried and true, to grow excellent grapes and honor the land and the plants.
John Buehler may sell his wines at reasonable price, but he still uses old European methods to make his wines. He uses the best Italian made stainless steel equipment to process the grapes, he uses time-tested gravity clarification techniques, and he uses both American and French oak barrels for aging. The only high tech option he uses is synthetic cork with his non-reserve lines. I was surprised at that, but synthetic cork, pretty much guarantees that the wine will NOT be spoiled by a leak in the cork. Having sipped on at least 1/2 doz bottles of Buehler's synthetic corked bottles, I am sold on the new technology. If John Buehler had to give into one new world technology, he picked the right one.