Eric Ross Winery was the first winery to take the leap of faith with Locals Tasting Room in Geyserville over fifteen years ago. Locals was, and still is, a cutting edge concept where many wineries and their wines could be tasted under one roof and, for Eric Luse of Eric Ross, it was a perfect match for his brand.
Fifteen years later, Eric Ross has a tasting room in Glen Ellen in the Sonoma Valley but still relishes his presence in Locals. As he says, “Geographically it works. We basically have Sonoma County covered and we are part of a great group of high end, high quality producers.”
Eric Luse was a photographer with the San Francisco Chronicle when he started spending more time photographing wine country and enjoying the emerging wines as Napa and Sonoma became incubators for new wineries, varietals and creative winemaking.
Taking several enology courses at UC Davis and the popular viticulture classes offered by Rich Thomas at the Santa Rosa Junior College, Eric Luse initially launched Eric Ross in 1993 as a partnership with another photographer, thereby getting the combined name of Eric Ross. Long since bought out, the winery is now solely helmed by winemaker, vineyard manager, forklift operator and operations director Eric Luse, who somehow still takes time for photography. Of course, he lives in beautiful Sonoma County and there is no lack of subjects among the vineyards, hills, sea, and the people that farm, harvest and craft wines.
You can find Eric’s photography on the labels of his Silver Image wines, one of his three lines of wines; the others being Eric Ross Wines and Struttin’ Red by Eric Ross. Silver Image showcases two of Eric’s approaches to Rhone wines with a Viognier (white) and Gout de la Vigne (red –“taste of the vine”), a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Viognier. Having photography on his labels is fitting for a photographer but even more indicative of the similarities in his two crafts is how a friend described Eric’s approach to winemaking.
“It is much like photography, you have a subject and you honor that subject much the way I honor the grapes in winemaking,” Luse recounts his friend’s comparison. His style is finding ultra-premium fruit from excellent vineyards and letting that fruit show in the glass.
Eric has no tolerance for overripe fruit, wines that are doctored to “taste” a certain way, or heavy oak aging. He fanatically chooses the vineyards from which he obtains fruit and is a hands-on farmer in his own vineyard. The Los Carneros region is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but Eric planted a few acres of Grenache and Syrah above the fog line and that is the base for his Rhone blends.
If you taste through the Eric Ross line of wines, it is evident that Eric Luse has eclectic tastes in the wines he likes and, therefore, the wines he produces. His beautifully acidic 2014 Albarino has fantastic citrus on the nose and palate, sees no oak and is sourced from one of the best known Spanish varietal growers in California, Bokisch Vineyards of Lodi. A perfect food-friendly wine and summer sipper, the popularity of Albarino is growing among wine connoisseurs and Eric Ross makes one that is varietally correct and will easily become a favorite.
The Silver Image Viognier has always been sourced from Saralee Kunde’s vineyards and now from her daughter, Catie. Like Rich Thomas, Saralee Kunde, a true pioneer and tireless dairy and grape farmer as well as a supporter of everything in the community, was an early mentor to Eric Luse and he misses her greatly. She helped influence his grape choices and winemaking decisions and even led him to vineyards that impressed her, like Lera’s Vineyard where Eric sources the Pinot Noir that is an expression of true elegance. Russian River perfection with cherry, vanilla and spice on the nose and bright cherry on the palate with a long finish, the 2013 Pinot Noir is so good that, as I spoke with Eric at Locals early on a Sunday, a couple from Arizona walked out with six bottles.
The Struttin’ White and Red are wines Eric created with the sole goal of expressing his creativity in winemaking. One red and one white are made each vintage and the rooster on the label is a tribute to the rooster spared when Eric, driving a forklift laden with 1000 pounds of grapes, stopped short of running over the farm rooster and saved the bird’s life…but came close to losing the grapes in the process.
The 2014 Struttin’ White is an Albarino and Dry Muscat blend and is perfectly refreshing and floral on the nose with citrus and passion fruit on the palate. Easily a crowd pleaser. In coming vintages, the Struttin’ White will be a Vinho Verde, another Spanish varietal.
The Struttin’ Red is a blend of Tempranillo from the earlier mentioned Spanish grape growing master, Marcus Bokisch, in Lodi, and Old Vine Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. A gorgeous blend with berry, currant, spice and black pepper on the nose with dried berry, vanilla and spice on the palate, two grapes not usually blended make perfect partners in this food friendly wine that will enhance any barbecue.
Under the Eric Ross label, Eric Luse also makes an Old Vine Zinfandel from the same Dry Creek Valley vineyard that is a pure expression of the elegance of Old Vine Zin. It is not a jammy wine but one that drinks with finesse and beautiful aromas of blackberry, blueberry and nutmeg with spice and berry in the mouth. A truly lovely wine.
The Eric Ross Tempranillo is from the best Tempranillo, a small four acre block on the Liberty Road Vineyard at Bokisch, Eric could find from the grower that knows Spanish varietals the best. A nose of cherry and cola syrup with black pepper and cherry-berry, cranberry in the mouth, this beautiful wine is also an elegant approach to a grape not widely used in California winemaking. Here, it shines as a wine to pair with steak or lamb and impress friends with something new.
Adorable in its Italian bottle with a hand-waxed seal, the Eric Ross Port of Old Vine Zinfandel squeaked under the line before they disallowed the labeling of “Port” on fortified wines in the US. This port has a brandy add and is not overly sweet, definitely not cloying and a pleasure to drink. Very approachable and a perfect digestive after a meal or before bed.
The wide range of wines Eric Luse makes under the Eric Ross label, Struttin’ by Eric Ross and Silver Image truly offer something for every taste. In all the wines, the character of the vineyard comes through and the integrity of the grape is preserved, not altered, for a pure expression of the varietal. Like in photography, Eric honors his subject by capturing its beauty and, in winemaking, his subjects are the grapes and it shows.
by Barbara Barrielle