A Little [cash] Goes A Long Way With Big House Wines

Soledad, California was founded as a Spanish mission in 1791. It’s the backdrop of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men. It’s also the home of Soledad State Correctional Facility – a large prison filled with scary criminals.

Big House Wines – also in Soledad – is named for that jail.

Not that there is anything criminal about the wines except, perhaps, for how good they are at such a low price point. At a recent lunch with winemaker Georgetta Dane, she was coy about how she can keep the cost of her bottles beneath $10; but having a mixture of estate fruit and great relationships with other growers certainly helps.

When I was invited to meet Ms. Dane and sample her wines, I admit I was skeptical. Monterey has come a long way in terms of wine production, but it can still be very hit or miss. The Big House wines are downright cheap, and the entire line-up shares a gimmicky convict-inspired theme. But meeting Georgetta was the first step in changing my mind. The Suceava, Romania native is smart – she majored in food science in school, but clearly packs a satchel of street smarts.

Georgetta approaches winemaking with a sense of adventure not unlike the original Big House warden, Randall Grahm (he sold the winery in 2006). She utilizes a blending philosophy taken from perfumers (layering aromatics), and a willingness to blend more obscure varieties (11 grapes, including Malvasia Blanca, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat Canelli and Verdelho in the Big House White; and up to 20 varieties in the Big House Red, including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Souzao, Charbono and Tannat). Even the packaging of the wines is creative in a way that totally works: Big House has been making their own boxed wine for two years, and at $20 for 3-liter “Octavin,” it really is the best deal in town.

But how do they taste? As I mentioned before, they’re good. As it turns out, the fruit is not solely from Monterey. Some of the grapes for the “Unchained”/”Naked” (unoaked Chardonnay), for example, come from Paso Robles. The grapes for the “Cardinal Zin” are from old vines, tended by a third generation Italian wine-making family. Personally, my favorites from the line-up are the Big House White, the Big House Red and the Cardinal Zin.

So, if you’re looking for a solid table wine you can drink on the regular without robbing a bank to support your habit, turn yourself over to the Big House.

The Line UpSoledad, California was founded as a Spanish mission in 1791. It’s the backdrop of John Steinbeck’s 1937 novel, Of Mice and Men. It’s also the home of Soledad State Correctional Facility – a large prison filled with scary criminals.
Big House Wines – also in Soledad – is named for that jail.
Not that there is anything criminal about the wines except, perhaps, for how good they are at such a low price point. At a recent lunch with winemaker Georgetta Dane, she was coy about how she can keep the cost of her bottles beneath $10; but having a mixture of estate fruit and great relationships with other growers certainly helps.
When I was invited to meet Ms. Dane and sample her wines, I admit I was skeptical. Monterey has come a long way in terms of wine production, but it can still be very hit or miss. The Big House wines are downright cheap, and the entire line-up shares a gimmicky convict-inspired theme. But meeting Georgetta was the first step in changing my mind. The Suceava, Romania native is smart – she majored in food science in school, but clearly packs a satchel of street smarts.
Georgetta approaches winemaking with a sense of adventure not unlike the original Big House warden, Randall Grahm (he sold the winery in 2006). She utilizes a blending philosophy taken from perfumers (layering aromatics), and a willingness to blend more obscure varieties (11 grapes, including Malvasia Blanca, Gruner Veltliner, Muscat Canelli and Verdelho in the Big House White; and up to 20 varieties in the Big House Red, including Montepulciano, Nero d’Avola, Aglianico, Souzao, Charbono and Tannat). Even the packaging of the wines is creative in a way that totally works: Big House has been making their own boxed wine for two years, and at $20 for 3-liter “Octavin,” it really is the best deal in town.
But how do they taste? As I mentioned before, they’re good. As it turns out, the fruit is not solely from Monterey. Some of the grapes for the “Unchained”/”Naked” (unoaked Chardonnay), for example, come from Paso Robles. The grapes for the “Cardinal Zin” are from old vines, tended by a third generation Italian wine-making family. Personally, my favorites from the line-up are the Big House White, the Big House Red and the Cardinal Zin.
So, if you’re looking for a solid table wine you can drink on the regular without robbing a bank to support your habit, turn yourself over to the Big House.

Posted on by Arianna Armstrong in Wines from the Grocery Store

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