These are tough times for wineries, and teh casualties are many. Usually the back story for a winery shutdown is either a sad tale of hard-working vintners crushed by inexorable market forces, or a schadenfreude-inviting chronicle of colossally bad judgment by self-important poseurs.
But every now and then, the demise of a wine label happens mostly for good reasons, and this is one of those stories.
Beginning, literally, in their garage, before moving to rented space at a nearby small winery, they turned out a string of tasty and well-regarded Syrahs and Zinfandels, mostly from Sonoma County vineyards. The wines were uniformly well-made, very California in flavor and style yet happily lacking in the all-too-common California excesses.
I (and a lot of other fans) got an email last week saying that Atelier was folding up its workshop and clearing out its cellar. This tiny label was not a victim of the Great Recession, nor is there some Mondavi-like saga of brainless expansion involved. No, the problem is that both of the proprietors have too much else to do.
Ondine was recently promoted to head winemaker for all of the Geyser Peak operations, enough to keep a girl's hands full. David got his own promotion, now heading up HR for Intuit. And they have a year-old set of twin boys to deal with. They're lucky to have time to drink wine. The workshop winery, in other words, is a victim of its founder's successes.
I immediately snagged a case of the 2007 Rockpile Zinfandel, and opened the first bottle alongside a hamburger and Monday Night Football -- for the All-American he-man dining experience. With the first sip, I stared at the glass, wondering what was going on. Where's the 300-pound Zin kick? Why is this wine not head-butting me? Another sip. I mean, it's from Rockpile, home of the hits, where's the concussion? I'm at sip three, and still not grunting involuntarily -- is this really a Zinfandel?
I decided that maybe the smash-mouth TV football was clouding my judgment, so I hit the mute button. Better. Turns out, this is a Zinfandel with all of Zinfandel's upside -- plenty of fruity/spicy/mulled wine nose, berry flavors, fruit intense enough to feel "sweet," even though there's no sugar. There's none of Zinfandel's downside: the alcohol is 14.6%, but the wine isn't hot; the total package is eminently drinkable, not overpowering; no cooked flavors are to be found. And there's something rare in the world of Zinfandel: balance.
Oh, well. We can at least buy some of this wine before it disappears. Atelier is offering two Zinfandels and two Syrahs, regularly listing for $25 - $33 a botttle, for $160 a case (or $80 for a half case), including tax and shipping inside California. You can help put this label out of its bittersweet misery by going to this link.
It's the least you can do.
Price: Around $13 on clearance. Alcohol: 14.6. Points: Extra points for having twins. Full disclosure: Paid the full, heavily discounted price.