How’s this for a well-spent youth: Aaron Pott, the winegrower for Blackbird Vineyards, fell in love with wine at age 9, during a family trip to France; studied oenology at UC Davis as an undergraduate; and then got a master’s degree in viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne, in Dijon, France. And that was just the warmup. The good part came at age 25, when he landed the job of winemaker at Château Troplong Mondot, a grand cru classé in Saint-Émilion. I’m sure the work was wonderful, but what sounds even better is this part. He says: “I fell madly in love with the owner’s sister. There were three owners, really, siblings—two of them were the sisters who lived at the château. They hadn’t spoken in years, but they lived a meter apart.”
“Did you fall in love with the good one or the bad one?” I ask.
“The good one.”
Anyway, here’s the part I like most: The migrant fruit-pickers rolled through the countryside at harvest time in their beat-up old jalopies, towing trailers to live in. Pott remembers them as flamboyant characters, and he remembers most of all that French law required him to give them each a liter of wine for every day they worked in the fields. Because the wine was very valuable, Château Troplong Mondot gave the field hands the saignée wine—the first free-run juice colored up with the lees from the prior year (and one of the ways that rosé is made). “We’d hear them all night, playing their Gypsy guitar and singing until 6 a.m.,” Pott told me, “and then it was time to start picking again.”
Blackbird Vineyards hasn’t yet released its first rosé, but it will soon, and it’ll be lovely (based on my tasting, over dinner), and I’m told it will be far less expensive than the winery’s proprietary red wine. For what it’s worth, you can think of Blackbird’s red wines like this: Michael Polenske, a successful hedge fund manager and wine-lover, has created Blackbird by researching and buying first-class vineyard land in Napa, hiring first-class talent in Aaron Pott and winemaker Sarah Gott, and producing a wine that aims at the barely existent category of the “Cult Merlot.” The wines are not cheap—$79.95 from Calwine.com—but they are a whole lot less expensive than the Cabernet Sauvignons playing at the same level of seriousness, and holy smokes are they delicious.