Mike Casey

Say Goodbye to "Barbie Wines"

Mike Casey
Say Goodbye to "Barbie Wines"

Napa Valley is synonymous with great wine but most notably as a "cult of cab" land where mastering production of the coveted varietal becomes a brass ring for many vintners.  Blair Guthrie has achieved that pursuit as winemaker for Stewart Cellars whose cabernet is crafted from valley fruit and highly admired on a daily basis in their well-appointed Yountville tasting room. This is no small feat for any winemaker, yet alone a next generation one with many years of vintages yet to come. 

While making great cabs can be a rite of passage, there's also a desire to break from the valley standard or those "Barbie wines", as Blair calls them, that are strategically crafted for high scores and specific attributes.  It's not to say that's a bad thing in anyway but "we don't want to simply be our parent's generation of wine makers - it's good to break out of the Napa cab "box" and craft something unique. I like to produce wines with a full experience and intriguing palate." 

And that he has done with the line of Guthrie Family wines, three labels currently, each with their own story and inspiration.  All are connected to his interesting past which started as a native Kiwi and connecting to the amazing environment that is uniquely New Zealand.  Though his love of agriculture and wine did not manifest until later life.  His artistic side took flight first, as an airbrush artist and then graphic designer.  This talent is readily apparent in the labels he designed himself which resemble an artful combination of print money, playing cards and cigar boxes.  Each is a mix of bold iconic symbols embedded within intricate designs. While his passion for design never waned, the job overall became more digital-centric and lost the artistic and tactile nature of the craft which caused him to start a new chapter. 

 Blair tending to a vine during bud break ( Photo: Mike Casey, The 29 Napa )

Blair tending to a vine during bud break (Photo: Mike Casey, The 29 Napa)

 

After a close call with nearly enlisting for military service, Blair decided to pursue winemaking which always piqued his interest.  Not knowing then, he'd be in store for an amazing two-fer - both landing a job in Napa and finding the love of his life, now wife Caroline.  Though there was hard work to get on this path, with taking winemaking courses first and earning a scholarship based on his top performance.  BK Wines in Australia was his first official venture into the business and a great fit given their "focus on quality and creativity not conformity".  Artisanal winemaking over mass juice production was definitely Blair's desire.  

From there, the big leap to California wine country came where he landed an internship at the renowned Paul Hobbs winery.  This was both a seminal moment for building his career as a winemaker but also serendipitously meeting his wife-to-be, a fellow intern and "cellar rat" as they're affectionately called.  Things went very well at Paul Hobbs but expiration of his visa sent him back abroad to Australia for a spell with Caroline thankfully up for the adventure.  Their perseverance paid off when Blair had the opportunity to return to the States and become winemaker for Stewart cellars (insert blog link) in 2011.  There he began making iconic Napa cabs with access to the Valley's superb fruit. 

Fortunately, this success allowed him an artistic output, Guthrie Family Wines to emerge a few years later.  Each with its own inspiration and unique character:

 Time to taste the trifecta  ( Photo: Mike Casey, The 29 Napa )

Time to taste the trifecta  (Photo: Mike Casey, The 29 Napa)

 

BELLBIRD - Inspired by a native bird of New Zealand Blair used to see in his parent's garden amongst the flax plant flowers.  It's a light and fresh Chardonnay with just a little MLF. 

CHATEAU GUTHRIE - As the name portends, an approachable and flavorful house blend wine in the form of a GSM with some Petite Sirah, making for a great companion with food.  The label itself was inspired by glitzy old school Vegas. 

ARCHIVAL - A tribute to Napa's original dominant valley varietal, Petite Sirah which accounted for more than two thirds of the vineyards in Napa Valley post prohibition.   

Given the craft nature of his wine, you likely won't find it on shelf but it's only a link away online here. You can also keep up with Blair via Instagram @guthriefamilywines .  Hope you enjoyed this look into one of the next generation wine makers helping shape where Napa Valley will head in the coming years. 

Cheers,

-Mike Casey // The 29 Napa