At a time when many winemakers are cutting back
on the number of varietals produced, Rosback and crew continue
to offer more and more, both with his Sineann label, and with the
Medici Wines, made from the Estate fruit at the Sineann Winery
(located at the Medici Vineyard).
Parts of Rosback’s new offerings include
fruit from a newer vineyard, Schindler, in the Eola Hills of the Willamette
Valley. The vineyard is managed by Kevin and Carla Chambers, biodynamic
farmers who also manage the formerly known Reed and Reynolds vineyard—the
vineyard where Rosback perfects his best Pinot Noir (Resonance).
“I love these great vineyards and it is hard
to say no when offered the fruit,” said Rosback. “I’ve
thought about dropping a few varieties, but all of them have their followings.
As long as they do well, I will continue to produce them.”
Rosback has several biodynamically and organically
farmed vineyards in his portfolio, even though he said he isn’t
sure whether the flavors are much different from vineyards that
“What I know is the concept of increasing the health of vineyards
and help fight disease,” he said. “If we can strengthen
the vineyard health, we won’t need to use as many chemicals.
“I still think the jury is out on biodynamic
need a number of years yet. But people who farm in this manner are
very hard working and dedicated, and I believe their efforts show
vineyard. It is beautiful fruit that translates into beautiful wine.
The Odd Couple—Rosback and Hess
Sineann's Peter Rosback
(Note, 4/06- Rosback and Hess have gone their
separate ways, with Hess taking the Jezebel label.)
If there are two winemakers who appear to
be diametrically opposites, it’s Peter Rosback and Aron Hess.
In fact, they could easily be thought of as the Felix and Oscar
of Jezebel wines. Rosback will rail
on about Hess being overly principled about things, and Hess will
poke at the hyperactive Rosback, stating that his five-year plan
is out the
window in five minutes.
“Our styles are as diametrically opposed as it gets,” said
Hess, laughing while shrugging his shoulders. “I brood and grouse
and grumble with the wine. I spend a lot of time hovering over the
“Peter can produce remarkable wines
and finish off the blends in a relatively short period of time
and then he is off to the next
Aaron Hess, Daedalus & Jezebel Winemaker, Consulting Winemaker
at Rex Hill
Hess’ fermentation process is a minimum
of 50 percent longer than Rosback. Hess does not add yeasts to
his wines, while Rosback will
add yeasts. Hess says Rosback can coax his wines to move through
the winemaking process faster but still have lushness without any
characteristics in the wine.
“His wines are very user friendly,” said Hess. “I
have much more structure in my process. I am not necessarily looking
for the wine to be finished at bottling. It’s just a completely
different way of thinking and neither of us is wrong in our approach.
But it does make for jokes.”
So how does a highly structured, deep-thinking Felix make wine with
the sometimes whimsical, occasionally fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants
and faster than lightening Oscar?
“It is an unholy alliance,” joked Hess. “The
truth is, despite our philosophical differences in making wine,
been very supportive of me since I entered the wine industry. And,
we both love sushi. ”
It was a sushi lunch where the idea originated
to create Jezebel wines. The conversation was something like Peter
asking Aron, “Could
you whore yourself and make a second label wine?”
Peter’s recollection is something more akin to “could
we make a whorishly good wine at affordable wines? ”
The result is Jezebel (named, they say, after the Biblical reference
to a woman of questionable virtues), producing a Pinot Noir, Syrah and
a white wine blend. Both winemakers say it is the best bottle of Pinot
Noir they could make under $20.
Jezebel Pinot Noir is seductive and alluring; with fleshy fruit and
soft tannins that is easily assessable right out of the bottle. The
2003 vintage has more depth than the previous vintage, with a little
more complexity. That vintage has just been released.
Hess is doing the initial blending, although both sit down and compare
their blends to others in the same price range. It is this time that
they will both heap a lot of abuse on each other, all in a good-natured
spirit. Yet, in tasting the wines, the two seem to move towards the
center, hoping to give wine enthusiasts the biggest bang for the buck.
Passion Drives Sineann to Quality
For those who have never tasted a Sineann
Pinot Noir, or the Old Vine Zinfandel, Rosback makes mouth-coating,
handcrafted, rich and intense
wines. His 2003 Baby Poux Cabernet Sauvignon (from Paul Champoux’s
vineyards near Prosser, WA) sells out quickly every year, as does the
Old Vine Zinfandel, produced with grapes grown in Washington (yes—WA
does have sites that get hot enough to ripen the Zinfandel grape!)
Crop yields for Sineann wines drive farmers
crazy—often one or
two tons per acre or less, when other vineyards produce five to six
tons easily. The low crop yields produce the most intense fruit—a
characteristic of Sineann wines.
Although cellaring these wines will continue
to improve the beauty already in the bottle, many people can’t
wait to try them and his new offerings are quickly disappearing.
• 2003 Pines Zinfandel: About 1,000
cases of this new zin come from the Pines Vineyard, another new
source for fruit. The land was
platted in 1852. Rosback said he tried to structure this wine to
be more Bordeaux style. The juice was pulled from the fermenters
right after de-stemming in order to further concentrate an already very
must. This has a strong blackberry component and needs time to showcase
Blend: This is a blend of Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. “This
is the perfect blend—it is wine made to be good, not just the
kitchen sink,” says Rosback.
• 2003 Hillside Merlot: Rosback said
a number of Sineann customers want a Merlot, and this is the response,
the second year of production
for this wine. This wine is dark and concentrated, beautiful aromatics
with chocolate overtones and berries, and silky tannins.
Red Table Wine: Once the top-of-the-line
wines are made, the wine leftover goes into the table wine, providing
some darn good
flavors in at an inexpensive price.
• 2003 Baby Poux Cabernet Sauvignon: Rosback thinks this could
be one of the best wines he’s pulled out of Washington State.
This is a cab for socking away for a year and then rejoicing with
its incredible aromatics, complex and intense fruit that just sings.
is so difficult not to drink this quickly, but with a little age,
the wait will pay you back twice-fold.
November 2003 Sineann and Medici Releases
That’s not all Folks
On top of Sineann and Jezebel, Rosback also makes wine under the Medici label, crafting a Pinot Noir and a Riesling. Medici is the location
where Rosback produces Sineann. In order to honor his two daughters,
Casey and Sydney, Rosback made a Zinfandel ice-styled wine called Sweet
Sydney, and a port, called CJ (for Casey Jane).
barrel, Rosback has Grenache and Cabernet Franc. He says it is too
early to decide what he plans to do with
it, but his mind is racing
ahead to possible blends or other possibilities, depending on what
happens in barrel. He also produced a Syrah from the ’02 vintage
for Jezebel that quickly sold out, and has another Syrah to be
released next year.
Although many Northwest wine enthusiasts
already know about Sineann wines and quickly snap up what they
can buy, his wines are highly rated
by national wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and that hasn’t
slipped past him. However, with everything he has in production,
about 9,000 cases with all the labels, he has no plans to expand.
“This helps the quality control,” Rosback said. “We
want to continue with beautiful, hand-crafted wines and you can’t
do that in mass production.”
New Vineyard at Medici, Lavender Drying
The avid bicycle rider still finds time to help out other winemakers
when asked and continues to taste other Northwest wines to keep his
palate finely tuned.
However, lately Rosback has a new project
garnering his sharp focus—his
daughter Sydney is off to college next fall and the proud papa is
helping her to select a college or university, where she will likely
“Once that is done, I will rest for a while,” joked Rosback,
who still has 8-year-old Casey Jane at home. “Getting one daughter
to this stage takes work and patience. It won’t be that long before
we’ll go through it again.”
Wife Nancy, an artist who designed the labels
for both wines named after the two redheaded girls, smiles when
she learns her husband “will
In the Rosback home, “resting” is a word to be defined,
and Peter Rosback’s definition doesn’t allow much time to
pass without movement forward.