Big Guy Wines
Napa Valley AVA
Esteemed winemaker Anthony Bell shares a new high value wine label
Anthony Bell is easily one of the most reputable winemakers in California. His namesake winery, Bell Wine Cellars, is one of Napa Valley’s most beloved boutique wineries with an unwavering track record of excellence – highly rated wines, hoards of Gold Medals, and reviews from all of the top industry periodicals. His winemaking style exudes elegance, and it comes through in each of his handcrafted wines.
It is because of this rather sophisticated background that Bell was slightly caught off guard when his wife asked him to name a new wine label after their dog, Ty.
“I thought, well, that’s kind of a crazy idea,” Bell recently offered. “Ty was a soft-coated, Wheaton Terrior and he would come to work with us everyday at the winery. He was always my wife Sandra’s companion – she took him everywhere with her – but he was loved very much by both of us. I always called him ‘Big Guy,’ and that’s where the name of our new wine label stemmed from.”
The start of the Big Guy Wines brand happened unexpectedly in 1999, when Bell miscalculated the ratio of bottles to barrels and ended up with a substantial amount of Syrah leftover in barrel. It was high quality fruit from the Sierra Foothills’ Canterbury Vineyard, initially intended for that harvest’s premium Syrah bottling.
“Sandra kept asking me what I intended to do with the barreled wine, and she ultimately suggested I start a new wine label. We’d had wines named after me (Bell), and a wine called Talianna, which was named for our daughters, Talia and Anna, so she proposed that this one be named after her favorite companion, Ty. I just couldn’t say no,” Bell stated flatly.
Bell decided to blend the Syrah with a bit of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and was thrilled with the result of the Red Blend. To complement it, he crafted a White Blend of Napa Valley Chardonnay with Viognier and Marsanne from Santa Cruz to make a Big Guy White Wine. 1999 marked the first vintage for Big Guy Wines, and Bell hasn’t looked back since.
“We really didn’t know what to expect with the Big Guy wines,” Bell started. “But it has become such an important brand to us and it’s been an incredibly successful addition to Bell Wine Cellars. Visitors to the Tasting Room love the wine and, after purchasing it, would insist on taking pictures with Ty on their way out. It was a much bigger hit than we could have anticipated.”
It’s also important to note that the wines blended into the Big Guy wines come from the same lots as Bell’s high-end estate selections for which the winery’s reputation has been built on.
“We treat the Big Guy wines in the same manner that we treat our top of the line wines. Because of that, the cost of goods for these wines is very high and it offers an incredible value to our customers,” Bell explained. “With Big Guy, we also get to be flexible and select what we really want to work with each year. By having access to fruit from each of our estate vineyards, we have the opportunity to cherry pick from the best lots and come up with the best blends possible for each vintage.”
Currently, the Big Guy Wines’ overall case production rests at a comfortable level of 2,500 cases per year, but Anthony Bell does plan for its future growth.
“I would very much like to see Big Guy grow and become a big part of the business. It has the potential, especially with the recent trend of red blends in the market. As it’s been, we’ve let the demand dictate our growth, and we’ve been very pleased with how well the wines have been received.”
Sadly, Ty passed away in 2010 at the ripe age of 12 1/2, and the brand now offers a sense of remembrance for Anthony Bell and his wife Sandra. Big Guys Wines is certainly a proud addition to the Bell Wine Cellars family and its charming blends offer a fresh addition to the Napa Valley entity.
The Art of Fine Wine
Painted by Joe Schopplein, an author and artist who grew up in Germany and now shares his artwork throughout California.
About the Vineyard
When crafting the Big Guy Wines, Anthony Bell takes the opportunity to select fruit from multiple estate vineyard sites, located in a number of different California winemaking appellations. The Big Guy Red typically includes Syrah from Bell’s Sierra Foothills Canterbury Vineyard, blended with smaller amounts of Yountville, Napa Valley Merlot, Rutherford, Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, and depending on the vintage, either Petit Verdot or Sangiovese from the home vineyard site in Napa Valley. The Big Guy White utilizes Chardonnay from Napa Valley and Marsanne and Viognier from Santa Cruz.
Anthony Bell couldn’t be happier with the wide selection of premium fruit he has to choose from and he enjoys the flexibility in altering the composition of the wines as he sees fit. By selecting varietals from their best-suited appellations, and blending multiple appellations’ fruit together, Bell is able to craft wines that are truly unique and deeply complex with layers of concentrated fruit flavors. His ongoing goal is to craft expressive, elegantly structured wines and he certainly achieves that with the Big Guy Wines brand.
Anthony Bell & Michael Conversano - Winemakers
It’s a joint effort in crafting the Big Guy Wines, with Anthony Bell and Michael Conversano sharing the role of winemaker. Conversano brings an extensive background in food preparation to his winemaking role with bell.
After spending years as a chef, he undertook a very methodical approach to learning and understanding the winemaking process, working at various wineries prior to graduating from UC davis in 2008 with a Master’s in Viticulture and Enology.
He joined bell Wine Cellars and big Guy Wines in 2010 and has since worked very closely with anthony bell to produce small quantities of vineyard expressive wines.