Buffalo Ridge Winery
Buffalo Ridge Winery. Buffalo Ridge utilizes the talents of well-respected winemaker Tom Eddy of Napa Valley fame
Several years ago, one of the wine industry’s leading periodicals contained a phrase that has become more meaningful in its everyday usage. The term was “escargociants”, which basically referred to consulting winemakers who utilize today’s modern technology and equipment to produce top-quality, top dollar wines, and mostly at a snail’s pace.
What is different about these so-called escargociants is the simple fact that they utilize existing winery facilities to produce their wines, thereby saving millions of dollars in crushing, aging and bottling facilities.
The escargociants’ advantage comes in the fact that their wines are passed on to the consuming public at fantastic prices. It should also be pointed out that this type of winemaking is different from the negociant type of winemaking that generally utilizes lower caliber bulk wines to produce their product.
Such a scenario involves this month’s gold selection winery, Buffalo Ridge Winery. Buffalo Ridge utilizes the talents of well-respected winemaker Tom Eddy of Napa Valley fame and the facilities of Lockwood Winery in Monterey, where the wines were actually produced. Eddy is also the individual who coined the term escogociants. Tom Eddy is a nearly thirty-year veteran of the California wine industry that also produces his own ultra-premium line of Tom Eddy Napa Valley wines. He consults for the likes of Kunde and Limerick lane in Sonoma Valley, Caldwell in Napa Valley and Arciero in Paso Robles as his clients. He was also the winemaker at Christian Brothers in Napa prior to departing it for the consulting business in 1989.
The key to Buffalo Ridge’s wines is Tom Eddy’s vineyard selection, the highly rated French Camp Vineyard about twenty-five miles east of San Luis Obispo. The vineyard is the Central Coast’s largest single vineyard, encompassing some 1900 acres under vine. Its next door neighbor (and source for its Reserve Chardonnay) is the famous Bien Nacido Vineyard, long considered the area’s top producing vineyard.
French Camp Vineyard is part of the dominant Santa Lucia foothills, and was developed around 1972 by Bob and Steve Miller and is considered a warmer growing environment than Bien Nacido. Its advantage comes from a windy kiss of cold air that adds up to a quality advantage over other vineyards planted in the Paso Robles appellation. While summer temperatures nearly always top the 100-degree mark at French Camp making for lush, ripe flavors, the nighttime temperatures can drop 50-degrees thanks to the chilly ocean breezes pulled into the vineyard by a natural wind tunnel. This huge swing allows grapes to develop ideal natural acid levels that compliment the warmth-induced ripeness from the heat.
French camp itself is full of its own natural history. Local legends tell of the area’s original French settlers who immigrated to the area during the 1849-50 gold rush era. French Camp can be traced specifically to a high class French couple, Monsieur and Madame Bartolo Baratie and also a Monsieur M.J. Borel who settled there in 1858 on a glen of the San Juan Ranch.
A party of bandits’ rode into the camp and trouble developed. Borel was shot and killed and the Baraties were forced to hand over their possessions. Monsieur Baratie was also killed and Madame Baratie kidnapped. She later managed to escape on a stagecoach and vigilantes, outraged by the murders, rounded up some of the bandits and hanged them in front of a large crowd in San Luis Obispo. It was necessary for U. S. Marshals to arrive by gunboat to finally restore law and order in the area and thus close another colorful chapter in California’s turbulent history. At the time, the incident at French Camp played an important part in the development of the entire area.
French Camp can be directly referred to as the provenance of Buffalo Ridge Winery. This term refers to the natural environmental conditions of any wine site and is the key to the quality and style of each individual wine. Since French Camp Vineyard is a special place as described above, it is easy to understand why the wines of Buffalo Ridge can also be considered extraordinary. The Gold Medal Wine Club is delighted to share this month’s Gold Selection with you. Each contains a little insight into California’s storied past. We know you will enjoy each one to its peak.
When Rich Hanen enrolled in Seattle’s Community Chapel Bible College a number of years ago in pursuit of his Theology degree he was forced to work to put himself through school. Like many students, he found work in a restaurant and ultimately was given responsibility for wine lists, including the upscale Butcher Restaurants chain. Little did he realize at the time, but his increasing interest in wines, and the wine industry in particular, would ultimately shape his career and his entire life.
After gaining his degree (yes, in Theology) Rich took a job with a local wine distributor. His next ladder rung was Schiefflin & Co where he sold that firm’s wines and spirits. Four years later he became associated with Cadbury Schwepps, a move that changed his entire career. At Cadbury he was introduced to a concept that employed marketing to sell products, rather than straight sales, and he realized he had found a home for his thoughts and ideas.
Rich next became involved with a company called Vintage New World where he served as President and majority owner for the next decade. It became apparent to people within the wine industry that Rich Hanen‘s rapid rise in the wine industry was propelled with good cause. He was soon labeled a visionary as his company and its myriad portfolio of wines grew and prospered.
About three years ago, Rich Hanen came into contact with Tom Eddy, a most interesting person emanating from the production side of the wine business and a mutually respectful association was begun. Soon after, both men realized that as far as the wine industry’s direction was concerned, each considered the other a visionary since their ideas were incredibly similar in nature. They both decided to do something about it and an agreement between the pair was soon struck.
At the time, Tom Eddy owned a fledgling company with two wine brands, Salmon Harbor that produced only white wines and Buffalo Ridge, which produced only reds. Rich Hanen bought the pair and immediately changed direction, making Buffalo Ridge the white producer, and Salmon harbor a producer of Washington State wines. He contracted with Tom Eddy for ongoing consulting services and began his bold plan for Buffalo Ridge.
‘What Tom and I wanted was to develop a vineyard-designated Central Coast line of wines that could be offered to the public for a truly reasonable price,” he explained. ‘In the consumer’s mind, the Central Coast growing region was hot and both Tom and I thought it would get even hotter. Tom was able to make long term contracts with the Millers for French Camp fruit and we felt that was the basis for Buffalo Ridge to have a really upscale long-term future. I love the quality and remoteness of the French Camp fruit and feel that is it absolutely perfect for our needs at Buffalo Ridge.”
Rich Hanen believes he has something of an advantage in the development of Buffalo Ridge, whose annual production is around 12,000 cases. His company, artfully named Latitudes Wine Company, comes complete with a complete sales and marketing force and allows him the flexibility of selling his wines without the usual national marketing markup. This results in an unusually low consumer price and allows for future growth.
‘We are only interested in growing Buffalo Ridge to around 20,000 cases,” Hanen added. ‘We want to maintain its single vineyard ambiance and continue growing its quality. Both Tom and I believe that there is true micro micro-climate within the French Camp Vineyard that will allow for truly wonderful, complex wines to be developed in the future.”
Hanen is also betting that consumers will continue their gravitation toward quality, a move that supports his marketing premise at Buffalo Ridge. He continues to involve his key players in every important decision he makes for his pet winery.
‘I’ll admit that quality turns me on,” he flatly admitted, ‘and I will do anything I can to ultimately achieve it.”
Rich Hanen’s passion for the wine industry is even immediately apparent to the casual observer. His determination to build Buffalo Ridge Winery slowly and stop at a reasonable production level seems the correct formula for its ultimate success.
Gold Medal Wine Club is happy to be able to present Buffalo Ridge to our Gold Members at such an early stage in its evolution. We know you will continue to follow its success along with us. We know you will enjoy this month’s selection as well.