Edna Valley AVA
The steep north facing topography of this vineyard is at the heart of the character of these wines.
Anyone who knows John Alban well can attest to the fact that he is a person dedicated to specific ideals and also an individual who as developed a keen interest and passion for his chosen profession.
Alban recently turned 60 and the California (Long Beach) native celebrated the fact by working on his birthday. The story of his success in the wine industry is most certainly worth relating.
Alban is another of the celebrated UC Davis enology graduates who has ascended the agronomical stairs of his profession. He did it the hard way.
“When we began our project,” Alban related in a recent interview, “we began with a dental floss budget, much smaller than a shoestring one if you get my gist. I also had the notion of developing a winery dedicated solely to Rhône varietals, a wild idea in the early 1980’s.”
An opportunity presented itself around that time and Alban was able to purchase some property in the smallish Edna Valley that had just become its own AVA (1982) and was home to a number of iconic wineries (Edna Valley Vineyard, Chamisal Vineyards, etc.) as well as providing fruit for a number of high-quality wineries throughout the state.
John Alban went about establishing his winery under the aegis of Alban Vineyards. The brand grew and prospered and Alban was delighted with the consuming public’s acceptance of his Rhône varietals. John Alban was at the forefront of all this attention and eventually ascended to the position of organizer and mentor to young winemakers interested in the pursuit of Rhône greatness. Wine guru Robert Parker even called Alban “the spiritual and qualitative leader of the Rhône movement.”
Only one thing didn’t go according to plan. It seems that one small block of his land was planted in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, the Burgundian cousins to the Rhône standouts.
“This small block was on a north-facing slope and produced some excellent fruit. My wife, Lorraine, became attached to the site because it was close by her horse rescue operation and she passed it each day. She felt the vineyards produced such high quality fruit and wanted to take advantage of the popularity spike that Pinot Noir offered. We reached an agreement and that’s how North Vineyards came to be,” informed Alban.
North Vineyards first saw the light of day in 2011 with a tiny release of around 250 cases of Pinot Noir and 100 cases of Chardonnay.
“We still bottle around that number to this day,” John Alban added. “The block is only five acres and that’s all we can produce. The wine has done quite well in scores and we have no trouble selling all of it.”
That last statement is a bit more complicated than it seems. The North Vineyards plot was planted in 1997, the year the Albans were married. Lorraine developed an immediate attachment to the block and its production. Eventually, she started a wine distribution company and sells North Vineyards’ entire production. “It’s a win-win situation,” added Alban. “My wife gets to keep her favorite wines and her pet vineyard and everyone is happy.”
North Vineyards’ imposing label was developed by noted Santa Barbara artist, Rick Garcia. The striking label features a compass pointing north (where else?) and is set on leather that brings in the equestrian rescue operation run by Lorraine Alban. The net effect of all this is a spectacular package that contains award-winning wines.
But that’s not all. The Albans’ two sons, Jared, 22, and Keenan, 20, are headed for careers in the wine business as well. Jared is about to graduate from San Jose State and has an inclination toward the actual wine company and its operation. His younger brother attends the University of Oregon and seems headed toward his mother’s wine distribution segment of the family’s business. John Alban is delighted with both prospects who have worked in various capacities around the winery since their youth.
North Vineyards is an excellent example of a tiny production winery that has succeeded on the huge commercial stage that is the California Wine Industry. It is truly a niche winery and should be a valuable addition to any consumer’s cellar. For John and Lorraine Alban, North Vineyards is a fine example of a couple working harmonically in a situation that benefits both partners.
It is with great pleasure that we introduce our Platinum Wine Subscription members to North Vineyards and the story that makes this Pinot Noir so special. Enjoy!
Dear Platinum Wine Club Members,
I am excited to share North with you. While North is not an Alban Vineyards wine, the story and fact of North is an essential and personally gratifying component to all the wines with which my name is associated.
Fresh out of UC Davis with a master’s degree in Enology and a remarkably obsessive vision of what I wanted to do in the wine trade, I had little else going for me. To fuel what became a maniacal pursuit of Rhône varieties, I was forced to wear numerous hats: winemaking in another operation, consulting, custom farming, and custom crushing for wineries. Initially, we sold over 75% of the grapes I grew to keep Alban Vineyards going and growing. As the years went by and our winery got more established, the custom vineyard leases lapsed and we grafted over those blocks to increase our own production.
Left to my own devices, probably all the vineyards would have been converted to Rhône varieties, but this one block of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was particularly special to my wife. Planted in 1997 - the year we were married - I have long compared this vineyard’s story to hers: The steep north facing topography of this vineyard is at the heart of the character of these wines. My wife was born and raised in Northern Ireland. She emigrated to the U.S. soon after turning 20 and left the ‘troubles’ and politics of that part of Ireland behind. The music, warm heritage, and joy of Ireland came with her. Like these wines, she has been magnificently shaped by her northern exposure. She is also living proof that the American Dream is as real and wonderful as ever - a phenomenon I pray we never lose faith in. I hope you find occasion to toast something special in your life with a glass, or two, of North, and wish to thank you all for including our wine in this exceptional club.