03rd Aug 2023
03rd Aug 2023
Coming after Bob Foley at Hourglass, Tony Biagi had big shoes to fill. Tony has filled those shoes, wore them bare, and bought a new pair.
Hourglass, Lasseter Family Winery, and Amici Cellars are three wildly different wineries spread across northern California with one thing in common: Tony Biagi. Based in Napa Valley, Tony is among the most respected and hands-on consultant winemakers in this neck of the woods. These are not the only estates Tony makes wine for, but they are three of the most interesting, considering their diversity and upticks in quality since Tony came on board.
After graduating from UC Davis, Tony worked for Duckhorn Vineyards in the mid-1990s. He spent nearly a decade working for the Plumpjack Group before establishing a consulting business, advising famous Napa names, including Odette, Sinegal Estate, and Clos du Val. In 2013, he launched his own wine brand, Patria (reviewed earlier this year). Hourglass, Amici, and Lasseter are three of his longest-standing clients.
Tony Biagi has been the winemaker at Hourglass since 2012. The estate was initially based around a small, four-acre vineyard off Lodi Lane and behind Freemark Abbey in St. Helena. This site was established by owner Jeff Smith’s parents in the 1970s. Into the late 1980s and early 1990s, the vineyard fell victim to phylloxera, as many Napa Valley sites planted to AXR1 rootstock did during this period. After his father passed, Jeff’s mother was about to sell the vineyard when he stopped her, deciding he could make something of it. In 1992, he swapped the doomed Zinfandel vines out for Cabernet Sauvignon, and BOOM, a remarkable vineyard was revealed. Jeff called the vineyard “Hourglass” as “a tribute to the constricting geography.” The inaugural vintage was 1997, made by Bob Foley, who was winemaker at Pride Mountain at the time.
In 2006, Jeff purchased a second, twenty-acre vineyard located near Duckhorn’s Three Palms Vineyard in Calistoga. He called this parcel Blueline Vineyard in reference to two “blue-line” streams that border the property—what remains of a much larger riverbed where the vineyard is now. This defines the rather unique soils of this place, composed of Cortina River Wash and decomposed volcanic ash.
Coming after Bob Foley, Tony Biagi had big shoes to fill. Tony has filled those shoes, wore them bare, and bought a new pair. A lot has changed since 2012. The wines are still concentrated with a lot of fruit on offer, but they are also brighter, purer, better defined, and with rock-solid backbones for aging.
Sadly, the Hourglass Winery, located near the Blueline Vineyard in Calistoga, burned in the 2020 wildfires. I visited the site about six months after the fire to view the damage. The metal skeleton of a winery. The stumps of so many beautiful old trees, gone. I stopped at the large stump of a charred tree that had to be cut down. Jeff explained that was where a 100-year+ fig tree once grew, that it had looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. All gnarly and twisting in odd directions, it gave beautiful figs. Yet growing from the stump, remarkably, were vibrant green shoots and new leaves. A new beginning for this old soul.
Fortunately, Tony and Jeff were able to salvage their 2019 vintage barrels from the fire, as these were locked up tight in the underground cellar. The finished wines have been reviewed in this article.
While 2020 was a setback, the good news is that the vines at both vineyard sites were mostly unscathed. A temporary winery was set up on the site for the 2021 and 2022 harvests, and the new winery will be completed for this vintage.
Located on the outskirts of Calistoga, Amici is a small to medium-sized family-owned winery sourcing fruit from some of the best vineyard locations around Napa Valley and Sonoma County.
What’s more, Biagi manages to craft a beautiful Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay with the same skill and flare as a Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, adeptly bringing out the signatures across more than a dozen site sources.
Nancy and John Lasseter are a power couple who fell in love in and with Sonoma. Nancy used to work at Apple, and John at Pixar Studios. They discovered wine together, gravitating especially to the styles from the Southern Rhône and Bordeaux. When they were looking for a family home, the town of Sonoma had everything they were looking for, so they moved there in 1993. In 1997, they produced their first wine—a Bordeaux blend. In 2002, they went all-in and purchased a historic winery and vineyard dating back to 1894. This 95-acre ranch located outside of the town of Glen Ellen has 38 acres planted to Bordeaux and Rhône varieties, with an incredible block of century-old Zinfandel vines mixed in with an eclectic field blend of varieties. The production facility needed a complete overhaul, and the new eco-friendly winery was finished in 2011.
There have been a lot of changes to Lasseter wines since I last tasted the 2013s and 2014s back in 2017. For a start, Danielle Langlois was hired as the new winemaker, supported by Tony Biagi, who came in as consulting winemaker in 2017. 2018 was their first vintage working at this estate together. Completing the team, viticultural mastermind Phil Coturri manages the vineyards. It’s worth mentioning that Châteauneuf-du-Pape-based winemaking guru, Philippe Cambie, was also a consulting winemaker here until he sadly passed away in 2021.
The Lasseter Family 2019s I recently tasted with Danielle and Tony are a jaw-dropping step up. Particularly impressive are the Trinity Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, the Trinity Ridge Syrah, and the L’Ame du Sage Old Vine Zinfandel—from that ancient block of 100-year-old+ vines of mainly Zinfandel.
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Johan Berglund
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