Making Wine the [Ee’Z] Way

Big and Little Eric, father and son winemakers on different coasts, produce collaborative cuvée
Ee'Z

The pains and pleasures of bicoastal winemaking

Before Eric Stauffer left for California to study winemaking at UC Davis, he made wine as a teenager with his father, Eric Miller, at the family’s Chaddsford Winery in Pennsylvania. Degree in hand, Little Eric, as the family calls him to differentiate him from Big Eric, settled down to become a West Coast winemaker, for the last few years at the French-owned Domaine Carneros in Napa Valley.

But when Big Eric sold Chaddsford and retired a few years ago, he became restless. “I was having difficulty dealing with not being able to make wine any longer,” he said. So he proposed to Little Eric that the two of them get together to make a single California wine — even though they live on different coasts. “At first, he didn’t want the complication,” Big Eric says, but the two came up with a plan that worked at least part of the time.

The result: at last count, about 50 cases left of [Ee’Z] “Beatty Ranch” Howell Mountain Napa Valley zinfandel 2013. In case you didn’t get the message in the brackets, that’s Big E + Little e = Zin. It’s pronounced “easy,” as in, “This is easy drinking.”

“We were both very specific, as we both like big zins, what I call ‘slutty zins,’” Big E says, throwing PC cautions to the wind. “While we use the term ‘slutty’ in a playful way to mean high-alcohol, slightly sweet, and a big fruit bomb, this wine is actually very close to exactly what I envisioned,” says Little Eric, who is known to be the more diplomatic Eric.  “We purposely did not leave any residual sugar, thinking the high alcohol and generous oak will provide the sensation of ‘sweetness’ and roundness.”

The result is actually a very sophisticated, Bordeaux-type red that seems more mature than its two years. The thought on drinking is, “Goes down easy.”

How was the wine made? It almost wasn’t. In 2013, the two had secured a winemaking facility with a friend who had excess capacity. But it was already July 2013, and father and son had not yet found a place to buy grapes that fit their requirements. Then they heard about a vineyard called Beatty Ranch on Howell Mountain in Napa Valley’s northeast corner that had great grapes available.

Grapes secured, they spent almost two years with Big Eric flying to California when he could, and with Little Eric overnighting samples by FedEx to Big Eric in Pennsylvania. Somehow, the wine got made.

“Working with Big E is totally natural for me, as we have been talking wine together for a long time,” Little E says. “He has far more practical experience, often reminding me of simple things I would have overlooked, but I have my California experience and, of course, my UC Davis education to add in.”

The wine is available for $45 a bottle, plus shipping, at www.sluttyzin.com.

The two Erics are now working with the [Ee’Z] 2014, which is presently sleeping in the barrels.

Related Links
Z is for ZinfandelThe Best Zinfandels for Less Than $208 Elegant ZinfandelsThe Best 5 Zinfandels for Less Than $15