One night a few weeks back I heard Boz Scaggs performing at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan. The night after that, I drank 2008 Scaggs Vineyard Mt. Veeder Montage at my dining room table in Connecticut. Neither Scaggs nor his wine was what you'd call flashy, but both were polished and strong at the core; both were the real thing.
Scaggs — who is currently touring as part of the Dukes of September Rhythm Revue with fellow musical veterans Michael McDonald and Donald Fagen — has been singing and playing guitar for roughly 50 years, and clearly knows what he's doing. He has been growing grapes on his property on Mount Veeder in the Napa Valley for not quite 15, but he seems to have that down pretty well too.
Because he likes Rhône wines, Scaggs planted the principal red wine varieties from that region, syrah, grenache, and mourvèdre, along with a little counoise (a lesser grape, used mostly in Châteauneuf-du-Pape). Winemaker-for-hire Ken Bernards — whose other efforts include wines for Porter Family Vineyards, Richard Perry Vineyards, Truchard Vineyards, and his own Ancien label, among others — turns them, with Scaggs' input, into the rich, supple, Gigondas-ish Montage ($75 for the 2008). Their efforts also produce a serious rosé ($25 for a 500-ml bottle of the 2009) that suggests grapes grown in a warm climate with a sea breeze — the kind of rosé that red wine-drinkers tend to like even though it is a little pale compared to their usual tipple.
"Essentially," says Scaggs, who functions as vineyard manager (his wife and co-proprietor, Dominique, is the winery's creative director), "we're just listening to the vines, with an increasing awareness of what they are 'telling' us." Scaggs gives large credit for his interest in wine, and especially in wine of the kind he now makes, to the celebrated Bay Area importer Kermit Lynch, with whom he has shared many bottles over the years, and whom he has joined on numerous occasions traveling around the south of France. "Among my most vivid wine memories," Scaggs says, "was of tasting a Joseph Swan '68 or '69 zinfandel from Kermit's cellar. The elegance, balance, and distinction of this wine were on the level of the best European offerings I know of, and the alcohol was only around 12 percent! — practically unheard of in California wines nowadays. These are the qualities we strive for in working our soils, in our vinegrowing practices, and in the vats and barrels."
The first Scaggs wines — informally labeled as "Scaggs Leap" (a pun on Napa's famed Stags Leap appellation) — were for friends and family only. "We outgrew 'friends and family' as the cases reached to the high ceilings in the warehouse," Scaggs explains, "and our choice became to get into or get out of the business. We chose the former. During the years since we planted our grapes, it has become clear to us that our property will always be home and that these vines, the wines they produce, and the people we work with here are vital to our well-being and happiness."