Some experts will tell you that a wine ultimately reflects the character of the person who makes it, while others insist that it’s all about the vineyard site. At Sonoma County’s Three Sticks, it’s a little bit of both.
Three Sticks was founded by William Price III—or “Billy Three Sticks,” his surfing nickname as a high school student in Hawaii. After making his fortune at a private equity firm, Price gradually became immersed in the world of wine. In 1998 he purchased the Durell Vineyard, one of Sonoma’s greatest vineyard sites, and founded Three Sticks in 2002. In 2014, he added another jewel to his crown by hiring one of the masters of California Pinot Noir as Director of Winemaking: Bob Cabral, who spent 16 years crafting the wines at Russian River’s legendary Williams Selyem.
The style at Three Sticks combines Old World structure and elegance with dramatic New World fruit. The wines are made with a minimum of manipulation, to preserve the character of the vineyard site. Output is small (less than 5,000 cases on average), and the wines are sold both through a mailing list and in general distribution in 13 states.
The two Chardonnays are a study in contrasts. Origin 2013, from Durell Vineyard ($48), is ripe and unctuous despite the absence of oak. It offers a vibrant assortment of citrus flavors, balanced by good acidity and underlined by a firm mineral backbone. One Sky Chardonnay 2013 ($50) hails from Sonoma Mountain, an area normally better known for Cabernet Sauvignon. In the mouth, it is the polar opposite of Origin: smooth and creamy, with flavors of ripe melon and pear intertwined with Meyer Lemon, exhibiting considerable richness without being cloying. On the finish, the flavors lay on the tongue just as a bathing beauty would recline on a chaise lounge.
A trio of Pinot Noirs, all 2013 and priced at $60, displays the same range of expression. Russian River Valley is plump and graceful, massaging the palate with bright red fruit flavors and supple tannins. Bien Nacido, from Santa Maria Valley, has intense flavors of spiced plum, pepper, clove, menthol and anise; it’s ideal with lamb, game dishes and spicy Oriental foods. The James, from the Santa Rita Hills, is the most understated and compelling of the three. The wine is light yet lush, feminine yet earthy, with luscious red berry fruit accented by touches of rhubarb and baking spices—a New World version of Volnay.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com