The Rhone Rangers are a group of American winemakers who promote the use of grape varieties from the Rhône Valley in the south of France. They are mostly based on the West Coast, particularly California, and are now organized into a not-for-profit organization for the promotion of wines containing at least 75% of the 22 Rhône grape varieties. Their name is a pun on The Lone Ranger. Originally formed in the 1980s, with no formal structure or organization, the group disbanded in the early 1990s. It was revived again in the late 1990s and is considered a catalyst in making Syrah more prevalent on the Californian wine landscape. The structure is loosely based on that of the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers or ZAP which has been successful in promoting Zinfandel in the industry. Today its membership also includes wineries from Washington State, Oregon, Idaho, Michigan and Virginia.
In the 1980s, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, Joseph Phelps of Joseph Phelps Winery, John MacCready of Sierra Vista Winery, Bill Crawford of McDowell Valley Vineyards, Fred Cline of Cline Cellars Winery, Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John and Bob Lindquist of Qupé Wine Cellars, among others, began popularizing the marketing of the Rhône varietals. Their success helped to revive plantings of many traditional Rhône grapes that were dying out in California like Grenache, Mourvedre and Viognier. Syrah also saw a dramatic increase in plantings. after Gary Eberle, then with Estrella River Winery (now Meridian Vineyards) planted it in Paso Robles and made available the clone he used to other interested growers. Beginning around 1990, a second wave of innovation in the Rhone Rangers movement began, which included investment and grapevine cuttings from the Rhone itself, as Château de Beaucastel entered into a partnership with American wine importer Robert Haas to found Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles. Tablas Creek imported new clones of many of the 13 varieties allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, including Grenache blanc, Counoise, and Picpoul blanc that had never before been used in California and made the clones available to other vineyards. Other key innovators in this newer phase of development included Alban Vineyards, Domaine de la Terre Rouge, Unti Vineyards and Zaca Mesa Winery, many of whom also imported their own clones. RHONE RANGERS ORGANIZATIONAL HISTORY By the late ‘90s there were enough California wineries that wanted a more formal organization to expand the influence of Rhone style wines in the US. So during the fall of 1997 John MacCready of Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery and Barry Bergman of RH Philips Winery called several other wineries that we thought might be interested also. At a meeting of the interested wineries in Sacramento which included Barry Bergman of R.H. Phillips, John MacCready of Sierra Vista Vineyards and Winery, Bill Crawford of, McDowell Valley Vineyards, Don McGrath of Villa Helena, Phillip Staley and JT Thomas of Staley Winery, Dick Bush of Madrona Vineyards, Mike Chazan of Perry Creek Vineyards, Leon Sobon of Shenandoah Winery, and John Thomas of Staley Vineyards and Winery. There may have been several others. If so please let us know.
At the meeting the group discussed different organizational schemes and decided on the format that is still in existence today where wineries from all of the United States would be accepted as members. We also we made sure the organization was open to consumers and grape growers so that their points of view would be heard and we created board seats for them. We were very careful to structure the board so that no one region held dominance over the direction of the organization. We also encouraged board membership from outside of California. The goal was and still is to make as many people aware of the greatness of Rhone style wines as possible. San Francisco was chosen as the place to have the first tasting. At the meeting they elected John MacCready as the first President and Barry Bergman as Vice President, Don McGrath Volunteered to be Treasurer. As of January 18, 1998, according to a meeting agenda, the Board of directors consisted of: John MacCready, Barry Bergman,… Erin Cline, Bill Crawford, Leon Sobon, .. Don McGrath, JT Thomas .
At that meeting It was decided to have the first Rhone Ranger Tasting at The Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason San Francisco. It was held on February 28, 1998 and the following wineries were present.: Byron, Callaway, Cambria, Cline, Columbia, Eberle, Fetzer, Frick, Geyser Peak, Hogue, Indian Springs, Karly, Madrona Vineyards, Marietta Cellars, McDowell Cellars, Mount Palomar, Perry Creek, Phillips Farms, Preston, Qupe, R. H. Phillips, Renwood, River Run, Shenandoah, Sierra Vista, Staley, Star Hill, Steele, Truchard, Turnbull, Villa Helena. This was all that were present at the time the poster was printed. The tasting was a great success and One very large reason is that we engaged Priscilla Felton to be the event coordinator. She did an outstanding job guiding us through the problems of putting on an event. Our hat is off to her.
By the time the third tasting rolled around on March 25, 2000 there were 90 winery members and we had included consumers as members called “sidekicks” and growers and grower organizations who were associate members. The rest is the history of growth to what it is presently: a successful organization still promoting some of the best wines in the world made from grapes originating in the Rhone Valley of France.
While Northern Rhone wines are often monovarietal, Southern Rhône wines are almost always blends. Rhone Rangers wineries produce both varietal wines and blends depending on their stylistic preferences. Principal styles of red wines are:
- "Châteauneuf-du-Pape" - (also known as GSM) various proportions of Grenache (for fruit and acidity), Syrah (for dark color, spice, and mineral) and Mourvedre (for tannin and structure), occasionally rounded out with minor amounts of other varieties to give complexity.
- "Northern Rhone" - Syrah either 100% or blended with small amounts of Viognier.
- Varietal - Grenache and Mourvedre, rarely found on their own in the Old World, are often produced as varietals by Rhone Rangers winemakers.
- "Hot weather" - Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan in varying proportions for early drinking.
- "Australian" - Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon
Principal styles of white wines are:
- Varietal - The white Rhone varieties Viognier, Marsanne and Roussanne, and increasingly Grenache blanc are produced as monovarietal wines by Rhone Rangers winemakers.
- "Hermitage Blanc" - Marsanne-Roussanne is the classic Northern Rhone blend for whites.
- "Châteauneuf-du-Pape" - Blends based on Roussanne and Grenache blanc, often with additions of other white Rhone varieties.
The main red varieties used in Rhône Rangers wine are Carignan, Cinsault, Counoise, Grenache, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Syrah, Piquepoul Noir, Terret noir and Vaccarèse. Durif is a grape from southwest France, widely grown in California as Petite Sirah and is permitted in Rhone Rangers wines. In 2002, after DNA testing by ampelographers showed that Durif was a cross between Peloursin and the popular Rhône grape Syrah, Petite Sirah was officially voted in as a member of the Rhône Ranger varieties.
The Rhone Rangers Organization
The Rhone Rangers is based in Albion, CA and includes winery, grower, associate and consumer members. Its mission statement is "advancing the knowledge and enjoyment of Rhone wines produced in America". It organizes trade and consumer tastings, seminars and dinners around the United States. In recent years these tastings have visited San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Washington, DC and New York. There are also local chapters in Paso Robles, El Dorado and the North Coast.
Notes and references
- M. Worobiec (1999-03-01). "Rhone Rangers Are Back in the Saddle". Wine Spectator.
- http://www.rhonerangers.org/wineries/region.php Rhone Rangers Official Web Site, February 2012
- J. Robinson, ed. (2006). The Oxford Companion to Wine (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 575. ISBN 0-19-860990-6.
- http://wine.appellationamerica.com/wine-review/534/Syrah-conundrum.html "The Syrah Conundrum", Appellation America
- http://tablascreek.typepad.com/tablas/2011/08/tablas-creek-101-why-and-how-we-use-so-many-grapes.html Tablas Creek Blog
- http://www.rhonerangers.org/grapes/ Rhone Rangers Web site: "The 22 Rhone Rangers Grapes"
- "The 22 Rhone Ranger Grapes - Red Grapes".
- M. Worobiec (2002-04-30). "Petite Sirah Rides Shotgun as Rhone Rangers Trot Into Town". Wine Spectator.
- "The 22 Rhone Ranger Grapes - White Grapes".