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by Tom Hill

A self-admitted wine geek, Tom lives in Northern New Mexico and works as a computational physicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory doing numerical neutron transport & large scale code development. He has been tasting wines since 1971, participates locally with a couple of large tasting groups in his area, and is practically a fixture at most California wine festivals, such as the Hospice du Rhône, Rhône Rangers, and ZAP. Other interests: Tom is heavily into competitive sport fencing (foil & epee), biking, cooking, basketball, skiing, backpacking, mountain climbing.

Old David Bruce Wines - January 12, 2014

We tried ystrday some (mostly) Old David Bruce wines:

  1. David Bruce Calif PetiteSirah Select (14.2%) Vinted&Bttld by David Bruce 2011: Dark color; light toasty/oak rather earthy/loamy bit peppery/PS simple nose; soft/fat rather earthy/loamy/mushroomy light peppery/PS/blackberry light toasty/oak flavor w/ very light tannins; med.short earthy/loamy/mushroomy slight peppery/PS/blackberry light oak finish w/ little tannins; a rather dull rendition of PS much like a Bogle; overpriced at $19.00 (SFW&S)
  2. David Bruce PinotNoir RRV (14.7%) Produced & Bttld by David Bruce 2011: Med.color; rather toasty/smokey/oak strong black cherry/PN pleasant enough nose; tart bright black cherry/PN some smokey/toasty/oak slight earthy pleasant/simple flavor w/ little tannins; med. bright/black cherry/PN some earthy/dusty light toasty/smokey/oak finish w/ light tannins; a pleasant rather simple RRV PN; overpriced at $31.50 (SFW&S)
  3. David Bruce WhiteRiesling SantaCruzCnty (16.2%) 1979: Dark gold/browning oloroso sherry color; very intense old German Auslese/R slight smokey/toasty/oak incredibly complex nose w/ no signs of oxidation; soft/rich/lush rather old German R Auslese some smokey/piney/toasty/oak textured/mouthfilling flavor; very long/lingering old German Auslese/R slightly bitter rich/lush/mouthfilling some toasty/smokey/ oak very complex finish; no signs of either oxidation or alcoholic heat; a dead ringer for a '59 or '75 Rheingau Auslese; one of the most incredible complex aged Calif Riesling I can recall; amazing stuff for a 35 yr old R from any country.
  4. David Bruce PinotNoir SantaCruz/CA (13.8%) 1975: 1/4'th the btl ullaged away; Med.dark murky/ cloudy rather browning color; some oxidized/wet wool/funky bit sherry-like some smokey/toasty/oak rather tired nose; somewhat oxidized/wet wool strong toasty/charred/oak bit tangy rather tired flavor; long strong toasty/charred/oak/smokey bit wet wool/oxidized fairly tired finish w/ light tannins; some character of old RedBurg but rather tired; not really bad tasting but just doesn't offer up much pleasure.
  5. David Bruce CabernetSauvignon Calif (EB; 14.7%; HomeVnyd; NeverOak; "Tastings are held between 1AM and 3pm on Saturdays") 1974: Med.color w/ some browning; strong smokey/toasty/oak light rather herbal/Cab somewhat earthy/dusty/slight wet wool very old-timey Calif Cab very complex nose; somewhat herbal/Cab rather earthy/dusty strong toasty/smokey/oak fairly structured flavor w/ light/bit drying tannins; very long rather herbal/Cab/dusty/earthy strong smokey/toasty/oak structured finish w/ light/bit dried out/astringent tannins; still very much alive and offering up good/pleasurable drinking; a fully-mature old-timey Calif like they don't make anymore; resembles some of the old MountEden Cabs I've had; my favorite of the 3 reds by far.
  6. David Bruce Zin Calif (LateHrvst Sweet; 17.5%) 1970: Light rather murky/brown color; very strong raisened/pruney/late hrvsty strong toasty/charred/oak complex/earthy rather tired nose; off-dry bit tawney-Porto-like strong raisened/pruney/late harvesty strong toasty/oak complex flavor w/ some dried out/tired/astringent tannins; very long/lingering overripe/late hrvsty/raisened/pruney strong smokey/ toasty/oak slightly alcoholic finish w/ slight drying/astringent tannins; dominated by raisened/overripe Zin character & oak and not stood up to the test of time.

And the usual blatherings from TheBloodyPulpit:

1. Since it's been some time since I'd tried any David Bruce's, I picked up the only two I could find on the shelf here in NM. The Vinted&Bttld on the PS label indicates that it was probably mostly/all purchased wine. At one time, DaviidBruce used to make a PS from the Miller's ShellCreekVnyd down in Shandon/PasoRobles that was pretty decent. I don't think they have access to those grapes anymore.
2. I have, of course, followed David Bruce from the very start, a '66 PinotNoir. David Bruce was a dermatologist in LosGatos, got bitten by the winemaking bug, purchased land up on BearCreekRd and planted his Estate to PinotNoir, CabernetSauvignon, WhiteRiesling, and Chard. Before he went commercial in 1964, he made ho-made wine from Concord grapes following Burgundian techniques. I never tasted that wine but, reportedly, it fooled many a wine expert. PinotNoir was David's passion. I tasted, in the early '70's, many of his Pinots, made by traditional Burgundian techniques, from the '66 thru the early '70's. There were probably the best Pinots being produced in the SantaCruzMtns at that time. Not sure if MartinRay was still producing Pinots then or not. David's Pinots carried a lot of new/Fr.oak and were rather Burgundian in style to my palate but some of Calif's best Pinots during the '70's, well afore Pinot got much traction in that state.

The Chards were also pretty incredible and mentioned in the same breath as StonyHill and Hanzell. The were barrel frmtd and barrel aged in new Fr.oak. They were large-scaled and very intense Chards. He even made a LateHrvst Chard in '73.

David's WhiteRiesling was the bizarre one of the foresome. It was widely reviled by the wine geeks of that era. It was made much like his Chard; barrel frmtd & barrel aged in new Fr.oak. Because it was not anything like German Riesling, it received much scorn & abuse. The new oak pretty much obliterated the R fruit when young. Not being one to worship at the altar of varietal typicity; I thought the wine an unusual expression of R and actually loved the wine.

In the late '60's, David started purchasing Zin and other varieties from MaryCarter's vnyd down in Gilroy. In '68, he (and DaveBennion/Ridge) made the first Calif WhiteZin, using bled-off saigne juice. Contrary to what most folks believe, SutterHome did not invent WhiteZin. In the late '60's-early '70's, David began to push the boundaries of Zin...harvesting later & later and making huge/extracted/black Zins. In the '70-'71 vintage; he made a whole set of Zins...regular (around 15%), LateHrvst Dry, LateHrvst Sweet, Essence...all w/ alcohols well north of 15%. Those two yrs, he also made equally formidible PetiteSirah/Carignane/Grenache...again all from MaryCarter's grapes. Some of the biggest Zins I can recall. The late JohnBrennan, a wine critic of the day down in SanDeigo, predicted the wines would peak between 2010-2020. They, by&large, expired by the late '80's.

David would hold these legendary tastings in his home in the early-mid '70's (though not starting at 1:00AM like was reported on his labels). Around '74, Blair & I were prevlidged to attend one of these. David was a very genial and generous host, opening many btls from his stash. It was a heroic drive down BearCreekRd that afternoon.

In the late '70's, David also begin to purchase GWT grapes from up in MendoCnty. The first ('78?) was made exactly like his Chards/WhiteRieslings; distinctly GWT, but heavily overlain w/ oak. It, too, was highly reviled by Alsatian GWT fans. I liked it quite a bit. In the '79 vintage, he held back on the oak and the GWT was absolutely beautiful....maybe one of the most Alsatian GWT's I can recall. Alas, GWT was way too dificult to sell and David dropped the variety.

In the mid-'80's, David's SCM Estate vnyd was devastated by Pierce'sDisease and the entire vnyd had to be replanted. At that time, the WhiteRiesling was dropped, though I've heard that there may still be a few vines surviving. I believe the Cabernet was also dropped at that time. In the replant, they added Syrah to the mix.

The early Syrahs David released were simply stunning...a harbinger of what BigBasin would eventually do with that variety in the SCMs. The WebSite indicates that they now use those grapes to make a PetiteSyrah/Syrah blend. Not sure if they now have PetiteSirah planted there in the mix or not. It always sort of puzzled as to why David would label the wine PetiteSyrah, rather than PetiteSirah.
My sense is that, has David Bruce expanded production over they yrs; they were relying more & more on purchased grapes. I think that has led to the diminishing image many have of that wnry. The occasional ones I've tried over the yrs have not been bad...but not very thrilling as the David Bruce wines of yore.
3. Several months ago, it occured to me that I no longer saw much of the David Bruce wines around nor heard any buzz of them on the InterNet. I took a look at their WebSite (www.David BruceWinery.com) and found it totally stale. The "Featured" wines are all of the 2000 vintage. Most of the wines in the storefront are from older vintages in the early-mid 2000's. Many of the wines are being bombed out at very low prices. The WebSite is pretty archaic, difficult to navigate, and provides nothing in terms of descriptions on the wines. It ominously cautions that ground shipments may be delayed due to weather. In the dead of Winter?? It badly needs some IT work. All not a good
sign of a thriving winery.

One of my tasting group members, Blair, had a stash of older David Bruce wines, all stored in very good conditions. When I told him about the uncertain future of David BruceWnry, he suggested we get together and try some from his stash. These old wines were from Blair.
4. Since 2004, the winemaker at David Bruce has been Mitri Faravashi. I'm not sure how much David is involved in the day to day winemaking there, but my sense is not a lot. My sense is that Mitri is a talented winemaker and probably the glue that's holding the whole operation together. David has made some great contributions to both Calif winemaking and SCM winemaking over the yrs and I certainly hope his legacy will live on.


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