When I was growing up as the youngest of four boys, I didn’t always get the straight scoop from my older brothers.
For example, although I was the smallest of the crowd and about 4 years old, they convinced me to play the big, dumb galoot in our cowboy games, and they’d throw darts at my feet to make me dance, a pageant that was abruptly ended when I turned the tables on the band of outlaws and threw a dart that accidentally stuck up to its hilt in one of their legs.
And when we’d go into the bunk house for our polio-preventing naps in the afternoons, they’d crawl out the window as soon as I was asleep, leaving me to snooze while they rode their bikes off into the sunset.
So, when my brother Dillon suggested that I try McManis Family Vineyards’ Petite Sirah, a wine that is his house wine in Missouri, I thought he might be trying to give me a bum steer.
OK, that’s the last of the Old West tropes.
At first, I had a difficult time finding the Petite Sirah and had to order it. In the meantime, I tried the McManis Pinot Noir as an alternative and really liked it.
Pinot Noir is tricky to produce — the grapes are hard to grow and difficult to turn into quality wines — and McManis has done a very good job. The 2014 vintage that I’ve tried more than once is full of berry flavors with a very smooth finish. The wine has become one of my favorite inexpensive California Pinot Noirs. I regularly find it on sale for $9.99.
The McManis family has been farming in northern central California for four generations, originally growing almonds, peaches and wine grapes to be sold to other winemakers, but McManis wines are relatively new to the market, about 15 years old, the company’s website says.
For the first four years of their married life, Ron and Jamie McManis worked with his father on the family farm, learning the business, and in 1990, the couple purchased their first vineyard, 340 acres, in the Lodi region. After a few years of custom crushing their grapes to be sold to other wineries, they hired a winemaker, and slowly started releasing wines — a few thousand cases — under the McManis label.
Things went well. They bought more land — more than 1,000 acres more — started farming sustainably — the vineyards are certified green — and set a goal of “producing a great bottle of wine at a fair price.”
Their company now produces annually about 300,000 cases of wine that are distributed nationwide and exported to 18 countries. And the McManis children are actively involved in the daily operation of the business. McManis Family Vineyards produces high quality wines using small-vineyard methods, winemaker Mike Robustelli says on the website.
The grapes for both the Petite Sirah and the Pinot Noir are picked at midday to start the fermentation off at warmer temperatures. The juice is left on the skins for seven to nine days and then put into another stainless steel tank where new and used French and American oak are introduced to finish off the fermentation. The introduction of oak to the wine is a lot cheaper than aging in barrels, and the process makes it easier for the winemaker to maintain control of the finished product.
Sure, many would argue that adding oak chips to the process is not as good as aging in barrels. I think that’s a valid argument for wines in higher price ranges. There something proper about slowing down the production. But McManis is keeping the price down and turning out flavorful, well-crafted wines that drink like they cost $5 or $10 more than they do. Considering the rapid growth of the company and the popularity of its wines, the business model seems to be working.
The McManis Petite Sirah is a bold wine with a vivid purple color and aromas and flavors of blackberry and caramel, winemaker Robustelli says in the tasting notes.
My brother steered me straight, and as he suggested it would, the McManis Petite Sirah has become a favorite house wine, the one we break out at dinner parties to have with appetizers, grilled meats and seafood. It even goes well with Eastern North Carolina pulled pork.
If you want a little lighter wine, check out the McManis Pinot Noir. It also pairs nicely with most foods.
The McManis wines are widely available. If you can’t find the Petite Sirah, ask your wine merchant to order it.
Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.