Wine on a Tilt: Noah Dorrance of Reeve Wines

California is no longer new on the vinous map but it’s still the sort of place that people stake their dreams on. That California dream is alive and well with husband-and-wife team Noah and Kelly Dorrance, founders of Reeve Wines. The Dorrances are the kind of star gazers that California wine was built on--Midwesterners who followed their passion for the grape to the west coast and then built their own little world on it. They have a quote from Mark Twain, also from Missouri, that they’ve adopted as their own: “America is built on a tilt and everything loose slides to California.”


In 2009, Noah sat in a San Francisco bar with friends and launched what would become Banshee Wines, a success story if there ever was one, borrowing money from family and friends to produce eight barrels of Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. From there they created a well-loved brand known for food-friendly, ethereal Pinot that doesn’t cost a fortune. Reeve is the outcropping of this, a Noah and Kelly collaboration named after their son (with a logo on each bottle bearing their daughter’s name, too). They have brought such talent on board as Ross Cobb (Cobb Wines, Williams Selyem, Hirsch, Flowers) and Katy Wilson (LaRue, Joseph Phelps, Craggy Range, Flowers), and have kept their focus tight: a few wines from a few cool-climate sites done right.

We tasted two of their new releases from Mendocino recently--their 2017 rosé and their 2016 Anderson Valley Pinot--and they proved this approach is paying off. They are expressive, pretty wines that show how well Pinot does in California’s coolest pockets, where the fruit can ripen but still develop acidity and intricacy. The 2017 rosé is biodynamic Pinot Noir from Vecino Vineyard in Potter Valley. About a third of the Pinot comes from a Champagne clone known as Roederer 32, and, according to Noah, this clone produces “high-acid, bright, floral wines. Perfect for Blanc de Noir and rosé, as is turns out.” It’s a pale pink in the glass with bright fruit on the nose--strawberries and watermelon play against a hint of orange blossoms. They treat their rosé will all the seriousness in the winemaking as they do with their $100 single-vineyard Pinots. Says Noah: “We want it to be joyous, refreshing, and pleasantly mouthwatering, BUT we also want it to be a wine of real integrity. With its newfound popularity, there's a lot of crappy rosé flooding the market. We're trying to do something of worthy of our high standards.”

Their 2016 Pinot comes from two vineyard sites in the "Deep-End" of Anderson valley where it is coolest. “The wines from there,” according to Noah, “seem to have both verve and depth with the added kicker of not necessarily having extra weight. For me that is the holy grail of Pinot Noir. It’s not easy to find regions that can do that well.” The wine is elegant, a bit restrained on first sniff but growing more expressive with air. Notes of cranberries, cherries, and violets are buoyed by a supple texture and a firm finish, a great yin-yang that makes it both seductive and serious. It would be delicious with a grilled pork chop.

It always interests me how people get to where they’ve gotten, especially with wine. Unless you’re born into it, it’s generally not a linear path, like, say, medicine, where you show an early aptitude in biology and take the right courses and work hard and become a doctor. Wine takes a certain personality, someone with a penchant for passion (maybe obsession?) and enough faith/fearlessness to veer off the obvious path and follow it. I asked Noah how he got here and when, along the way, he decided to make a career of it. “I remember the day in 1994 (18 years old),” he said, “when I was driving down the road in Springfield, Missouri, and I thought to myself, ‘I'm going to get really into wine.’ I pulled over at a Barnes and Noble and bought Wine for Dummies. I think I was hooked from that moment, probably because I thought it was a very suave thing to know about. Obviously there a lot of other twists and turns to the story to get us to present day, but that's where it started. Here are the Cliff Notes: Wine for Dummies → Worked at Cherry Street Wine Cellar → Worked at Boone Distributing → Brown Derby → Paris → Job at Crushpad → Founded Banshee Wines → Started Reeve in 2015.”


I also asked him about juggling family with a family business. This is a question that I think gets asked of women, but not often men. And with a wife equally involved in the operation and young kids, it’s a big part of his experience: “I'd be lying if I said it wasn't harder in so many ways. There's lots of time away during harvest and sales trips. And we're in the hospitality business as well so we spend a lot of time with guests on property. However, I also think that the wine business, at least how I view it, is rooted in family. There's a cyclical, generational, long-term thinking that comes with planting vineyards and making age-worthy wines. You can't help but think of passing these things along to family because they are long-term projects. With Reeve we are definitely trying to build something that our kids can be involved with if they choose.”

It’s an approach that I think bodes well for the future of wine in this state. The allure of the California dream may have gotten them here, but they’re building something--and what better foundation is there in life than big dreams?

Find Reeve Wines at K&L.


- Kate Soto