Fort Mill Times

Small winery, grand wines

Napa Valley winemaker Gary Wooten was in town recently. We caught up with him and had a pleasant afternoon learning about his winery, his winemaking philosophy, and sampling his wines.

Gary and one employee operate the Croze Winery in Napa Valley where he produces his Croze wines, as well as his Smith Wooten line, which is named in tribute to his parents. It's the smallest commercial winery there. In fact, it's so small, you won't find it on the map.

He leases space from another producer. But you won't see his vineyards either.

He has long-term relationships with growers such as Brian Gallagher who tends just a little more than one-acre Gallagher Vineyard in the Oak Knoll District of Napa.

This enables Gary to purchase prime grapes for his wines. Plus, this lack of infrastructure saves him a lot of money, which enables him to pass the savings along to consumers and keep his prices low. His wines are reasonably priced for the quality.

He believes in doing things his own way and takes extra steps most major producers don't. He cellars his wine longer before releasing it. Time is money, and it's costly to hold wine off the market.

Gary believes it's the winemakers' responsibility to cellar the wine properly. The extra time allows the tannins to smooth out and mellow. His wines are ready to drink when purchased. You don't have to age them yourself.

He also is devoted to using only French oak barrels. He believes the French oak gives added complexity to his wines. Gary's hands-on interest in wine began in the 1960s when be became devoted to the art of "balance" in wine. He says he produces his wine in the French style but after tasting the intense flavors he coaxes from the grapes, we've dubbed his style "Nouveau French."

His wines have been winners from the beginning. His first commercial release in 1982 won gold medals, and he's been racking up awards ever since.

As you might expect, his production is limited -- about 2000 total cases per year. You'll only find his wines in restaurants and smaller wine shops.

Jim and Marie Oskins are Fort Mill residents living on Lake Wylie. They can be e-mailed at winetime@com.

Marie's Meat Loaf

1 lb. ground beef

1 lb. mild Italian sausage

8 oz. grated mozzarella

1 cup fresh basil, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1/2 cup fresh oregano, chopped

6 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes, chopped

3 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup dry red wine

1 tsp. red pepper

1/2 cup tomato sauce

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. black pepper

1 cup Panko bread crumbs

Combine all ingredients except tomato sauce, eggs, and wine. Gently mix in tomato sauce, eggs and wine. Shape into a loaf and bake at 375 degrees for about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Serves 6.

Recommended Wines

• Croze - Vin d' Une Nuit - Suisun Valley, Calif., - 2005 , about $18. This rose of 100-percent Cabernet Sauvignon is made, as winemaker Gary Wooten of Croze Winery in Napa Valley says, in the French style. The juice is left on the skins overnight before pressing giving the wine a striking red hue and flavors of watermelon with nuances of strawberries. The grapes are grown in the Suisun Valley across the eastern hills from Napa Valley where the warmer temperatures give the grapes a complexity and layering not usually found in rose wines. This is an ideal picnic wine pairing well with chicken dishes, cold meats, cheeses, and fresh fruit.

• Smith Wooten - Cabernet Franc - Gallagher's Vineyard - Napa Valley - 2005, about $38. This is an extremely well-crafted wine made in Croze Winery's French style to highlight the indigenous varietal qualities of this Bordeaux grape. The tiny vineyard is located along the Silverado Trail in Napa. Brian Gallagher meticulously tends the vines keeping yield low, which produces fruit with very concentrated flavors. Extended aging, 17 months, in French oak barrels translates into a wine that engulfs you with dark earthy flavors. It's complex and well layered with a long finish. This smooth, very well structured wine is an exceptional value at this price. It's ready to drink now but can be cellared and will continue to evolve for many years to come. It easily drinks like a $100 wine. This wine is an excellent pairing with full-flavored meat and game dishes.

If you have wine, or wine and food pairings, e-mail Jim and Marie Oskins of Fort Mill at