Get the Dirt from William Allen of Two Shepherds

21 Oct

I was a garagiste for years before moving into commercial production in 2010. Two Shepherds is a one man micro winery, committed to making old world style wines that express vintage and place. I specialize in Rhone varieties from cool climate vineyards and unique plantings, made with minimal intervention.

1. How many cases do you make per vintage?

2010: 200; 2011: 500: 2012: 700 2013:~850 estimated; 2014 on around 1000-1200. All by hand, all by me.

2. Do you have a Tasting Room? If Yes/Hours? 

Yes 12-5pm Friday-Sunday. By appointment the rest of the week. Phone (415) 613-5731.

3. How did you get your start in the winemaking business?

I published a widely read wine blog (Simple Hedonisms), and was a home brewer and garagiste wine maker. My garagiste wines were popular and people wanted to buy them. In 2010 I wanted to expand to 7 Rhone varieties so I could make blends. Given that surpassed the legal limit (still in place from Prohibition) I made them in bond at a winery. The first vintage was a big success, and now on my 4th commercial harvest.

4. What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery?

Grenache Blanc and Rhone blends.

5. What varietals do you work with? Which varietal/wine is your favorite to make? Why?

Carignan, Grenache Blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Grenache Gris, Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, and Trousseau Gris.

Favorite: Grenache Blanc. (and perhaps this year, Grenache Gris.)

6. What vineyards do you source from? Why? 

Saralee’s Vineyard, Russian River Valley – the only planting of Marsanne & Roussanne in the AVA, one of the few Grenache Noir plantings. (I also source Viognier, and one of the few hill side plantings of Syrah in RRV.) The modest mid 80’s days and cool 55 degree foggy nights allows for long slow gradual ripening and excellent acidity.

Catie’s Corner, Russian River Valley – the only planting of Grenache Blanc in RRV, budded over on old Merlot vines. Owned/farmed by famed grower Saralee Kunde.

Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi – The world’s oldest surviving Cinsault vineyard, 125 years old, sustainably & dry farmed, head trained on native rootstock.

Saarloos Vineyard, Santa Ynez – One of the older Grenache Blanc vineyards in CA. This particular block ripens very slowly, typically picking Grenache Blanc at 22-23 brix, late October, a week after Cabernet in the same vineyard at 25 brix.

Windsor Oaks Vineyards – One of the few plantings of Mourvedre in Russian River Valley, a challenge to ripen each year in the cool Russian River Valley.

El Dorado, David Girard Vineyard. Wonderful granite based soils for Marsanne & Roussanne, farmed by 30 year Rhone legend Ron Mansfield, used by Donkey & Goat, and others.

Gibson Ranch, Mendocino – Recently recovered 100 year old head trained Grenache Gris vineyard. Gorgeous vines yielding ~2 tons acre, low for Grenache family.

7. What type of oak treatment do you use? Why?

I only use 4+ year old Neutral barrels for reds and whites. Neutral barrels sometimes confuse consumers – they are called ‘neutral’ as it means all oak flavors and aromas have been leeched out. For reds this means 100% pure expression of the variety, with no outside oak flavor. For whites, this creates a more subtle but complex, layered wine than stainless steel produces, from the micro-oxygenation process during aging. I am also using three 70 gallon concrete barrels this year for Grenache Blanc and Grenache Noir.

To obtain a bit of tannin and structure in my red wines, some of my lots are 100% whole cluster, with stem inclusion, which provide softer tannins.

8. What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special?

I work with mostly with cool climate vineyards, with varieties typically grown in hot regions. This contributes to making wines of balance, lower alcohol, and higher acidity, in an old world style.

9. What’s the story behind your name/label?

Two Shepherds represents (1) Shepherd of the Palate: Crafting unique, old world style wines to introduce consumers to something different from New World style wines. (2) Shepherd of the Grape: minimalist, no intervention, no addition winemaking is a challenge and requires extra diligence. It’s my job to Shepherd the grapes safely from vineyard to glass.

The wines are very small lots, 50-100 cases on average, sold mostly direct. The wines have been widely received with commendations including Wine Business Monthly 2013 Hot Brand of The Year, two San Francisco Chronicle mentions, and recently Alder Yarrow of Vinography called it “a jewel box of small lot wines,” in the The Wines of Two Shepherds.

10. What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery?

Don’t do it alone. “Insane” is the moniker I am regularly given.

11. We’re curious…do you even get tired of drinking your own wine? Is it considered bad form to dip into your inventory?

As a small winery and huge Rhone enthusiast, I make wines to my personal palate, and have been fortunate enough to build a diligent following. I enjoy my wines but rarely open them (my Grenache Blanc being an exception.) I am also my own harshest critic, and will not release a wine that I personally would not buy. I enjoy wine immensely, buy far too much, and often open 3-4 bottles at a time for comparison.

12. Do you still have a day job?

Yes, software sales that involves 6 state travel. Often a challenge, and results in 7 day work weeks, but necessary to fund my passion.

For more information about Two Shepherds visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

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