Friday, July 6, 2007

Sean Thackrey: Maverick Winemaker

It must have been fate. I went into Rapid Liquors in Stoneham seeking Sean Thackrey's Pleaides. I had been reading about this wine for some time and it had intrigued me. I love unique red blends and this seemed to be one such wine. I had failed to find the wine in several other wine stores. But my search had ended.

Rapid had a single bottle of Pleaides XII, something a distributor had recently dropped off. They sold it to me and I eagerly brought it home. I did not wait long before opening it and the wine was simply amazing. It was so complex, with such an intriguing melange of flavors that harmoniously existed in the bottle. I was hooked and returned to Rapid to order a case.

Since then, I have continued to order Pleiades as it is very difficult to find at wine stores. I just recently purchased a case of Pleaides XIV. As well as a bottle of his 2003 Andromeda Pinot Noir. I also recently purchased a bottle of the 2003 Sirius Petite Sirah. Stored up, I have bottles of Pleaides XII, XIII, XIV and XV. Once the XVI is produced, I may do a vertical tasting of my Pleaides.

So, who is Sean Thackrey, and what makes his wines so special?

Sean H. Thackrey is a unique winemaker, a maverick. He never formally studied winemaking. Instead, he studied ancient and medieval texts on winemaking (and has one of the world's largest selection of such manuscripts). He uses some techniques garnered from their manuscripts, techniques that probably no one else does. He is always experimenting, learning as he goes. He is an artisanal winemaker and truly blazes his own path.

His winery is located in Marin Country, about an hour northwest of San Francisco. He names all of his wines after constellations, like Pleiades, Orion, Sirius, Taurus and Andromeda. He only produces about 5000 cases of wine each year, about half being Pleaides. In addition, about 40% of his production is exported to Europe and Japan. This means the wines are very limited in the U.S. As the wines often garner high points from some of the top wine critics, such as Robert Parker, that does mean there is a high demand for these wines.

I love his Pleiades. Each new production receives a new Roman numeral and there have been fifteen so far. Each new number is so different from the previous years. I love their complexity, their bold flavors. Why the name? In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of Atlas. The Pleiades wine is said to contain seven grapes, Syrah, Barbera, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel, Sangiovese and white Viognier. It is possible that some other grapes end up in this blend as well. Thackrey does not measure the percentages of the grapes. He just uses what he feels like, tasting and testing as he goes along. The grapes also come from different vineyards and vintages. So, it is basically a foregone conclusion that the wine will vary from year to year.

The Pleaides usually sell for $25-35 a bottle. Their other wines sell for more with the Orion being the highest priced, usually starting at about $125. I own a bottle of the Sirius and Andromeda but have not yet tasted them. I am saving them for a special occasion. Both may benefit as well from a bit of cellaring.

Thackrey's website is very unusual for a winery. It actually says very little about his wines. what it does contain are many ancient/medieval texts about winemaking. There is also an interview with the winemaker as well as a list of places where you can find his wines. I am not sure though how accurate or up to date that list may be.

Check these articles for more info on Sean Thackrey and his wines.
San Francisco Chronicle
Wine Spectator

Sean Thackrey Winery
P.O. Box 58
Bolinas, CA 94924
Phone: (415) 868-1781


Dr. Debs said...

Great post. I love Pleiades, though have never had the other wines. I didn't know about his interest in wine history, either!

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks! Glad to see there is someone else who loves Pleiades too. I am very excited to taste his other wines. They are more pricey than Pleaides so I certainly can't afford many of them. But I do think they will make excellent special occasion wines.

Anonymous said...

Cucina Anastacia,
I have been drinking Sean's Pleiades Wines for 2 summers. This years, Pleiades XVI is so different to the one I bought last year. I am lucky to live about 30 miles from Bolinas and the magical land of West Marin where this wine is made. Nice knowing people in Boston are enjoying this wonderful wine maker's wine !

Richard Auffrey said...

I tried the Pleiades XVI and do think it needs a bit more cellaring before it is really ready to drink. It seems to have a strong eucalyptus flavor right now.

You are definitely lucky to be so close Bolinas. Thackrey's wine are difficult to find out here. But I do love them so much.