SANTA ROSA, Calif., Jan. 28, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- In less than two years of becoming head winemaker at Donelan Family Wines, 29-year old Joe Nielsen has landed four Syrahs on Robert Parker's top 25 and garnered critical attention on his inaugural bottling of the 94-point 2013 Genevieve's Block Chardonnay (Sonoma Report, Dec. 30, 2014). But the journey hasn't been easy. His self-imposed "second glass" test made it even more challenging.
Nielsen is among the youngest winemakers in Sonoma to oversee a premium winery that consistently produces 96-99 point wines retailing at an average price of $60 a bottle (see "Winemaker's Notes" videos on new wine releases below).
Nielsen is most captivated by wines that transcend their status as a product and perishable item to an "emotional experience." To make such wines, he is committed to honoring the vineyard's true nature and using thoughtful techniques and purposeful intervention. Despite being a Millennial, he stands by classic traditions of winemaking, like whole-cluster inclusion, native fermentations and patience. His goal is not just a wine that tastes good or great on first impression or in a tasting flight, but one that passes the "second-glass" test.
"In blending and tasting trials, we often ask – is this wine so compelling that you want a second glass?" says Nielsen. "The wine should hold your attention even if there are other options in front of you. We'll often taste our wines blind against other producers. You can't be afraid of that kind of comparison or scrutiny."
And if a wine he produces is just "good" but doesn't scream "second glass" on a table full of options, a long conversation takes place with the winery's principal. Not an easy task.
Winery owner Joe Donelan, a successful self-made businessman in the paper industry, and his sons Tripp and Cushing put significant trust behind Nielsen and his decisions.
After nurturing a prized vineyard through a difficult growing season, the winemaking team once walked away from picking the fruit because it didn't ripen appropriately – a great loss for a small winery. It was a move Nielsen called "devastating."
This sacrifice was vital in maintaining the winery's reputation for quality. There was also the time when the winery decided to scrap half of another site's barrels because they didn't pass the "second glass" test, an approach Nielsen helped implement as assistant winemaker, nearly six years ago.
This quality commitment shows in the new releases: the 96-point 2012 Kobler Vineyard Syrah co-fermented with Viognier, the 2012 Obsidian Vineyard Syrah (97 points), and the inaugural 2013 Genevieve's Block Chardonnay (94 points). The Cuvee Keltie Syrah topped the list with 99 points.
Nielsen graduated from Michigan State with a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. He read books on French viticulture and planted his first vineyard in his family's backyard. After working in Napa and Michigan, he became assistant winemaker at Donelan in 2008.
"Our motto 'wine is a journey not a destination' is displayed on every bottle," said Marketing Director Cushing Donelan. "Joe Nielsen's journey as a winemaker is just as important as our journey as a family business. Allowing him his own intuitive process and trusting his craftsmanship has truly elevated our brand."
"We prize quality over all other factors," says Sales Director Tripp Donelan. "Joe's extensive blending trials and extreme selectivity are unparalleled in the industry. If he doesn't see a second glass in one of his wines, it's because he sees five."
"(the Donelans)…went a long way toward giving California Syrah an identity," said Dominic Fenton in his article "Syrah Grande"/The World of Fine Wine. "What (Joe) has achieved in six short years is nothing short of staggering."
"Winemaker's Notes" Videos on New Wine Releases
About Donelan Family Wines
We are a small, boutique winery in Sonoma County producing site-driven Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Grenache, and Roussanne. We are inspired by the natural variations in a vineyard and a variety. We start with great terroir, because site trumps all variables, and we proceed with extreme selectivity, conscientious winemaking, and extensive blending trials.
For media inquiries, contact Stacy Bellew at 818-322-7183 or [email protected].
Donelan Family Wines Website
SOURCE Donelan Family Wines