A Family Affair

/ Updated on December 5, 2014

You would have to be of a certain vintage to remember the TV show of the same name (1966-1971).  The inimitable Mr. French, played by Sebastian Cabot, was the caretaker/butler for Uncle Bill (Brian Keith), a widowed father of two young children. Nostalgia notwithstanding, we make it our mission to peruse, pursue, and purchase wines from small, family-owned wineries. Especially those that make (dare I say it?) zin-fully delicious wines. [Gadzooks … you actually said it… -ed.]

The story of Michael David Winery is a classic example of the quality and limited production wines that we love and that our customers have come to expect. “Michael” and “David” are Michael and David Phillips, two brothers whose family has farmed in the Lodi, California region since the 1850s, cultivating wine grapes for nearly a century. Indeed a family affair, Michael David Winery has extended itself to the 6th generation of grape growers in the family.

You will recognize their unique and eye-catching labels.  At Teller, we have in stock the Inkblot (newest addition to the lineup), the Petite Petit, the 6th Sense Syrah, 7 Deadly Zins, the Freakshow Cab, and the Earthquake Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petit Sirah.  More about each later.

The rest of the MDW family team consists of Adam Mettler, general manager and chief winemaker. Adam himself is a 5th generation Lodi wine grape grower and still manages his own family’s (the Mettler Family) Vineyards; Derek DeVries, winemaker and production manager; and Jeff Farthing, assistant winemaker and laboratory manager.  All three have Bachelor of Science degrees in Oenology, Chemistry, and/or Viticulture. Jeff was the 1st person in United States history to receive a Master of Science in Viticulture & Oenology from California State University –Fresno in 2004.

Winemaking is an art and a science. The biochemical process of fermentation requires, among other things, maintaining the proper sugar content in the must, choosing the yeast strain, and controlling the temperature and pH balance. The art is knowing how and what grapes to blend to give a wine its unique flavor profile, structure and identity. Perhaps most importantly, a winemaker’s passion for the hands-on craft is what shines through at the end of the day. The satisfaction of creating a style all one’s own, of carefully handling and overseeing every stage of the process, of coaxing the flavors out of the grapes, is the ultimate reward. If you’ve ever had any of the Michael David wines, you sense that this family has mastered this art and the science. Mostly in what we call the “Hot & Jammy” (Zinfandels, Syrahs, Petite Syrahs – high in alcohol content) family on the shelves at Teller Wines in Lewes.

Starting with our newest MDW wine, the Inkblot (no worries, Hermann Rorschach is not looking), you will no doubt appreciate the wine’s hot and jammy personality! As there is not a lot of Cabernet Franc made in Lodi, this is a beautiful expression of what it can be. This wine is imprinted with Michael David’s typical big, bold flavors. It offers black cherry on the mid-palate, and a bit of graphite on the finish with a touch of vanilla. It shows complex aromas of freshly crushed fruit (blackberry and plum), pepper and tobacco. Velvet-smooth tannins, dense and rich, this elixir fills every corner of the mouth with its decadence. (In Hot & Jammy)

Like elephants whose size is imposing, the Petite Petit is large! A blend of 85% Petite Sirah and 15% Petit Verdot, it offers a joyous explosion of color and fun. It is a substantial, dense, full-bodied, whopper style of wine loaded with pure black fruit and vanilla flavors that coat the palate. It reveals remarkable richness with a finish that is slightly dry and seems to linger. (In H&J)

From a black grape that makes red wine, the 6th Sense Syrah remains a huge player in the Michael David lineup. Super-saturated, big and juicy, it makes a bright, tangy impact. Full of flavor in the same deep-red tones as the aromas, tannins are tame. The mid-palate offers plum and blackberry, with a touch of mulberry. (In H&J)

7 Deadly Zins is a sinful blend indeed! The MDW flagship Zinfandel was devised by the two Phillips brothers in their search for a blended Zin so captivating that no one could refuse. With consistency in mind, the brothers decided to blend the fruit of Lodi’s finest growers to fill the bottles of Michael David’s newfangled wine. In the end, seven vineyards were chosen for their superiority. Now, how do you label a wine so unique in style? Looking to their past, the Phillips brothers quickly related the Seven Sins from their Catholic school upbringing to the seven Old Vine Zinfandels blended in their wine. “Fuller and richer with more texture and deeper fruit, it reveals hints of tapenade, new saddle leather, black cherries and black currants. It offers a lot of flavor for its price.” 88 points – Robert Parker (In H&J)

The 2012 Freakshow Cab is FREAKing amazing! Over each vintage, the intensity has been kicked up exponentially. This 4th incarnation has more of everything: more depth, more ripe fruit, more pizzazz. Nicely balanced with fruit (pomegranate) and oak (showing some smoke). Warning—it’s gulpable! But take it easy. It has 14.5% alcohol.  (In Big & Concentrated)

California is known for its earthquakes, so the Phillips brothers have come up with three over-the-top and shattering-to-the-veins wines under the Earthquake label.  These wines possess major concentration and daring flavor. The original is the Earthquake Zinfandel, which came from an old Lodi vineyard planted around the same time of San Francisco’s great Earthquake of 1906. While mulling over a label name in the vineyard, Michael Phillips thought it only seemed fitting to relate this intense wine with the historic quake. With over 15% alcohol and bold tannins, peppery and spicy intertwined with cherries and raspberries, these dark and voluminous wines will definitely leave your senses quivering.

The Earthquake Cab is brilliant deep purple clear out to the rim. It is juicy and fruit forward with plenty of structure. Black cherry compote predominates, but this bottle is infused with hints of cocoa. Consistent with Earthquake’s signature style, it is full-bodied, but sleek as silk. Like all of MDW wines, it finishes smooth with mild tannins, and a slight high note on the finish. (In H&J)

The Earthquake Petite Sirah offers the varietal’s typical full-bodied tannins, but the fruit is so opulent that its tannins are a very small part of its story. A whiff of violet lures you in, but then it’s all dark chocolate and summer blackberry in the mouth. Tooth-staining, yes. But elegant and downright pretty. (In H&J)

So there you have it- from the Phillips family, to ours, to yours.  As a member of our family likes to say, “A family that drinks together, stays together!”

[In the interest of time and space, I did not write about the other two MDW wines that we carry- the Chardonnay and Cinsault. Both have their loyal following, as do those in the rest of the portfolio.]

Catherine Hester

About the Author

co-owner of Teller Wines in Lewes, DE with her husband Kevin, is a world traveler and shares their adventures at various wineries while offering thoughts on why she and Kevin order particular wines for their customers. Learn more about the Hesters by clicking here. View all articles written by Catherine Hester

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  1. Paul Paul says:

    Great article Catherine!! We love MDV..and have for more than 10 years. One of our favorite wineries in all of California.

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