The Story of Herman

/ Updated on June 30, 2017

I introduced you to Vailia Esh from Desparada Winery last month and we got a glimpse of the 2011 Late Bloomer. Valia’s husband, Russell From, is the proprietor and winemaker behind the Herman Story label. On the back of every bottle is a tribute to his grandfather (for whom Russell named his wine): “[He] was a Rancher, Logger, Swapper, Banker, Philanthropist, a Teller of Tales, and my Grandfather.”

When Russell attended Cal Poly to study agriculture business and crop science, he had no idea that he would end up starting his own winery. So what does a Connecticut-born kid know about really good Syrah grapes? During and after college, while interning at wineries, working at custom crush facilities, traveling around the world and working in the restaurant industry, he soon discovered that he really loves wine. (Not unlike a lot of us!)

So in 2001, he decided to start a winery, inspired mainly by the Rhone grapes (otherwise known as GSM or Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre). He joined a vintner group called the Rhone Rangers, and started sourcing grapes from central California vineyards such as Ballard Canyon, White Hawk, Chelle Mountain, and others. It wasn’t long before he was making his own wine under the Herman Story label. In the first two years, he only made 5 barrels; mostly Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. For the next few years, Russell concentrated on growing the best GSM grapes in what would become the most optimal conditions for these varieties. [Incidentally, central California and Rhone, France have similar climates.]

In 2011, Russell moved to Paso Robles and leased some land to plant his own grapes. But he also still gets fruit from 20-25 top-tier vineyards in the central coast area. Russell has always believed that “finer wines come from finer grapes.” He painstakingly tends to his grapes (without the use of machinery) from beginning to end. He hand-prunes, cluster-thins, trims, trellises, and harvests all of his grapes. Guess that’s where the crop science degree comes in handy.

After moving to Paso, Russell met his future wife, Vailia, at a wine-crushing co-op. According to Russel, Vailia had a huge crush on him. Today they are married, making great wines side by side in their Paso home, with a beautiful 1-year old daughter. So romantic!

So, back to the Herman Story line of wines. As some of you undoubtedly know, there is a picture of a dorky guy on each vintage of the Late Bloomer. Russell himself was the boy on the first vintage of the Late Bloomer. After that, he actually runs an international contest, getting hundreds of submissions of photos of geeky looking adolescents from around the world. The winning geek gets his picture on the label, visits the winery, and goes home with a free case of wine! Word has it that Russell and crew have narrowed the choices down to a first-ever female geek this year. (He texted me the photo but I’m not at liberty to release it. However, I can say she is the geekiest girl I’ve seen since high school.) I don’t know about you, but I’m going to rummage through my attic to find my own dorky photo for next year’s contest!

When all’s said and done, what’s inside the bottle is what counts. We have been proud to have carried the full line of Herman Story wines here at Teller, and currently have in stock the 2011 Late Bloomer, the 2011 Casual Encounter, and the 2013 Nuts & Bolts. Of course, Russell makes only a few hundred cases of each.

As I did with Vailia’s wines, it’s inadequate to paraphrase the tasting notes, so I’m going to share Russell’s own descriptions of his wines here. Believe me when I say even these descriptions don’t do the wines justice.

The 2011 Casual Encounter (GSM) – “Running through the woods catching mouthfuls of branches and blackberries then having an early grilled lunch and reminiscing over afternoon brandies. Scents of wet raspberries, slow cooked bbq brisket, Nutella, black licorice, spent shotgun shell, graham cracker, blackberry streusel, and Lily of the Valley bring you happily to the porch to indulge in a bowl of wild blueberries, Sarsaparilla, crème caramel, black and blue steaks and cinnamon sticks with a finish that’ll take you through sunset.”

The 2013 Nuts & Bolts (100% Syrah) – “Like a midnight sleigh ride through the alps in 1960s St. Moritz with only the finest company: rich, transformative, and softly dangerous. Broiled huckleberry, cinnamon chocolate ice cream, the apple from a roast pig, Turkish coffee, elderflower liqueur, violet tea, mincemeat pie, chocolate-dusted lamb shank and brandied cherry crepes. All indulged with the secret that no one knows you’re just a friend of the coachman.”

The 2011 Late Bloomer (100% Grenache) – “Lawrence of Arabia’s favorite Saharan oasis: lush, pure, refined and exotic. Clove-spiced blackberry, dragonfruit, anise seed, fruit tagine, softened cinnamon stick, kaleidoscopic Persian rug, cardamom and revived cherry, all wrapped together with a bluster of cool, sage-infused air and the familiar embrace of an old friend.”

Lovely. Now you have the rest of the story.

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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