/ Updated on May 20, 2016

“…she took her hand and raised her brush. For a moment it stayed trembling in a painful but exciting ecstasy in the air. Where to begin? –that was the question – at what point to make the first mark? One line placed on the canvas committed her to innumerable risks, to frequent and irrevocable decisions… Still the risk must run; the mark made.” – – Virginia Woolf

Have you ever bought a wine because you were drawn to the label? And then come to find out what’s inside is just as beautiful? This describes Desparada wines to a tee. As many of you know, we are constantly in search of wines from smaller artisanal producers around the globe. Three years ago, when Laura Lamprecht first introduced us to the artist otherwise known as Vailia and her exquisite wines, we were mesmerized.

Vailia Esh arrived at a vineyard in Paso Robles on something of a lark, after fleeing Toronto’s hustle and sleet. She had nothing but a crazy dog, a tiny camper and a few changes of clothes. As she wistfully says, “I came following a light I’ve chased my whole life, but never thought I’d see so close. I’ve chased that light across North and South America, always grasping, nearly catching hold and watching it dart past. I don’t know what it is, I hope I never do, I would hate to get old and boring, but I am certain that it’s something in wine and I just have to get a closer look.”

In her wild chase, Vailia has been everything she could for wine: importer, broker, retailer, cellar rat, harvester, and now vintner. She studied for her Masters in Wine. She fell in love with that first Paso vineyard, and stayed. She met her future husband, Russell From, who produces the Herman Story line of wines [the geeky guy in the glasses – see gallery]. It was no accident that Desparada came into being in the California Central Coast where artists and visionaries thrive and aren’t afraid to blaze some trails. There, Vailia’s hand wasn’t forced into any particular style. She felt free to play, to discover and push toward new horizons. Because she’s an explorer by nature, there’s no escaping the fact that her wines are the milestones in her personal journey. “Working in a place so young, there was an unavoidable temptation to use the guideposts left by regions like Pauillac, Chateauneuf or Montalcino.”  Still plotting her trail, the wines of Desparada are guided more by spirit than style. Each wine stands for a particular vision, and in each vintage Vailia uses new knowledge, varietals and vineyards to bring that vision into sharper focus.

An example of her vision is one of our favorites – Sackcloth & Ashes (a blend of 39% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Cabernet Franc, 16% Petit Verdot, 14% Malbec, 7% Merlot, and 7% Sangiovese). This gorgeous wine spent months in new and neutral French oak. The grapes were sourced from Vogelzang, Coghlan, D'ambino, White Hawk, Luna Matta, Santa Barbara Highlands, and Chelle Mountain vineyards. As with all of Vailia’s wines, this was a very limited release.

I can’t do justice to the artist or her wines by paraphrasing the tasting notes, so I’ll give you Vailia’s description of the 2013 Sackcloth & Ashes: “This is the memory of the abandoned abbey you discovered when in lithe summer nights, when you were young and alone. Crushed violet, ripped jeans, quarter-sawn spruce, blueberry cake, warmed sage, buckwheat honey, anisette, chocolate brownie batter, ancient incense, cherry-skin cigar, Palo Santo smudge and sassafras bark.”

Are you hooked yet? Did you know that Desparada’s labels were inspired by 19th century French academic paintings and pencil drawings of nude women by Gustav Klimt? Vailia’s vision came to life when her team of artists digitally “cut out” the dresses on each of her Venus figures on the labels of her wines.

Our other favorite is the Desparada Wayfinder (100% Chardonnay) from Edna Valley. “Coming of age quickly over the course of a summer on an esteemed country estate: White peach, tuberose, toasted jasmine tea, pear Jelly Belly, anisette, vintage Bentley interior, arugula, nectarine and fresh-shucked Kumamoto oyster.” Only 223 cases were made.

The Desparada Suitor is 100% Pinot Noir, made with grapes from Santa Maria Valley.  Only 166 cases were made. Sublime. Exquisite. Non-conforming.

“Every artist makes herself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer.”

– – –Willa Cather

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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