Today, there are plenty of women working in the world of wine. But when Laely Heron launched Heron Wines in 1994, women winemakers were a scarce commodity. However, her pioneering efforts shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, she’s lived all over the world—including North Africa, Denmark and France—is fluent in English, Danish and French, studied enology in Bordeaux and was the first American employee of Australian wine producer Lindeman’s. Today, her wines come from Spain, southern France and California. And, despite the fact that she studied for a Master of Wine certification, Heron’s wines are approachable, not precious. Best of all, they’re affordable. “Delicious wines should be an inalienable right,” Heron says. Can I get an “amen”?
Those at Heron take a “less is more” approach to winemaking, believing that “a winemaker’s job is to allow the best qualities of the fruit to shine through.” This often means hand-harvesting, hand-sorting and extended maceration for the reds. And Heron is one of the few wineries in California not using malolactic fermentation on Chardonnay, because they prefer the natural, bright acidity of the grape.
Heron doesn’t own any vineyards. “This allows us to spend our money where it matters: on exceptional grapes and barrels, not mortgages,” Heron says. “Whenever possible, we work with vineyards that are certified or managed organically, biodynamically or, at the very least, sustainably.”
Well, the proof is in the pudding. I recently had the opportunity to taste my way through a vast array of Heron’s California-produced wines, as well as one from Spain. They are—pretty much across the board—excellent values. Here are my notes on the wines:
Heron Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2010 ($11.99): A lean, crisp Sauvignon Blanc from Yountville. Good balance with cantaloupe aromas, tangy tangerine and traditional grapefruit/grass flavors typical of Sauvignon Blanc. Fermented in stainless steel—no lees contact and no barrel aging, so it’s not a big, oaky California-style Sauvignon Blanc. A clean, no-nonsense Sauvignon Blanc that’s a good partner for seafood.
Heron Chardonnay 2010 ($9.99): This one’s an absolute steal for the price. Ripe fruit flavors of pears and peaches and subtle oak treatment, resulting in a surprisingly robust, full-bodied, but not over-the-top Chardonnay.
Heron Pinot Noir California 2010 ($11.99): Pretty complex for a wine this price, with red-cherry and raspberry flavors, along with hints of vanilla, earth and some smokiness. I rocked this Pinot with barbecued brisket.
Heron Pinot Noir Mendocino County 2010 ($11.99): Fruit-forward black-cherry, raspberry and plum flavors dominate this Pinot, with subtle anise and allspice notes, finishing with smoky tannins. Great with roasted mushrooms.
Heron Cabernet Sauvignon Mendocino County 2010 ($11.99): Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Malbec to add complexity to the wine, resulting in dark blackberry, plum and red-currant flavors, along with hints of green pepper and herb, with moderately firm tannins. A straightforward, everyday Cab.
Heron Merlot Mendocino County 2009 ($12): Robust red-cherry and plum flavors combined with those of a raspberry-vanilla cola (if there is such a soda!). A little spicy, with firm tannins on the finish.
Heron Sexto Terra Alta 2007 ($11.99): This is one of my favorite Heron wines. Made in Terra Alta, Spain, the southern-most wine region of Catalonia, it’s an exotic blend of Grenache, Carignan, Tempranillo, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and the ancient grape Lledoner Pelut Noir. It’s a spicy, distinctive wine that pairs nicely with a wide range of foods, but is especially aimed at Spanish tapas, of course.