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December 7, 2020
Back to school

Blair Guthrie makes some seriously fun wines out of California. Originally from New Zealand, Blair worked his way through Australia to California where he grows some traditional varietals as well as some not so traditional ones. That's not even the best part though. Blair has made a personal commitment to diversifying the wine industry by offering mentorships to people from underrepresented populations. He's here to welcome and support BIPOC and LQBTQIA+ folx throughout their wine journeys. We love that.

Yo-Yo Ma, the world renowned cellist, received early encouragement from his parents to take up the instrument. By age 8, he was appearing on national TV. A virtuoso.

So you can imagine the disappointment that Keith’s parents felt when, after years of lessons, nudging, coddling, and dogged oversight, the sum total of his talents on the piano are that he can play one Taylor Swift song and two Avicii covers. Point being, when our parents encourage us to do something, it’s not a sure thing that it’ll take. But then again, sometimes it does.

Blair Guthrie didn’t hate being a graphic designer, per se, but he was not at all interested in sitting behind a desk as he was doing in his early 20s. On a whim, his mom suggested that he give winemaking school a try. And so off the young New Zealander goes to his first semester of wine school. In the first week, the professor brought in bottles upon bottles of wine so that the largely inexperienced group could begin to hone their sensibilities for wine.

In our first semesters of college, we too sampled a variety of potions. Just as it was for Blair, the goal was always about honing the palate. Andrew became obsessed with acing his blind tasting of Coors, Busch, and PBR. It is rumored that Keith had such a discerning palate that he could immediately identify the year, provenance, and factory of origin for Kokanee from a single keg stand.

Blair’s palate of course, was a little more useful from a career standpoint. He discovered he possessed a particularly strong palate. Something about his artist’s mind and visual sensibilities honed in design school gave him an ability to appreciate what he called the “dimensionality” of wine--the length, the layers, the flavors all just made sense to him.

His substantial talents--and passion--got him a job at a startup winery in Australia. This was an important and rare first job in the trade, because it gave him a chance to develop a brand from its very origins.

Before long, he was making his way to the US to take on ever-ascending roles in the California wine trade. He was tapped to run numerous fine wine programs at wineries in Sonoma. But ultimately “corporate” wine was not for Blair.

“When you’re more of an artist-type, it’s really hard to have to make your decisions about wine based on margins and spreadsheets.”

So, before long, he and his wife, Caroline, launched Guthrie Family Wines where he harnesses all the knowledge and skill it takes to produce some of California’s most premium wines into something that is just...way more fun.

He’s all about organic and plays with the varietals you’ll know (syrah), and those you don’t (Picpoul Blanc, wtf?). Coolest of all, Blair has made a personal commitment to help encourage and support BIPOC and LQBTQIA+ folks interested in beginning a career in wine. He offers mentorship specifically to these communities with the goal of diversifying the wine industry. Learn more here.

Meet Your Maker

[WT] You work all across the price spectrum. You’re making wine at $200 and at $20. How should people think about the difference there?

One really important thing to understand is that winemakers have roughly the same margin, no matter the price point. Whether they’re making ultra-premium wine or introductory price point wine their margin is about 40%. So the extra price isn’t just going into someone's pocket

By definition, that means the cost structure is way higher for more expensive wines. The biggest driver of that is wine is of course the fruit. The fruit that goes into my $200 cab is quite literally 10 times as expensive as the fruit that goes into my daily drinkers

But there are also big differences in the complexity of the projects. My most expensive wine is a two year project; there are so many inputs--everything from state of the art equipment to ensure perfect temperature control to fermentation to storage.

I’m a huge believer that there should be massive variety in wine. I’m still putting the same amount of care and attention into all of my wines, but they are wines for really different experiences and moments.

Caroline and Blair

[WT] You are very passionate about sourcing organically grown grapes. What are some of the trade offs you have to make in order to make that happen?

I think the biggest thing is that I often can’t even find grapes to work with. I already work with pretty obscure varietals. In many cases, there isn’t much grown in the first place. So when you add in the hurdle of finding something that’s grown organically, it gets even harder. I make a Picpoul Blanc, and there’s already such a small amount in California. Add in organic, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack.

In some ways the price of doing things in organic style is all the wine that doesn’t get made.


The Juice

Today we’re featuring Blair’s Electric Syrah. This stuff is completely captivating. The production itself is attention grabbing--Blair and found an unusually cool climate pocket of California, and fermented 100% whole cluster in carbonic style (read more on that below).

If you’re looking for a mental comparable, this is the syrah that learned swear words at summer camp and then taught all of its friends once the next school year started. It’s daring, it’s cool as hell, and it might freak out the parents. Holy smokes, you’re going to love it.

From Blair:

Everyday pairing: burger

High brow pairing: Osso Bucco (Google it, don’t be ashamed)

Buy this wine if you want:

  • Organic, lightly carbonized Syrah. Uncommon. Delicious. Uncommonly delicious.
  • Rich aromatics and tons of ripe red berries with that classic syrah peppery jazz
  • First access to a wine not sold in Washington. A Winetarian exclusive.


Guthrie Family Wines 2018 Electric Syrah $25
[Only available in WA from Winetarian--PRICELESS. Arriving in our warehouse at the end of October.]

One Minute Wine Nerd

Here’s a mouthful: carbonic maceration.

Carbonic maceration is a technique that is best for making easier-drinking red wines with a slight bit of bubble. If that’s all you learn, great. But here’s the science behind it:

Most wine fermentation happens when yeast digests the sugars in grape juice and creates alcohol. This requires oxygen, and that the grapes be de-stemmed and crushed. It’s juice before it starts to ferment.

Amazingly, carbonic maceration happens when the grapes are still in berry form. That means that a tiny little fermentation vat is formed inside of each and every grape. When the alcohol level rises, the berries eventually burst.

Taken together, this makes for lighter colored wines with tons of fruit, and not a lot of tannin. Easy to drink. And as we often say - very crushable on a Tuesday morning.

Read more
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