After dinner I returned to my computer to catch up on the day's news, only to find in my email a message even more depressing than tonight's wine: Patrick Campbell has sold his Sonoma Mountain winery Laurel Glen. This is unsettling because I've long looked upon Patrick Campbell as one of the more open and earnest winemakers in the California wine trade, a vintner to be valued both for his respect of place and for his knack of delivering quality at readily accessible prices. At first glance, I was baffled by his announcement, but then remembered that he's been in the game for more than three decades and is ready to take on new challenges, or perhaps just to relax a bit, though I suspect that relaxation to Patrick mean writing a book or composing a symphony.
Neither his name nor the name Laurel Glen may be readily recognized by a lot of wine consumers, given the modest profile he's been comfortable with and his limited production, but I'm pretty confident in saying that among smart sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine merchants both Patrick Campbell and Laurel Glen have been synonymous with integrity, character and value.
The up side to this development, however, is that Patrick Campbell isn't leaving the wine business. While some wine consumers may be unfamiliar with Laurel Glen, virtually everyone who appreciates a solid buy will know his other labels, such as Tierra Divina, Terra Rosa, ZaZin and most especially REDS, all everyday wines that deliver refreshing fruit, complexity and balance for just a few bucks. He may be selling Laurel Glen, but he's keeping his hand in the trade by continuing those brands, all under the umbrella company called Tierra Divina Vineyards.
"With 35 years of farming Laurel Glen under my belt, I had simply gotten about as much intellectual interest and satisfaction out of the vineyard and winery as I was ever going to get. Furthermore, during the past 20 years, my heart has been increasingly taken with the projects I had been developing in Lodi and Argentina, and it became ever more obvious that it was time to move on," said Patrick in his email. (For the Tierra Divina brand he gets fruit in Argentina, while for REDS he relies on grapes from Lodi.)
He's sold Laurel Glen to Bettina Sichel, a member of a prominent Bordeaux and German family invoved in the wine trade for several generations. She's the daughter of legendary wine promoter Peter M. F. Sichel, who was so instrumental in establishing the brand Blue Nun in the United States. The Sichels know prized properties, and in Laurel Glen have acquired a site with a remarkable record for cabernet sauvignon of singular distinction, celebrated for their concentrated fruit, layered complexity and long life. "I have been working on this sale for over three years, and after many hiccups and detours it has finally happened," says Campbell. He didn't disclose the terms of the sale, though more details may be forthcoming in a press release to be issued soon.
Long before today's buzz over the wines of Argentina and Chile, Patrick was exploring the two countries and striking deals to import wines. Consequently, as I prepared for a trip to South America I asked him who I should visit and where I should eat. As for dinner options, he highly recommended the pasta primavera at the restaurant Trevi in Mendoza. If I get there, the first thing I'll do is raise a toast to the pleasures his wines have provived in the past and no doubt will continue to provide in the future.