The Young Guns

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juddhill.jpgWine Country's Next Generation of Wine Makers Takes Off

By Courtney Cochran

Ever since Yellow Tail landed stateside I've seen a lot more young wine drinkers stepping up to the tasting plate. Now, before you stick up your nose and bad mouth the Aussie juice as some sort of unsophisticated entry-level slop, think twice.

It's having a profound effect on consumption patterns amongst new drinkers, functioning as a starter wine for lots of folks who were previously swilling just beer and booze. And, as is true for all things entry-level, there's only one way to go from here: up.

Once they're in the door, newbie wine lovers are moving quickly beyond the black and yellow to more complex wines. And what better way to introduce them to a bunch of awesome examples than through a live tasting featuring some of most dynamic movers and shakers on the wine scene under the age of 35?

Keeping It Real: A Mixed Crowd

A bunch of these new winemakers - including a skater, a past Peace Corps volunteer and a ukulele player - came together recently at my HIP TASTES: Young Guns wine tasting in San Francisco, where their delicious wines flowed freely and their eclectic personalities underscored the exciting new talent taking root on the local wine scene.

So that you can partake vicariously in the Young Guns festivities I've included profiles of a few of these stand-out wine personalities below. Their backgrounds are diverse but they all share a common thread: they make truly outstanding wine.

And we're expecting still better things to come.

The Green Thumb
Ames Morison spent time volunteering for the Peace Corps and teaching English in the Bronx before settling on winemaking as a career. A formal education at UC Davis prepared him for his duties as winemaker at critically acclaimed startup winery Medlock Ames, but it's his passion for environmental sustainability that has fueled his drive to operate the winery on solar power and to eschew all chemicals in his vineyards. Besides their focus on green production methods, Ames and co-owner/partner Christopher Medlock James are also committed to the production of premier quality wine. Ames employs gentle gravity flow techniques and native yeast fermentation in the winery, ensuring that the wines come out as pure and expressive as possible. Extremely limited, Ames' wines are a total treat.
Try his: 2002 Bell Mountain Ranch "Red" Alexander Valley, California

The Cross Cultural Wunderkind
Kenny Likitprakong is one very cool young winemaker. When the guy isn't making graphically striking silk screen t-shirts with his buddies he's churning out top-caliber wine from two labels: his very own Hobo Wine Company and Banyan Wines, an operation he owns with his father, Somchai. Taking a cue from his Thai heritage, Kenny specializes in refreshing whites from diverse California appellations. The common thread between all of his whites? They're all dynamite with Thai food and other spicy cuisine, a rarity amongst California's usually full-bodied whites. Where his own label is concerned, the name Hobo comes from the fact that Kenny doesn't have a permanent facility in which to make his wine. With his wry sense of humor, Kenny explains on the Hobo site that if you're looking for estate bottled wines, "you have come to the wrong place." But, if you're looking for great spirit and crisp, cool climate whites, you're in just the right place.
Try his: 2005 Banyan Riesling Santa Lucia Highlands, California &

The Musician
Growing up in the heart of Napa Valley didn't dull Judd Finkelstein's excitement about wine. Since he could stand on two feet, he's been stomping grapes for his family's wine operation, Judd's Hill, where as a bona fide adult he's grown into the role of winemaker. Since he's been in this role Judd's racked up some impressive accomplishments including top placements in prestigious wine competitions. But the coolest thing about Judd is what he does outside his family's winery, including, among other things (he's also involved with very cool custom crush facility Micro Crush, where regular folks like you and me can make wine in the good ole' Napa Valley), playing the ukulele in his band, The Maikai Gents Featuring the Mysterious Miss Mauna Loa. Watch for Judd and the group at nightclubs and luaus across the country. No joke.

Try his: 2002 Judd's Hill Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California

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