Ever wonder how wines get such quirky names – “Mollydooker,” “Big House White,” “Frenzy,” “Gnarly Head,” “Mossback?”
The most colorful – even silly – of the monikers are called “fantasy” names, because they’re simply created in the winemaker’s head.
Iconic California winemaker Randall Grahm named his Rhone-style red wine “Cigare Volant,” or “Flying Cigar,” the French term for “flying saucer,” in satirical honor of a French ordinance banning the landing of alien spacecraft in the vineyards.
Grahm’s “Big House White,” when he owned it, was named because the winery was located near Soledad, Calif., home of the “Big House” — Soledad State Correctional Facility. He called its winemaker “The Warden.”
“Mollydooker” winery in Australia, which makes a fabulous shiraz, comes from the local term for “southpaw,” since both owners are left-handed.
“Champ de Reves,” a California winery that makes pinot noir, is named for a vineyard on a high mountain plateau that’s so pretty they call it “Field of Dreams.”
“Frenzy” winery, which makes sauvignon blanc in New Zealand, honors the “uncontrollable forces of nature that must fall into place to make great wine.”
Hope Family Vineyards winemaker Austin Hope says he calls his Rhone-style red blend “The Troublemaker” because he used to misbehave purposely to bait his father into punishing him by keeping him out of school and in the vineyard – which he loved.
Other wines are named for more concrete objects. Rodney Strong Vineyards’ “Charlotte’s Home” sauvignon blanc is from a vineyard named in honor of his wife. His “Chalk Hill” Chardonnay comes from a vineyard on a hill with chalky soil.
“Gnarly Head” Cellars in California refers to the gnarly heads of 50-year-old zinfandel vines that make its best wine.
The Argentine winery Dona Paula makes a “Los Cardos” malbec named in Spanish for the pretty thistles that surround the vineyard.
“Mossback” winery in California was a local term for the workers who used to toil in the vineyards from sunup to sunset.
“Periquita” winery in Portugal translates as “parakeet” after local birds.
“Tower 15” winery near Paso Robles is named for a lifeguard tower in Pacific Palisades, Calif. It makes a red blend called “The Swell.”
Don’t misunderstand “Hooker” syrah; it’s merely the name of a player position in rugby, a favorite sport of owners of Lawer Family Wines in Calistoga, Calif.
Still other wineries are named for their owners. Robert Mondavi and Ernest & Julio Gallo, for example. Arrowood Winery is named for founder Richard Arrowood.
Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in California is named for the Italian immigrant family that also invented the Jacuzzi spa as therapy for a young son’s arthritis.
What it all shows is that, despite the hours of toil and sweat, it must be wonderful fun to run a winery.
• 2010 Hooker “Home Pitch” Syrah, Knights Valley, Sonoma County: inky hue, hint of oak, aromas and flavors of cassis and black cherries, full and rich; $46.
• 2008 Arrowood Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County (82 percent cabernet sauvignon, 13 percent merlot, 2 percent cabernet franc, 2 percent petit verdot, 1 percent malbec): hint of oak, aromas and flavors of black raspberries and dark chocolate, big, ripe tannins, full body. $30.
• Multivintage (2010 and 2011) Troublemaker, Paso Robles (67 percent syrah, 22 percent Grenache, 8 percent Grenache, 3 percent petite sirah): dark and rich and mellow, with aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee; $20.
• 2011 Tower 15 “The Swell” Red wine, Paso Robles (cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot): hint of cedar aroma, flavors of black plums and bittersweet chocolate, powerful flavors; $21.
• 2011 Barrymore Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGT, Italy: light yellow color, crisp acids, flavors of peaches and lemons; $20.
• 2010 Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Primitivo, Lake County: aromas and flavors of black cherries and black coffee, tart finish; $16.
Fred Tasker has retired from the Miami Herald but is still writing about wine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.