"The resident meshugana of Napa Valley" is what John Buehler calls himself. Yiddish for crazy person, meshugana pretty much sums Buehler up. While his neighbors are asking $100 or more for a bottle, Buehler sells most of his wines for $36 or less.
"Five years ago, people walked up to me and asked what was wrong with my wines because of what I charged," Buehler says. "Now I'm a hero."
Funny how perceptions change with the economic times, but the one thing I've always liked about Buehler's wines is their old-fashioned value and dependability. Take for example the Zinfandel Napa Valley 2009 (91 points, $18), which is sleek and focused with elegantly complex notes of cherry, vanilla and spicy oak.
Not all Buehler's wines rate that highly, but you'll rarely get that sort of homegrown authenticity from a Napa wine at that price point. "If John had his way and he could afford it, he'd charge less for his wines," winemaker David Cronin says. "He really believes wine should be for everyday."
I'll repeat that: Napa and everyday. How often do you hear those two words in the same breath?
The story goes back to 1972 when Buehler planted his first Zinfandel vines in the mountains east of St. Helena. The previous year, his father, John Buehler, Sr., bought the remote hillside property, once home to a pre-Prohibition winery. The younger Buehler sold the grapes at first and made a little wine on the side until he launched the Buehler brand in 1978. (A young Heidi Peterson was one of his first winemakers.)
It wasn't always easy. If not for the white Zinfandel craze of the mid-1980s, he might have pulled out his Zin vines. Even now he makes a decent white Zin with a California appellation to help pay the bills.
The fruit from Buehler's mountain vineyards can be big and muscular, and his Cabernets are at their best with his Napa Valley bottling, in which more supple valley grapes add texture. The winery takes a similar approach with its Zinfandel, blending wine from Pope Valley to add flesh to the estate grapes. Buehler was also savvy enough in the early 1990s to turn to Sonoma's Russian River Valley for Chardonnay, realizing that Napa was generally too warm and too pricy for his customers. His Chardonnays are elegant and fruit-forward, generally a good buy for the price.
With his white pepper hair, dark mustache and easy sense of humor, Buehler often holds court at the winery; for those adventurous enough to roam off the usual Napa wine trails, visiting the winery is a schlep (Yiddish for long trip). "I feel like I'm in the witness protection program," he jokes of his location down a winding road, near the base of Howell Mountain.
Maybe I'm just a softie for someone who isn't in it for a fast buck. What can I say? All I know is that I like his wines. "It's not about image," Buehler says. "He who wins the race is slow and steady."
Matthew Slywka — Seymour, CT — March 23, 2011 12:49pm ET
Richard Gangel — San Francisco — March 23, 2011 2:53pm ET
Robert Dwyer — Wellesley, MA — March 23, 2011 6:00pm ET
Tim Mc Donald — Napa,CA — March 23, 2011 6:50pm ET
Kimberly Charles — San Francisco, CA, USA — March 23, 2011 7:08pm ET
Amber Mihna — appleton wi — March 23, 2011 7:24pm ET
John Tallarido — royal palm beach, fl ,usa — March 23, 2011 10:24pm ET
Rick Evans — Oswego, IL — March 24, 2011 10:42am ET
Joe-janelle Becerra — Burlingame, CA — March 24, 2011 11:13am ET
Tim Fish — Santa Rosa, CA — March 24, 2011 11:38am ET
Dave Reuther — Deerfield, Illinois — March 24, 2011 7:37pm ET
Gavin Mchugh — Nor Cal — March 24, 2011 10:22pm ET
Tom & Nancy Brown — Louisville, KY - USA — March 25, 2011 9:31am ET
Michael Eacrett — Los Altos, CA — March 31, 2011 11:05am ET
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