Friday, May 12, 2017

Raymond Burr Sonoma Dry Creek Cabernet

Raymond Burr Sonoma County Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1994

For a Friday night home dinner of grilled steaks, golden potatoes and sauteed spinach, I pulled from the cellar this vintage Raymond Burr 1994 Cabernet that had been waiting for the right occasion to be consumed, a candidate for OTBN - Open That Bottle Night.

When dining at home and having wine, I invariably strive to pull older bottles from the cellar as they need to be consumed and there is risk of holding them too long, beyond their drinking window. This wine was past its prime and was in the late stages of its drinking window. Enjoying such wines is an adventure and is not uncommon for one with an extensive wine cellar.

Raymond Burr and partner Robert Benevides planted their first Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1986 and bottled their first vintage in 1992. Raymond was only able to taste this vintage from the barrel before his passing in 1993. 

Based on the price tag still adorning the bottle (shown below), I can trace this purchase back to AJ’s Fine Foods Wine Cellars, an upscale grocery and wine shop in Scottsdale that I used to frequent during trips there. It often had unique small production selections such as this one.

Only older folks or TV buffs would remember or even know who Raymond Burr was. He was a Canadian-American actor, primarily known for his title roles in the television dramas Perry Mason in which he played a courtroom lawyer. The series ran from 1957 to 1966 and Burr received three consecutive Emmy Award nominations and won the award in 1959 and 1961 for his performance as Perry Mason.

Following Perry Mason, Burr played the title role in the television drama Ironside, San Francisco Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside, who was wounded by a sniper during an attempt on his life and, after his recovery, uses a wheelchair for mobility. His role in this hit series crime drama showed a police officer with a disability, ran from 1967 to 1975 and earned Burr six Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations.

According to wikipedia, "Burr's early acting career included roles on Broadway, radio, television and in film, usually as the villain. His portrayal of the suspected murderer in the Alfred Hitchcock thriller Rear Window (1954) is regarded as his best-known film role. He won two Emmy Awards, in 1959 and 1961, for the role of Perry Mason, which he played for nine seasons (1957–66) and was featured in a series of 26 television films (1985–93).

Burr's portrayal of Perry Mason defined his career and became the quintessential persona of a lawyer. The day after Burr's death, American Bar Association president R. William Ide III released a statement: "Raymond Burr's portrayals of Perry Mason represented lawyers in a professional and dignified manner. … Mr. Burr strove for such authenticity in his courtroom characterizations that we regard his passing as though we lost one of our own." The New York Times reported that Perry Mason had been named second—after F. Lee Bailey, and before Abraham Lincoln, Thurgood Marshall, Janet Reno and Hillary Clinton (amazingly), in a National Law Journal poll that asked Americans to name the attorney, fictional or not, they most admired.

His second hit TV series, Ironside, earned him six Emmy nominations and two Golden Globe nominations."

Burr appeared in more than 50 feature films between 1946 and 1957. He was awarded a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame at 6656 Hollywood Boulevard in 1960. Burr was ranked #44 on TV Guide's 50 Greatest TV Stars of All Time in 1996.

Burr and his life and business partner Robert Benevides owned and operated an orchid business and a vineyard in the Sonoma County, Dry Creek Valley. His primary interest was orchids where they operated nurseries in Fiji, Hawaii, the Azores, and California, and were responsible for adding more than 1,500 new orchids to the worldwide catalog.

Besides orchids, in the wine business, they grew Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and grapes for Port wine on the property in Sonoma County.

Burr died in Healdsburg, CA in 1993 before the first release of his wine. Benevides subsequently renamed the Dry Creek property Raymond Burr Vineyards (reportedly against Burr's wishes).

So, the wine business was perhaps secondary to his acting career and nursery business, Burr and Benevides were initially growers more than wine producers.

According to the rear label, this wine was produced and bottled by J&J Winery in Geyserville and would actually have been produced the year after Burr's death.

In 2006, Phyllis Zouzounis was hired as winemaker. “Phyllis was very thorough in checking us out,” said Benevides. “She walked the vineyard for two weeks, tasting the wines and talking to the crew, before she agreed to the job.” Her diligence paid off as Raymond Burr wines won a number of gold medals and a Sweeps prize at the 2008 San Diego Wine Competition.

The current fate is unclear as their website has gone dark and the domain name is available for sale.

The label states this 1994, "arguably the top vintage of the decade .... heralds the formidable quality Raymond Burr dreamed of achieving from his Dry Creek Vineyards." It states 875 cases were produced of this label - a blend of 91.5% Cabernet Sauvignon and 8.5% Cabernet Franc.

Reflecting the quality and age-worthiness of that 1994 vintage, and the quality of the wine, at 23 years of age, this still showed bright vibrant cherry fruits accented by earthy leather and notes of cedar.

RM 88 points at this stage.

Only after I'd published this post and gone back to update my wine Journal Index did I realize I had purchased two bottles of this wine and drank the other fifteen years ago. Here is my journal post of that tasting, at which time I gave it the same rating back in April 2002.

A visit to the Raymond Burr Vineyards and tasting room is chronicled in this You-Tube video, featuring the 2006 vintage of Raymond Burr Cabernet.