Celebrating an American success story

Joseph Carr has arrived: 

I was recently invited to a media dinner hosted by Carr, creator of Josh Cellars Wines, at David Bouley’s Bouley Botanical, a sensory events space at 281 Church St. in Lower Manhattan. Carr was positively giddy about how far he had come in a relative short while.

“If someone told me a decade ago I would be hosting a wine event alongside David Bouley, I wouldn’t believe them.” This is a true American success story. Carr worked his way up the restaurant ladder until he was drawn to the wine cellar, where he began to explore the world of wine. He became a sommelier and learned to present impressive wines to well-to-do patrons. This planted a seed in his mind that there was a need to fill in the domestic world of wine and he could do it.

In Europe, there are the big and well-known high-quality producers. France has the famous first growths of Bordeaux, Petrus and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti of Burgundy, among others. Spain has Pingus. Italy has Sassicaia. You can spend a big chunk of money on any of these wines. But these countries also produce vins de pays or essentially, country wines. These are the everyday drinking wines that most people readily open for any visitor or event or meal. In 2005, Carr began collaborating with winemaker Wayne Donaldson. They bought grapes from several growers in California and vinified, bottled and sold the resulting product. “In 2007, I sold 1,000 cases of wine out of my station wagon. Today we sell a million.” That’s impressive by any standard.

Carr named this affordable, drinkable wine after his late father, nicknamed Josh. Carr and Donaldson still do not own any grape vines but choose to source their grapes from all over California. I asked him if this was a production liability, if buying grapes from many sources and many regions led to any kind of inconsistency in his wines. He said, “Absolutely not. We source our grapes from some instantly recognizable vineyards known for their high-quality grapes and wines. Our wines compare favorably with some of these known wines for a fraction of the cost.” 

Josh Cellars Wines now offers six vintages, all on the market for between $14 and $19. They are the typically found noble varieties — Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot and also Legacy, a blend of Merlot, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. There are no real flavor surprises here. But all of them over-deliver for the price. Oak aging is employed in all of these wines, except the Sauvignon Blanc. And the oak influence is soft and subtle, presenting a more textural mouth feel and finish experience rather than big oak flavors.

Josh Cellars Wines are easy to find in stores and restaurants. Go to joshcellars.com, key in your ZIP code and enjoy the map of your region as it gets populated by local establishments offering these wines. It would also be an excellent way to learn about wines and taste typical flavor profiles for the varietal. There are so many good reasons to taste these wines, which offer big flavor, restrained oak and a great price-to-value ratio. But I also like to support American success stories. This one feels like it’s just hitting its stride.

Write me at doug@dougpaulding.com.

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