It will be three years ago this month that the powerful and driven Gallo family purchased Bridlewood Estate Winery. At that time, a rumble coursed through the wine industry here; there were rumors the valley would be forever changed, corporate America had infiltrated our wine industry, and soon buses and buses of tourists would be clogging our highways, all bound for a winery that was once a horse rehabilitation center.
But the Gallo family has proven once again they possess as much integrity and acumen as they do drive and power. They have landed relatively quietly in Santa Ynez Valley and have kept the Bridlewood brand intact. While they’ve made vast improvements to the brand image itself-with new bottle packaging and far more engaging brochures and other collateral materials-they have remained true to the original design and feel of this country estate. In other words, they have honored what was working at Bridlewood Estate by not changing those aspects, while bringing the brand as a whole into this decade.
The wines themselves are made by the same winemaker, David Hopkins, but the acquisition of new winery equipment and an improved cooperage program have resulted in wines that are far more quaffable than before. This is especially true of their white wine program. Hopkins has hit his stride creating Rh’ne whites, namely his Reserve Viognier and their Reserve Roussanne. If you are a viognier lover, or have heard of this variety but are not yet familiar with it, I strongly recommend you start by visiting Bridlewood and tasting their rendition. It is varietally correct and nicely balanced.
Hopkins’s syrahs remain on the lighter side of the flavor profile; those of you who find today’s syrahs too bold will enjoy Hopkins’s gentle, measured approach with his red wines. Of the entire red lineup, which includes a southern Rh’ne blend and several interpretations of Central Coast and Estate-grown syrahs, I most enjoy the 2004 Estate Syrah “Reserve,” which offers up a bit more muscle and complexity than the others, while still retaining an underlying elegance, and possesses characteristics that are true to the variety.
Hopkins himself is genial and down-to-earth and clearly enjoys his vocation. He seems to provide a good balance for the more buttoned-up aspects of a corporate-owned winery. His humor is loose and casual; he speaks freely and frankly and retains a maverick spirit, even as he makes increasingly larger amounts of some wines.
Bridlewood Estate Winery, under its new ownership, seems to have struck a fairly perfect balance between large-scale wine production and down-home hospitality. Of the 105 acres at the estate, 40 of them are planted to vines. The winery and grounds themselves remain some of the loveliest on the Central Coast, with ample vistas of the Santa Ynez countryside, sprawling gardens, an early California mission aesthetic, and a spacious, warm tasting room. It appears the wines themselves will only continue to get better as the new ownership, the vineyard sources, and the winemaker himself all find harmony in working together.
To learn more about Bridlewood Estate Winery, visit bridlewoodÂ-winery.com or, better yet, visit them at 3555 Roblar Avenue in Santa Ynez. And, don’t worry-there won’t be buses teeming to get there before you do. For all the fears about traffic mounting on valley roads that were prevalent three years ago, Roblar Road remains one of the most quiet and scenic roads in the valley. The casino has managed to bring up more buses than this small winery ever will. And the Gallo family has added merit and promise to this estate.