Even when pouring his Boscoe Wine Co. collection at the posh San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, David Haskell is wearing shorts, his calves covered in colorful, knee-high socks that he enthusiastically points out. Granted, the hotel’s restaurants weren’t yet open for service during our December-afternoon meeting, and his only audience was myself and the property’s new sommelier, Tristan Pitre, but Haskell wears his quirky with pride.
His wines, however — as we come to learn in tasting from the 2015 vintage through barrel samples of the 2020 — are the epitome of restraint and class. “Wine should be the opposite of my personality,” said Haskell, who produces just two bottlings each year, both from Ballard Canyon: a grenache blanc from Rancho Boa Vista Vineyard and a syrah, with a generous dash of viognier, from Kimsey Vineyard. “My wines are subtle and elegant,” he affirmed, “all the things I wish I would be, but never will.”
Though primarily raised in Brentwood, Haskell was introduced to the Santa Ynez Valley as a child, as his gourmet-minded parents owned a home there from 1979 to the mid-1990s. His dad, the successful advertising/marketing consultant John “Dr. Revenue” Haskell, who’s also a partner in Boscoe, got into wine during his Brown University days, and the renowned French chef Michel Richard — best known locally for Citronelle at the Santa Barbara Inn — was a family friend. “Paul Draper used to sleep on our couch in the 1970s,” said Haskell, referring to the famed winemaker for Ridge Vineyards.
When an injury derailed the younger Haskell’s baseball dreams in college, he moved to Rhode Island to study in the hotel and restaurant management program at Johnson & Wales, and he then landed impressive gigs as a sommelier at Aquavit and Le Cirque in Manhattan and Guy Savoy in Paris. In 2006, with the support of his dad, Haskell returned to the West Coast to open the West Hollywood hotspot BIN 8945 Wine Bar & Bistro. After selling that business after less than two years — his idea to quickly open another restaurant didn’t jive with that era’s crumbling economy — Haskell got deeper into wine consulting and, eventually, winemaking. (Along the way, he also befriended renowned wine critic James Suckling, who was the best man at his wedding.)
By 2013, Haskell was set on becoming a winemaker full-time, so he enrolled in Fresno State’s program and then, two years later, launched Boscoe Wine Co., again with his dad. They named the brand after the cat that was part of their family for 16 years, whose name became a code word for “all’s well.” (Haskell’s current feline, Zeus, will turn 17 on March 17.)
For Boscoe, Haskell turned to Ballard Canyon, the small appellation of grape varieties sourced mostly from France’s Rhône Valley that stretches from Buellton and Solvang toward Los Olivos. “For me, Ballard Canyon is Rhône Valley,” said Haskell, who started working with Rancho Boa Vista fruit in 2014 and Kimsey in 2015.
From the latter, he sources the grenache blanc, always named Lizette after his mother, who passed away in January 2018. He tries to emulate the white wines of legendary Chateau Rayas. “It’s like white Burgundy in the Rhône,” said Haskell of his focused style. “It’s made for uni,” which was his mom’s favorite food, and Haskell is also emphasizing the grape’s age-worthy attributes. “The longer grenache blanc ages, the more it becomes styled,” he believes. “I want to put grenache blanc on the map. You should have something that’s texturally cool.”
For the syrah, he looks to Yves Gangloff’s La Barbarine from Côte-Rôtie model as muse, full of delicate violets rather than dried fruit and rugged meats. This one is called La Fai, a reference to the Cantonese name of his ex-wife, which means “sunshine.” Though no longer married, they are still good friends. Explained Haskell, “She still is the sunshine of who I am.”
Boscoe wines are made very traditionally, with a hand-cranked basket press, at a shared winery space in Buellton, where his neighbors refer to him, lovingly it seems, as “Crazy Dave.” Despite his occasionally wild ways, Haskell believes a monk-like focus is critical to quality. As he wrote to me in his introductory email last fall, “I make only two wines and use only two vineyards because I believe to make anything great, you have to be similar to a chef: Focus on one region and a specialty.”
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