Love is in the air. It’s in the vineyards and wine cellars too — at least, it is for winemakers who work with their significant others.
“It’s cool to have a dream and see that dream come to fruition. And when you get to share that with your best friend, it’s like a good feeling on steroids,” says Billy Johnson, winemaker at Texas Heritage Vineyard, which he co-owns with his wife of 26 years, Susan Johnson.
He adds, “We’ve got a cool marriage. It’s great to be able to go home at night and have a glass of wine with your best friend after spending the day making wine.”
Valentine’s Day marks another opportune time for winemaking couples to share a glass, and plenty of them plan to do just that — once all the work is done at the winery. Here are a few bottles couples recommend for all who celebrate the love holiday.
McPherson Cellars Texas Viognier 2020 (~$12)
Billy and Susan Johnson love their home state almost as much as they love each other. So it’s no surprise that the couple prefer to open bottles of locally-made wine when they’re drinking together. Although Billy Johnson is “100% a red wine drinker,” he can’t deny that his wife has a knack for spotting a quality white wine like this Viognier made by McPherson Cellars in Lubbock, Texas. “Kim McPherson is a great winemaker, and I love his white wines especially,” Susan Johnson says.
This dry, full-bodied, and sophisticated Viognier is a Valentine’s Day bouquet in a bottle. It has floral aromas on the nose, while the palate offers lush, peachy stone fruit flavors.
Michael David Winery Freakshow Lodi Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 (~$18)
As the owner and winemaker at Kerrville Hills Winery in Texas, John Rivenburgh is all about celebrating holidays with wines he makes. So is his partner Kelly Hagemeier, who oversees operations as the general manager of the winery. When the pair aren’t drinking their own bottles, they turn to some of Rivenburgh’s favorite California producers. They’re particularly fond of the whimsical and quirky wines produced by Michael David Winery in Lodi. “They’re great wines,” says Hagemeier.
This Cabernet Sauvignon is dark and brooding with a full body and lots of red and black fruit. Firm tannins round out with hints of oak and vanilla in the lingering finish.
Kunde Family Winery Magnolia Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2020 (~$16)
If you’re looking to set the mood with something bright and beguiling on Valentine’s Day, this Sauvignon Blanc by Kunde Family Winery will do the trick, says DRNK Winery winemaker and co-owner Katie Kunde. The crisp and refreshing, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc was the first wine she ever shared with her husband Ryan Kunde, and it just so happens to be made by her in-laws.
“Ryan greeted me with a glass of his family’s Sauvignon Blanc and flowers on our first date. We walked down the road from his house in San Rafael to the Panama Restaurant, an eclectic and charming spot,” Katie Kunde says. “I was smitten from the start.”
Mount Edward Central Otago Riesling 2019 (~$20)
Loveblock winemakers Kim and Erica Crawford have worked in the wine industry together for most of their lives. One of their best secrets for getting the job done without smothering one another is by maintaining their individuality and respecting their differing interests. Sometimes that shows up when they’re choosing a bottle of wine to drink after a long day at the winery. “Kim loves the big Southern Rhone reds, and I’m more into the New World whites. I love Chenin Blanc and Rieslings. We’re quite different, even with what we drink. But that just makes it more fun,” says Erica.
One bottle the couple both enjoy is the bone dry and mineral-driven Mount Edward’s Riesling, which has ripe green and stone fruit flavors that are “quite stunning,” according to Erica Crawford.
Sandy Road Vineyards Texas High Plains Sangiovese 2019 (~$33)
Forget the chocolates and flowers, Hagemeier knows exactly what her husband should give her for Valentine’s Day. “I just love the wines Reagan Sivadon makes at Sandy Road. His Sangiovese is so good,” Hagemeier says.
Made with 100% Texas-grown Sangiovese grapes, this wine is dry yet exudes a smooth mouthfeel complemented by plush red fruit and spiced-oak flavors. “There are some great wines made here in Texas, but this is one I’m constantly impressed with,” Rivenburgh notes.
Iron Horse Vineyards Russian River Valley Wedding Cuvee 2018 (~$42)
“We mostly enjoy drinking wine made from the many small producers in Sonoma County; it’s such a diverse region,” says Katie Kunde. Of the many producers the couple enjoys to drink together, the romantic bubbly by Iron Horse Vineyards is among their favorites. A blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, the sparkling wine is incredibly expressive with red fruit and citrus flavors. On the backend, the wine is creamy with moussey bubbles and a firm acidic backbone.
Emeritus Vineyards Hallberg Ranch Pinot Noir 2018 (~$46)
Spending more time together was one of the top reasons Ryan and Katie Kunde set out to launch their own winery. Enjoying time together is exactly what the couple plans to do this year for Valentine’s Day. “We like to cook at home on Valentine’s. We’ll have steak from our local butcher, Panizzera Meat Co., and I’ll probably test out a new side dish recipe from The New York Times app — I love that app!” Katie Kunde says.
What will the Kunde’s pair their Valentine’s Day Meal with? A bottle of Emeritus Vineyards’ fruit-forward and acid-driven Pinot Noir, of course. “For dessert, we’ll nosh on festive sugar cookies from my sister’s restaurant, The Bagel Mill, and an ARIS 2016 Petit Verdot Port from Sonoma Portworks,” Katie Kunde says.
Vintners Hideaway Rustic Spur Gramps Tannat 2016 (~$48)
Billy and Susan Johnson started out as merely “pleasure wine drinkers,” gravitating toward big red bottles by Duckhorn Vineyards, Silverado Vineyards, and Frank Family Vineyards before a trip to a Texas winery revealed the grape gold that was available in their own backyard. “We went on a couple of different Texas wine tours, and that opened our eyes to what was going on in Texas and what could be done if you grew the right grapes for our climate,” says Susan Johnson. With that understanding, Alicante Bouschet, Malbec, Tempranillo, Souzao, and Tannat were among the first grapevines the Johnson’s planted back in 2015.
And it’s red wines made with those same grapes that the couple continues to enjoy, including the deep purple Tannat made by Vintners Hideaway. The wine is structured and complex with spicy vanilla aromas, dark fruit flavors, and refined tannins that tingle the palate long into the lengthy finish. “It’s a really beautiful wine,” says Susan Johnson.
Carlisle Winery and Vineyards Sonoma Valley Pagani Ranch Zinfandel 2019 (~$55)
The grapes used in this ruby garnet-colored wine and the land they grow on are truly relationship goals. For 124 years the Pagani Ranch in Sonoma County has produced Zinfandel grapes. It’s the fruit from those vines, along with Alicante Bouschet and Grand Noir vines planted in 1924, that is used to create this wine, made by Carlisle Winery & Vineyards. “It’s a favorite,” Katie Kunde says, noting that the wine’s polished and gently tannic structure was made for special occasions.
Joseph Jewell Martini Clone Old Girls Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2018 (~$70)
Winemakers at Joseph Jewell source grapes that come from vines planted in 1971, resulting in a Pinot Noir that is elegant and charming in every way, according to Katie Kunde. The ruby red wine is balanced with red and blue fruit, herbal aromas and spicy, leathery flavors. Smooth tannins kick in on the backend of the palate. The wine wraps up with a lively and acidic lengthy finish.
DuMOL Montecillo Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 (~$122)
From the steep slopes of Moon Mountain, along the Napa-Sonoma border near Mount Veeder, hail DuMOL’s powerful and complex Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet another favorite of the Kunde’s, this wine is dark and rich with plush black and red fruit aromas while the palate is layered with dense fruit and smokey, licorice flavors framed by concentrated tannins.
Louis Roederer Cristal Millesime Brut 2013 (~$337)
Nothing washes down the warm and fuzzy feelings of Valentine’s Day quite like Champagne. Though Nancy Cline prefers more white wines, and her husband Fred Cline likes the reds, the couple’s tastes align when it comes to the bubbles. “We both value a fantastic Champagne on occasions and recently savored a fantastic one,” says Nancy Cline, co-owner of Sonoma’s Cline Family Cellars.
Louis Roederer Cristal Millesime Brut is exactly the bottle to pop on an occasion as special as Valentine’s Day. This balanced and refined blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is vibrant and fresh with tiny bubbles, bracing minerality, and white fruit and citrus notes.