Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to Wine Spies favorite, Maloy O’Neill, in Paso Robles. Abscond with an ample allotment of Shannon O’Neill’s 2007 Lagrein, a wine that is extremely popular among Maloy’s own wine club members
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Maloy O’Neill
Wine Subject: 2008 Hillside Zinfandel – Paso Robles
Winemaker: Shannon O’Neill
Backgrounder: Paso Robles has long been established as a wine producing region that give other California regions a run for their money. With a climate and soils that make for perfect growing conditions for grapes, it is no wonder. Winemakers in Paso are a somewhat unique breed, often declaring themselves to be the renegades of Cali wine. A meeting with Shannon O’Neill, winemaker and owner of Maloy O’Neill affirms this sentiment. A warm, excited and deeply passionate man, Shannon makes wines that reflect his personality. Join Agent Red as he visits Shannon – and returns with an ample cache of Shannon’s signature 2007 Lagrein – for our O’Neill-lovingOperatives.
Lagrein is a Northern Italian varietal that is known, in Europe, for producing wines that are often described asastringent, highly tannic and mineral laden. The grape, though only grown in very limited volumes, thrives in Paso Robles – especially under the care of Shannon O’Neill. Today’s wine enjoys better ripening, allowing the fruit to bring forth more flavor – while still maintaining a high acidity. The result is a delicious, food friendly wine with unique flavors. If you are looking for a very approachable wine that break out of the norm, you’ll love today’s Lagrein.
Look – Perfect ruby red, with even coloration, from core to the very edge of the wine. The wine is perfectly clear which, for no good reason, took us by surprise. See below for more on this. After spinning the wine, tall legs fall very quickly from high up on the glass wall.
Smell – Mixed red berry fruit jumps from the glass. Aromas include Bing cherry, raspberry and cranberry. These sit atop spiced cherry candy (is there such a thing?), sweet cedar, dark chocolate, bramble bush and exotic mixed spice.
Feel – Smooth and round, and then almost immediately grippy, with a drying, crushed velvet feel that quickly spreads throughout the palate. This dryness spreads to the lips and cheeks, making you pucker as firm tannins and a distinct chewiness set in.
Taste – Black cherry, young strawberry and raspberry are the forbears of purple plum skin, tobacco, tart cherry, dried cranberry, leather and black pepper.
Finish – Ultra long, and filled with sweet, sour, dark fruit flavors that are eventually replaced by wild mushroom, leather and pepper.
Conclusion – Congratulations to Maloy O’Neill for today earning the distinction of being our most often-run winery! We could not have chosen a more exciting wine for today’s special offering. Today’s 2007 Maloy O’Neill Lagrein is extraordinarily popular among Maloy’s own wine club members. It is also one of Shannon O’Neill’s favorite wine to craft. His love for the unusual varietal shines through, as today’s wine is a delicious delight. Lagrein has a reputation for being a big, brash, brawler of a wine so we were surprised by the beauty and clarity of the wine, and also by its freshness of flavor. With a beautifully balanced acidity, this wine is an obvious companion to most meals. Pair the wine as you would a Merlot or even a Zinfandel. This unusual but completely accessible and approachable wine gets our big Wine Spies recommendation!
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Shannon O’Neill
WINE EDUCATION: B.S. Fermentation Science, U.C.Davis
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: 1982-Present, Vice President, Vineyard Operations, O’Neill Vineyards, Paso Robles, CA; 1999-Present, President, Winemaker, Maloy O’Neill Vineyards, Paso Robles, CA; 2005- Present, Wine Production Consultant For Various Start Up Wineries on the Central Coast of California.
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY: Making great wine while developing one on one customer relationships.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: “I love making big, extracted, intense varietal character wines, and lots of them”
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1999
AGENT RED: Greetings, Shannon. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Lagrein today. Every time we feature your wines, our Operatives love them. You’ve become very popular among our covert wine lovers. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
SHANNON: It is fantastic to be with you, once again. Thanks for loving our wines as much as you do!
RED: Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
SHANNON: I think my horticulture class in the 5th grade, started my love for growing things. That developed into growing grapes when my family purchased 180 acres in Paso Robles in 1980. My sister convinced me to go to UCDavis because they needed winemakers for the new developing wine industry in the early 1980’s. She was in her 2nd year as a Viticulture major and I had just graduated high school and had plans to take over my father’s medical practice. My efforts to get into a premed university were daunting despite my great GPA and SATscores. My sister suggested I sign up for the Fermentation Science Program at Davis which was the exact same first two years curriculum as a premed Biology major consisting of basically, lots of math and science. She told after your second year, transferring to a pre-med school would be very easy at that point. She was right, because there were only 13 students that signed up that year, and I slid right in. The only thing she was wrong about was, once I found out how cool being a winemaker was, med school was out!
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
SHANNON: Making Cabernet Sauvignon is the Holy Grail of winemaking. Cabernet has always been the backbone of my winemaking style and the history of my wines. Thank god, O’Neill Vineyards has been a never ending supply of high quality fruit for this endeavor!
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
SHANNON: Making Cabernet Sauvignon is the Holy Grail of winemaking. Cabernet has always been the backbone of my winemaking style and the history of my wines. Our two estate vineyards has always been a source of high quality fruit for this endeavor!
RED: Who do you make wine for?
SHANNON: I am the winemaker for our two estate brands, Maloy O’Neill Vineyards and O’Neill Vineyards and have been a production consultant and have done custom crush work for many small startup wineries on the central coast.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today.
SHANNON: Of all the wines I make every year, the Lagrein might be my favorite. It is a very uncommon varietal that comes (originally) from the foothills of North Eastern Italy, the Alto Adige region. I believe there are less than 40 acres of Lagrien planted in California, and I’ve been making wines with it, both monovarietaly and blends, since 2002. The 2007 Lagrein is a dark, full-bodied version of this mountain grape.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
SHANNON: Lagrien, like most other Italian varietals is most definitely a food wine. The wines a perfect match for the food one would associate with the mountains of Alto Adige; stews, meats, sausage, root vegetables, lamb, venison etc…
RED: In your opinion, what makes the Paso Region so special?
SHANNON: Paso, because of its very cool nights is a most unique appellation. We get these incredible fluctuations between day and night, sometimes over 50 degrees. So the vines get plenty of heat (or degree days) yet the cool nights maintain the grapes acidity which you need to grow the most premium fruit. 2007 was an amazing vintage for us (as it was for many in California).
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
SHANNON: We just got done doing a major reorganization of the winery. The place looks beautiful, and now it’s time to get back and bottle up some of the great new wines we have coming down the pipe!
RED: How would you recommend people approach your wines and wine in general?
SHANNON: I make 36 different wines a year so I have a huge portfolio of many different styles and varietals to choose from. There is literally something for everyone. But if your one of those wine drinkers that like big, huge, extracted, intense varietal character reds, than you’re going to love my wines, because that is what I specialize in, and that is where my passion is! The Fremere is delicate dinner wine, that goes good with most foods, but I have many wines that are quaffing wines only, that can be served as the meal, so whatever style you like, go through the list on our website, and I promise you will find what you’re looking for!
RED: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
SHANNON: I would just like to thank all of you for your unending support, and also the wine spies who do a wonderful job at picking wines that are unique and of interest to people who are looking for something more than what is available on the supermarket shelves. The Spies have consistently choose wines from all the different wineries they feature, that are worth checking out, and they also expose wineries who do not have worldwide distribution to and audience that might never get a chance to try new and exciting wines from small mom and pop wineries from many different regions! I welcome all of you to come to Paso Robles to see all the great things going on here, and if you do! Please visit us and say hello. For all of those who take me up on my offer, just mention you’re from the Spies and we will give you an extra discount on all wines and waive your tasting fees! Thank you again, and hope to see you soon!
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you and your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
SHANNON: Thank you and all your customers for your loyal support over the years and enjoy Maloy O’Neill wines.
The location of the Maloy O’Neill Winery can be seen in this satellite photo.