I. Brand & Family: New Label and New Tasting Room Offer Local ‘Unicorn Wines’

img_4783After nine years as evangelists for Monterey County wine in the nation’s toughest markets—such as New York and San Francisco—winemaker Ian Brand and his wife Heather are turning their attention to local wine lovers by opening their first tasting room and launching their third and most ambitious label yet.

“Outside of local sommeliers and the restaurant community, we haven’t taken time to showcase what we’re doing here,” says Heather, who runs the tasting room that opened in Carmel Valley Village in November.

Located at 19 East Carmel Valley Rd. and open Wednesday through Sunday from noon to 6 PM, the charming I. Brand & Family tasting room is reminiscent of a rustic country store from the outside. But a visit inside reveals a hip urban industrial décor, with a steel top bar, white subway tiles and barnwood-clad walls. A vast collection of vintage vinyl plays on the stereo and you can always catch Ian or Heather pouring and talking about Monterey Bay area vineyards.

As an extra draw, the tasting room in Carmel Valley is the only place where the general public can taste and buy limited-edition wines made for their new I. Brand & Family label, which debuted in September.

f5a2ff04-50af-4f6d-8143-3dfda26eddd6“Our unicorn wines are featured here,” says Heather. “They come from special vineyards that you don’t come across everyday or very special sites.” Ian then uses different winemaking protocols in fermentation, use of oak and in aging.

This first of these boutique wines was a 52-month barrel-aged Chardonnay made with grapes from the Coastview vineyard in the Gabilan Mountains, but like the elusive unicorn, you may have a hard time finding this one as only a few cases remain.

A stunning 2014 Cabernet Franc is still available. Bursting with ripe fruit balanced with sage and spice, the wine was made with fruit grown at Ray Franscioni’s Bayly Ranch vineyard in Paicines. Both bottlings are capped with wax—a decorative touch that also does a better job of sealing the cork.

Worth waiting for are two more “unicorn wines” on the way: a Cabernet Sauvignon made with fruit from the fabled Monte Bello vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains; and a Mourvèdre from Enz vineyard in the Cienega Valley near Hollister.

Wines from Brand’s Le P’tit Paysan and La Marea labels are also available for sampling at the Carmel Valley tasting room. Le P’tit Paysan is for everyday drinking and includes several Rhone varietals, such as Grenache, Petite Syrah and a delicious Mourvèdre rosé.

The La Marea label focuses Iberian varietals like Albariño, using fruit sourced at Monterey County vineyards.

img_4775Relentlessly scouring the vineyards of Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito and southern Santa Clara counties, winemaker Ian Brand has built his reputation on discovering overlooked gems.

“We’ve been trying to identify vineyards in the area that have not been showcased the way they should be in many years, taking something that maybe was blended away and really focusing on it,” Heather says. “Ian has an eye for it and he has a real knack for it.”

Once that special vineyard is identified, Brand often relies on the knowledge of a network of friends and local sommeliers—including Thamin Saleh of Jeninni Kitchen + Wine Bar and Ted Glennon formerly of Restaurant 1833—for advice on how to bring out the best qualities of a particular grape.

The Salinas-based winemaker has built a very successful repertoire of wines this way, while at the same time growing a custom crush facility he opened four years ago in the warehouse district of Salinas.

44931058-9bf9-42c0-8175-38fe1a61e077The Connecticut native—who loves high speed sports like whitewater rafting, snowboarding and surfing—caught the winemaking bug while working at Bonny Doon Vineyards in Santa Cruz.

From there he went to work with Bradley Brown, planting Grenache and Syrah at Big Basin Vineyards in Boulder Creek. “At Big Basin I learned how small tweaks in the vineyard can really affect the wine,” says Ian.

This season he made 10,000 cases of wine for 12 different local companies at the 12,500 square foot custom crush facility, which tends to resemble a three-ring circus during harvest season.

In addition Ian has ramped up production of his own labels from 3,000 cases in 2012 to 5,800 last year and 9,000 from the 2016 vintage.

“We’re getting to the point where I have to turn away business,” he says.

Le P’tit Paysan and La Marea wines are now available in 12 states and he plans to add six more in the coming months. Locally the wines are available for sale at The Cheese Shop in Carmel, Star Market in Salinas and Soif in Santa Cruz.

But the best place to try them and learn more about the Brand family—including their adorable 4-year-old twins Issak and Eleni— is at the friendly new tasting room in Carmel Valley.

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