Sean Thackrey WineDuncan Quinn’s Night with the Legendary Winemaker Sean Thackrey
"And when I opened the door there were three dudes from Interpol standing there".
Sometimes, truth is stranger than fiction. With a group of distinguished men, this travel adventure throughout Napa and Calistoga Ranch found us on the trail with a rare and much celebrated friend, the legendary Sean Thackrey. Who is Sean Thackrey you may ask? Aside from being a dyed in the wool petrol head, Sean was a one-time art dealer, until he tried making wine from a Costco kit in the early 1980's. And as they say, the rest is history. With Sean’s storied climb to the rarefied atmosphere of 100-point wines, he is, without a doubt, our favorite wine maker in the USA. Sean is renowned for his production in wood barriques in the garden of his barn property in Bolinas, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of wine production from Greek and Roman times. He is a rockstar of the garage wine world, and one heck of a storyteller. Stories like the time he went wild pig hunting in his Cessna with an AR-15, where he got the pig, but also crashed his plane in the process of shooting out the window. So, of course, like all rational people he had to go back to blow up the plane so that the Feds wouldn't see it and ask questions about the registration. You know, normal stuff.
But we digress. To start from the beginning, the initial purpose of our trip was to test drive some McLaren supercars. Where better to test the metal of our carbon fiber steeds than up the idyllic roads that lead from San Francisco to Inverness? We can say with certainty after this experience, nowhere. We didn’t travel discreetly, as expected in a fleet of McLarens. Let’s just say the tango orange paint jobs attracted busloads of tourists, as well as the local constabulary. But we managed to keep one step ahead, and thus enjoy the glorious cacophony of both the 650S and 570S at full tilt. To be clear, both are amazing machines in their own right. The 650S more a true track car with the feel of a go-kart and the accuracy of a sniper. The 570S a little softer and yet still brutal when the right foot is applied. Up the twisty back roads of northern CA we could not have wished for two better cars.
The drive included passing oyster shacks serving fresh oysters we knew from the menu at Balthazar in New York, but had never encountered in the wild. We drove past beautiful lochs, the odd Toyota Landcruiser FJ40 and miles and miles of stunning scenery.
On the ride, I had to contemplate how we all ended up here. The gentlemen on the trip had started out with humble beginnings; one even with a stint at the Youth Hostel International in San Francisco. There is irony in the juxtaposition of driving $500,000 worth of McLaren supercars with over 1,000 bhp from the hostel that just seemed right. Or at least very amusing.
The reward after this road trip was to call Calistoga Ranch home, and to meet up with renowned cult winemaker Sean Thackrey. Sean didn't disappoint as he joined us for dinner at The Olema restaurant. After we had raided his cellar for a few choice bottles, we indulged in the intellectual dissection of vinification. You know, talk of root systems, old stock, and Phylloxera and drip irrigation. By the time we stumbled to bed in our characterful accommodations above the restaurant, we could do little but drift off with dreams of constellations. After all, all Sean’s wines are named after one, where Andromeda is a personal favorite. If you’re especially nice and visit my atelier Duncan Quinn, we could give you the special number for access to his all but closed list for new releases and his own library selections. But you’d have to regale us with stories as amusing as Sean’s.