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Sitting across Steve Edmunds at an winemaker dinner at Racines last summer, he lightheartedly joked that his brief stint at the United States Postal Service made him sufficiently miserable to make the professional leap to winemaking. All humor aside, as a bottle of his 1995 Syrah Durell Vineyard Sonoma Valley rounded the table, the convivial conversation soon softened to contemplative whispers. With the small group in attendance focusing their attention on the mature, twenty-year old Syrah in their glasses, Steve Edmunds didn't say much. His quiet attention communicated to everyone that the wine should speak for itself.
This wasn't the first time that someone had commented that Edmunds St. John's wines speak louder than the winemaker. Until the early 1980s, Steve Edmunds worked as a buyer for various stores around the San Francisco Bay area. A former home-brewer, he longed to apply his creative side to making wine. Partly inspired by his friendship with Kermit Lynch, who began championing Rhone wine at his Berkeley retail shop and import company, Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants, Steve began searching California for Rhône varietals to produce wines in the style of southern France. In 1985, Edmunds and his wife Cornelia St. John combined their names to found Edmunds St. John in a west Berkeley warehouse. Two years later, in 1987, winemaker François Peyraud from the veritable Domaine Tempier (still represented by Kermit Lynch) visited the winery and tasted their Mourvèdre. When Peyraud placed his nose in the glass, his eyes rolled into the back of his head; he sighed and whispered, “La terre parle” (The earth speaks).
Steve is the first to acknowledge that he doesn't have a formal winemaking degree, but simply relies on two decades of experimentation and practice to guide him. As he freely admits, the wine has to find its "own voice" - a precise expression of the vineyard and the season that produced it.
Edmunds St. John produces about several wines each year, about several thousand cases total. He has no sales staff, no marketing team, no tasting room, and no vineyards to call his own; instead, he has persuaded a small and dedicated group of grape farmers over the yars to plant and manage vineyards to his specifications, from Mendocino to Paso Robles and the Sierra Foothills. The viticulture and winemaking is simple. Quality fruit from great sites and, preferably, older vines; in the cellar, fermentations with native yeasts, manual punch-downs, used oak, and maturation in used barrels and puncheons (stainless steel for for the whites and Gamay).
The wines are delicious young, but are incredibly age-worthy, gaining both nuance and complexity with additional years. It is worth buying a few to drink early on, and few more to stash away for future drinking. But don't take my word for it; let Edmund St. John's wines speak for the beauty of Rhône varietals in California. Jonas Mendoza
In addition to perfectly elegant, age-worthy reds, Steve Edmunds produces one of California's lightest, purest white wines from Vermentino and Grenache Blanc. Heart of Gold exudes fresh white florals, mineral water, and tingly orchard fruit aromas; flavors are bright and defined, graceful and deeply mineral, with gentle rays of citrus pith and crisp pear, golden apple, and yellow peach. Acidity is abundant and well-integated. Ariana Rolich
Steve Edmunds has a way with Gamay, confirmed each year by the energy and depth of his red and rosé Bone Jolly wines. 2016 is light-bodied and fresh, taut and bright, with tingly acidity, tart cranberry, juicy sour cherry and citrus, and salty mineral earth. We look forward to every new vintage from Edmunds St. John. Let the adventure continue! Ariana Rolich
Since 1985, Steve Edmunds has been making honest, terroir-driven wines from the best pockets of El Dorado County that (in my opinion) more than titillate the tongue. Made from 100% Gamay Noir, it is beautifully aromatic with candied black cherries, orange blossom, hibiscus and sweet spice aromas rising from the glass. Candied fruit abound on the palate balanced by a snappy acidity and a surprising amount of grip which would lend a hand to it pairing well with an array of different meals. I love drinking this wine year-round but it definitely screams summer. And I speak from personal experience when I say to make sure you have a few bottles around for your next soirée...it goes down surprisingly easy. Tim Gagnon
I cannot think of a California winemaker working today whom we admire and celebrate as enthusiastically as Steve Edmunds of Edmunds St. John. What greater accompaniment can there be, then, to great holiday feasts than this great big bottle of Rocks and Gravel from a great American winemaker? Displaying a greater resemblance to L'Anglore Tavel than to the typical California GSM blend, 2015 Rocks and Gravel is juicy and generous with invigorating acidity and lots of life ahead. Perfumed and mouth-watering aromas of wild rose, black currant, tea leaves, and wild cherry with a terrifically spicy, bright and balanced palate of black raspberry, cherries and cherry skins, sweet tobacco, juicy young tannins and vibrant acidity. Medium bodied and crystal clear at 13.2% alcohol, this wine opens up beautifully and will reward cellaring. Ariana Rolich