Reminiscent of the final scene of the original Indiana Jones movie, in which the Ark is warehoused into obscurity amid thousands of similar crates, millions of under-$20 wines await discovery in football-field-sized warehouses. Every bucolic wine country has its commercial underbelly, where tanks are fabricated, barrels are toasted, shipping is shipped. For Napa Valley, the name of that underbelly is American Canyon. Wine-wise, this is the territory of economy of scale, of vast, utilitarian storage--of, one supposes, Two Buck Chuck. But in one industrial park, just where the road dead-ends--at a vineyard, natch--there's another guy. Call him Ten Buck Tony.
Tony Cartlidge and Glenn Browne began in 1980, selling out 1,200 cases of Chardonnay. Today, Cartlidge and partners doggedly hold down a $10-$15 price point on premium California varietal wine in all the usual flavors, some appellation-designated. The winery receives perennial praise from none other than Robert Parker Jr., who can't believe how so much flavor can be packed into a $10 bottle.
With "Stick Your Nose in Our Business" as its motto, C&B operates a tasting room, unlike many value brands, out here in nowheresville. Beyond the inscrutable glass front, one finds the quiet murmuring of business-office banter that one might expect; and behind the bar, the most unexpected, energetic woman presses endless free tastings upon the visitor, introduces strangers and even offers marital advice and wine spritzer recipes in a thick Greek accent, imbuing the scene with Old World hospitality. Various people wander in and out, from the CEO to a truck-driving regular, for a taste or a one-liner.
Despite the protestations of my Greek friend--and Parker--that it's unoaked, I found the 2006 C&B Chardonnay's ($11) brown sugar and butterscotch undermined by bitter wood. Next, the 2007 C&B Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($14) hits the varietal mark with a grassy strip on a steely palate, balanced with a dose of sweet fruit.
A pallet or two above expectation, 2006 C&B Cabernet Sauvignon ($11) is serious with licorice and leather, with the company's typical soft tannin profile; the Aussie-style 2004 C&B Syrah ($11) is an everlasting gobstopper with the quenching, big taste of black cherry juice. Among other C&B labels, the 2004 Moser Scharding Cabernet Sauvignon ($35) and 2003 Stratford Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($21) are indisputable bargains with all the cassis and tobacco and soft warmth of an Upvalley Cab. Another benefit of C&B's economy of scale: they don't bother stacking partial pallets of older vintages, instead selling spare bottles for $7 or less. Three cases for $48? Chuck has nothing on Tony.
Cartlidge & Browne Winery, 205 Jim Oswalt Way, American Canyon. Open daily, 10am to 4pm. No tasting fee. 707.552.5199.