Zac Brown is the epitome of local boy made good; made great, in fact. Born in Atlanta, the eleventh of twelve children in 1978, Brown began performing while still in high school in the Dahlonega area, putting down roots for what would eventually become the national sensation that is the Zac Brown Band.
In 2012 the band released its third major studio album, the highly regarded “Uncaged,” which “Billboard” named the best CW release of the year. The album debuted at No. 1 on the US “Billboard 200” and won “Best Country Album” at the 2013 Grammy awards. And “Uncaged” is the word that he has chosen to define and label his first entries into the wine world.
Brown is no stranger to the food world, however. With his father, he owned a restaurant and music club called Zac’s Place at Lake Oconee over a decade ago. The food was Southern, and Brown apparently cooked much of it himself. When the place was sold to a developer, the band bought a tour bus and hit the road.
For his latest stop, Brown has teamed up with John Killebrew, winemaker at Delicato, to make his line. In wide distribution in Georgia are a Cabernet Sauvignon and a Proprietary Red Blend, both from the 2013 vintage. The standard retail price for each is $19.99 but prices vary widely depending on the store.
So how did he get together with Delicato? When I posed that question to John Killebrew in a telephone interview, he responded that a mutual friend had made the initial introduction to the Delicato team. “He (Zac) came out to Napa after one of his shows,” said Killebrew. “He spent time over great food and great wine.” The restaurateur musician showed a great affinity for wine, Killebrew recalled, noting that the synergy was pretty much immediate. “His connection to the land and family really resonates and is similar to Delicato’s history.”
Killebrew chose the grapes for these wines from California’s North Coast AVA. “I really like the North Coast for the varied styles you an get there,“ said Killebrew. The Cabernet Sauvignon has a bit of Petit Sirah (a Rhône varietal) and Merlot blended in, while the Proprietary Red Blend is half Zinfandel with a quarter each of Syrah and Petit Sirah. Killebrew fermented the wines in stainless steel, followed by aging in French and some American oak. The team did a good job balancing these two woods, so American oak, while more prominent on the Cabernet Sauvignon, doesn’t overwhelm the fruit as it often can do. Killebrew and Brown then collaborated on the final blends.
I tasted both side by side twice with another taster and paired them with food. We used a Bordeaux-style glass for each. At our first exploration of the wines, we tasted them with a fine, thick Porterhouse grilled rare, some truffled liver mousse, and dark chocolate. Initially, the red blend was the more impressive of the two, showing robust cassis (black currant) aromas with cedar accents followed by complex black fruit flavors that brought brown spice notes into the profile. Round tannins, big but not over extracted, and yielding a long finish, this is a wine that could be cellared for a few years if held in the proper conditions. Besides pairing well with the steak, it enjoyed the company of medium dark chocolate.
The Cabernet Sauvignon initially seemed less impressive at the first tasting than the blend, although it showed good dark fruit characters and the same brown baking spice notes as the red blend. Still, it stole the show with the truffled mousse. The second bottle, albeit more multidimensional than the first one, paired well with roasted duck with a fig-influenced duck stock sauce. The second tasting of the Proprietary Red Blend was super with chicken mole. Killebrew recommends a dish of mushrooms and onions sautéed with red wine and served over pasta.
My sister and brother-in-law in Arkansas served the Proprietary Red Blend at a party with his daylong smoked brisket and ribs, and pronounced the pairing a hit.
A neighbor of mine tried the blend, and enjoyed a glass with dinner each night for several nights. He was impressed particularly at the wine’s evolution once opened, finding it optimal after about 15 minutes. Both benefit from being decanted before being served, with the Cabernet Sauvignon evolving the most dramatically after being opened. Both wines should perform well in a restaurant by-the-glass program, although as the Cabernet Sauvignon remains open, the vanilla character becomes increasingly prominent.
So what’s the purpose of this winemaking exercise for Brown, the father of five children and a sibling to eleven? Involved with children’s camps from his youth, he has developed Camp Southern Ground off Joel Cowan Parkway in Peachtree City. “The wine brand is part of his whole effort to support Camp Southern Ground,” says Killebrew. Communications Specialist with Camp Southern Ground confirms that as well as gives 2017 as the hoped-for completion date.
“I enjoyed making them (the wines),” concludes winemaker Killebrew, who got to make a trip to Georgia for purposes of achieving the final blend with Brown and a group of friends. “He had a group of people there and we were working together, not just drinking wine.”
Now it’s our turn to enjoy the experience. Santé.
– Written by Jane Garvey, a writer and wine instructor living in Atlanta. She holds the Certified Specialist of Wine credential and has written and taught about wine for more than 20 years.