Don’t let the French name fool you: this place has solid roots in the Old World, with depth in both French and Italian varieties. Named for the couple who started the winery, Nancy Molyneaux and Garry Rodrigue, the Rodrigue Molyneaux Winery essentially has two labels, one quite French — Chateau Molyneaux, featuring postcards written in French — the other whimsically Italian — featuring woodcuts of outdoor scenes against striking color blocks.
Both are lovely to behold and were conceived and executed under the creative direction of their daughter Lindsey Rodrigue Roffey. The Italian line features Sangiovese, Barbera, blends and most recently, Nebbiolo, planted in the neighbor’s vineyard across the street.
Fun names like “Il Segreto,” “Il Gatto”and “Il Pavone” add intrigue to the Italian collection and make tasting at this sweet, garden-of-Eden like spot, even more enjoyable. They’ve recently added more picnic tables, including ones reserved for club members, making this an ideal destination for fair weather wine tastings over a picnic lunch.
Garry and Nancy recently welcomed a new assistant winemaker, Jeff Finch, Jr., who grew up in Livermore. Like all California middle school students, he studied the California mission system, but was not much aware of the rich wine history that surrounded him. Although he now finds himself part of the Livermore Valley’s winemaking scene, he never intended to pursue it as a vocation.
After high school, Jeff decided to pursue a career in firefighting, moving to San Diego to follow that torch, but soon learned this was not for him. Working in food service, he had the opportunity to design a wine list, and became familiar with the wines of Temecula, the closest wine region at the time.
Although it was fun, after a while, he knew he would never be satisfied just serving wine. Finch returned home to Livermore in 2012, and began taking classes in enology and viticulture at Las Positas College. He began working at Concannon Vineyard, and eventually became cellar supervisor, where he worked with noted winemaker, Julian Halasz.
It’s fitting that Finch ended up working at one of the smaller gems in the Livermore Valley, a family owned and operated venture, like Rodrigue Molyneux. Jeff’s father, Jeff Sr., also works for RM in the tasting room most weekends, which is how he first became aware of the small brand with the French masthead and the Italian backbone.
Now Jeff Jr. is taking ownership of the RM wines, working hard to keep the cellar in shipshape and helping Garry with vineyard decisions. Jeff is particularly excited to be pursuing Italian varietals, and especially the possibilities presented by the noble grape, Nebbiolo, the backbone of one of the world’s most elusively enticing wines. Trying to craft such a highly coveted varietal is clearly a major spark of inspiration for the studious young man who takes his newly adopted craft very seriously.
In February, the 2012 RM Nebbiolo made its debut to the Wine Club. This is the first release of a 100% Nebbiolo for RM Winery: in the past, they’ve used a little bit in “Il Gatto,” along with Cabernet and Sangiovese.
Known for its need for extended barrel aging, Nebbiolo is high in acid and tannin. Although it starts out ruby red in its youth, the wine often turns a Tuscan brick orange with age.
The newly released 2012 RM Nebbiolo is already showing its chops, with beautiful aromas of lavender, lilacs, roses, cigar, crushed granite, that signature tar that so typifies the grape, and white pepper. It is beautiful to behold, with a violet hue to its garnet complexion, and evolves wonderfully in the glass with some air. This is a mid-weight beauty, with distinct flavors of slate, plum, rose petal jam, coconut and a hint of Asian Five Spice.
We recently tasted a 2014 barrel sample of the RM Nebbiolo, which exudes meaty and smoky aromas, with distinctive tar, mint, coriander, lavender and white pepper on the palate.
If you’re a fan of the grape, you’ll be delighted to know that Jesse Plautz of Rubino is gearing up to release a 2012 Nebbiolo as well, along with a 2015 Rose, sometime in the next few months. Spoiler alert: it’s really good. But that should come as no surprise.
Looking at the Sangioveses and Barberas I’ve had from the Livermore Valley, it seems that this is a place where Italian varieties can do really well. There are more on the way, too. While Nebbiolo is very picky, it favors places with excellent drainage and a long growing season. Often the first to flower, it is also the last to ripen, so patience is required.
If you’re a fan of Barbera, mark your calendar for June 11, the annual Barbera Festival in Plymouth, in Amador County. Las Positas Vineyards and Rubino will be representing Livermore this year, as the Italian Renaissance blossoms.