Mead On Wine

© 1997 JDM Enterprises
All Rights Reserved
Vol. I No. 38

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by Jerry D. Mead

     It's just not possible to know everything about
every California winery. And just when you think you have a pretty good
handle on the important ones, another one sneaks in to keep you humble.

Indian Springs is one of those properties that discovered me rather than the other way around. From what seemed like out of nowhere, this winery I'd never heard of, from an unrecognized appellation (Nevada County), was winning every medal in sight, Best of Class Awards, Best of Variety Awards and international trophies.

While Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Semillon have the longest track record of medal wins, Indian Springs released its first ever Syrah from the very first crop off new vines and immediately won not only a gold medal and Best of Price Class honors at the New World International Wine Competition (NWIWC) in 1996, but the Australian Wine Importers Trophy, and went on to become the number one Syrah in the nation with more medals than any other. If you're lucky enough to find a bottle of that 1994 vintage lurking on some retail shelf...grab it!

Indian Springs is also a family affair. This is not some giant corporation into agriculture as an investment. It is Dennis Ball, his son and daughter and son-in-law, along with famous consulting winemaker, Jed Steele.

In the beginning, Indian Springs was primarily a grape growing operation, with the winemaking bug coming later. The Ball family sold grapes to some of the most famous winemaking names in state, and still do sell a sizable portion of their crop.

Indian Springs is not the only grower in Nevada County, there are a few others and at least three other small producers, but it is this fruit and these wines that have gained the region the most national recognition.

The vineyard takes its name from its address on Indian Springs Road, and if you're not exactly sure of the location of Nevada County, it is the northernmost of the Sierra Foothills growing regions, with a cooler climate than its southern neighbors, Amador, El Dorado and Calaveras. Nevada County runs mostly north of Interstate 80 between Sacramento and Reno, from Nevada City (its most picturesque town) all the way to the Nevada border. It is beautiful and heavily forested country and apparently has very special microclimates for grapegrowing.

Indian Springs wines are just being established in national distribution, but have established wholesale networks in California, Nevada and several other states. Contact the winery for nearest retail outlet: Indian Springs Vineyards, 16110 Indian Springs Rd., Penn Valley, CA 95946 (916) 273-2550 or E-mail:

Indian Springs 1996 "Nevada County" Semillon ($10.50) Soft, rich and appealing melon and fig flavors. Barrel-fermented in French oak cooperage, but wood notes are not overpowering. If you are not familiar with Semillon, imagine a cross between Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, and at least for this version you'll be very close. Rating: 88/88

Indian Springs 1996 "Nevada County" Chardonnay ($13.50) In the style of Chardonnay grown in a cool climates, that is crisp of acidity, very refreshing and with citrus and lemon notes rather than tropical flavors. Also barrel-fermented, I think the barrels must have been newer because there's more noticeable oak vanillin in the aftertaste. Rating: 88/88

Indian Springs 1995 "Nevada County" Sangiovese ($16) This new variety from Indian Springs is its most honored so far this year with two gold medals a "Best of Price Class" from the NWIWC, not to mention a string of silvers. It is also my least favorite, but that's strictly a matter of personal style preference. It is the lighter style, what I jokingly refer to as "Italy's answer to Pinot Noir," as opposed to the darker, more intense "Super-Tuscan style." It is almost totally berry-like in aroma and flavor, with color somewhere between rose and real red wine. It is blended to some Cabernet Franc, but it could have used something beefier, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah, in my opinion. Rating: 85/84


Indian Springs 1995 "Nevada County" Merlot ($15) This is the wine they are best known for. They win medals for it every year and it is conveniently the variety of which they produce the largest quantity. Earthy, dusty, very complex black cherry flavors; pleasant cherrystone bitter finish; toasty wood notes in the after-flavors. This is no wimpy Merlot. Rating: 92/90

Indian Springs 1995 "Nevada County Reserve" Merlot ($22) Almost identical taste profile to its less expensive stablemate, but with even more intensity of flavor and the wood notes that lean more to smoky than toasty. It is a better wine, but not $7 better. Rating: 94/84

Indian Springs 1995 "Nevada County" Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) My favorite wine, really, but I didn't make it "Wine of the Week" because there's less of it and it's harder to find. Very ripe (but not overripe) blackberry and black currant fruit. Nicely oaked, contributing complex toasty-smoky wood complexities to the equally pleasant tart finish. You can enjoy this one now, but the flavor intensity combined with the wine's structure and acidity promise a long life. Rating: 95/90

Indian Springs 1995 "Nevada County" Syrah ($16) Not quite as wonderful as the 1994, but that is no insult. Winner of a gold medal and "Best of Region" award at the California State Fair, it has also done well at other shows. Plum flavors dominate, but there is also black cherry and berry. Smoky wood notes again. Should definitely be matched with boldly flavored foods. A Cajun blackened prime rib comes to mind. Rating: 94/88

Wines are scored using a unique 100 point system. First number rates quality; second number rates value.


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Latest Update: October 24, 1997