Davis “Barefoot” Bynum has gone upscale and sold his famous “Barefoot” label. Bynum makes only premium wines now, not the Sonoma County blend he once called Chateau “Lafeet.” Bynum’s winemaker, Gary Farrell, even was named winemaker of the year for 1991 by Dan Berger, wine writer for the Los Angles Times. But high prices have not accompanied high quality. Bynum’s fine 199 fume blanc is still just $8.
Davis Bynum was always of special interest to me because he is one few winemakers who was a writer on wines first, for the San Francisco Chronicle, who later became a full-time winemaker. In 1951, he bought 50 pounds of petite sirah grapes from Robert Mondavi, made 3 Yz gallons of pretty good wine and was hooked. By 1965, Bynum was crushing a ton of grapes into wine. In 1971 he bought land in Napa, but in ’73 changed his mind and moved to Sonoma County’s cool Russian River Valley, where he renovated an old hop-drying kiln into a winery and residence. When I first visited the place in the late 1970s, it was rustic at best, but a good family place with good honest wines.
Recently, since the sale of Barefoot line, Bynum has concentrated on the growing parts of the market: top grape varietals at reasonable prices, and exports. It will come as a surprise to some, but fine wine is a rapidly growing American export. Bynum now exports to more than 50 restaurants in Belgium and to the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, one of the finest in the East.
From one ton in 1965, Davis Bynum now crushes about 450 tons annually and sells 22,000 cases about the same as many Bordeaux Chateaus. Bynum’s grapes also come from gravelly soils like some near Bordeaux, giving them good drainage. Proximity to the Pacific Ocean also helps, with sea breeze coming up the river just 12 miles to cool the vines on hot summer nights, keeping the wines’ acidity levels high enough for good balance.
At a recent dinner at the classic old Harris restaurant on Van Ness Street in San Francisco, I tasted the spectrum of Davis Bynum’s latest release with him and his son. With oysters on the half-shell a 1991 fume (sauvignon) blanc was perfectly matched. With crab meat, a 1990 chardonnay was smooth and medium-bodied. My favorite as it often is, was his point noir. The 1989, at $12, has excellent somewhat fuller and richer, and promises to be hard to find soon after release. A perfect accompaniment to prime rib was the 1989 merlot.
Davis Bynum wines are marketed from the winery to several states by son Hampton Bynum, (707) 433-5852. East of the Mississippi they are available in all states served by Parliament Distributors.