R is Jeff Runquist’s passion, pride, and joy. R is, also, the envy of the legion of California winemakers who stay up nights dreaming of making wine their own way and being critically and financially successful in the process. Jeff Runquist is unequivocally one of California’s finest and most consistent producers of Petite Sirah. He is the sole proprietor and winemaker for R and he is the driving force and successful suit behind a number of other premium California wineries, including the McManis Family Vineyards.
“I just want to play the game my way,” has always been Jeff Runquist’s mantra. By this statement he means dedicating himself entirely to the art of winemaking, the way he wants to make wine. With R, Runquist specializes in ultra premium, single vineyard designated, 100% varietal red wines. Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel, and increasingly Barbera are Runquist’s specialties and most renowned wines, but he also fashions small quantities of excellent Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and Primitivo (the forerunner of Zinfandel). His most recent success is this month’s feature, the 2009 “1448,” an outstanding Petite Sirah (58%), Barbera (16%), Petit Verdot (5%), Zinfandel (5%), Syrah (3%), Cabernet Franc, Carignane, Souzao, and Touriga (1% each) blend that won Double Gold and took Best of Class at the California State Fair.
Runquist has been making wine for more than three decades and the legendary R since 1995. Since inception, R wines have consistently won gold medals in major wine competitions. Each has sold out promptly, leaving the cellar devoid of even a single bottle shortly after release. Critics complain they haven’t even had a chance to taste the R wines before they are sold out. In addition, Runquist spends little time selling wines and even less time marketing them, a rarity today. This scenario is certainly not the norm, but then again Jeff Runquist is not an ordinary winemaker.
Neither R nor Runquist himself own even a single vine. Runquist has no written contracts with any of the great growers and vineyards he sources year after year. Nonetheless, they always provide him with outstanding raw material with which to practice his art and work his magic. And to his credit and the utter amazement of the California wine establishment, Jeff Runquist does not even maintain a tasting room – an omission and unforgivable offense to the large commercial establishments that prey upon the accidental connoisseur and the casual wine tourist. Moreover, Runquist refuses to significantly expand his annual production of R wines for fear of compromising their quality. In fact, his overriding objective is to produce all of his wines in tiny lots. This means producing only 100-2,000 cases at most of each of his main varietals (Petite Sirah, Syrah, and Zinfandel) and less than 4,700 cases of “1448.” Routinely, this process involves declassifying a third or more of his production each vintage simply because Runquist declares: “If I am not happy with a wine, I don’t bottle it … if I don’t get as big an economic reward, that’s okay. I am happy with the wines made under my label.” Sadly, this is hardly the prevailing philosophy elsewhere in today’s world of wine. However, far be it from us to complain: we are once again the delighted beneficiaries of such arcane practices. Moreover we are the chosen few who actually get to taste a bona fide R wine.