by Gregg Adams
I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for several years, and, like every other newbie, I was immediately sucked into the vortex of wine culture. While I enjoyed many great wines, I was frequently put off by the “holier-than-thou” attitudes of the winemakers and their tasting-room minions. It didn’t take long to know my winery vocabulary had better include words like “tannic,” “terroir,” “malo-lactic” and “appellation,” if I was going to fit in. I just craved a vintner that made great wine, could speak to me in terms I understood, and who had a sense of humor.
Birk O’Halloran, co-founder and owner of Iconic Wine, is that winemaker. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Social’s delightful “Wine Rack Night” on June 16th. O’Halloran is a Fort Collins native, which may explain his light-hearted way of talking about his wines, but rest assured – his wines are beautifully crafted and stack up very well against the best of his competitors. Upon introduction, O’Halloran would lead you to believe in an “awe-shucks” kind of way that the lion’s share of his success was dumb luck and happenstance, but researching his background tells a very different story.
O’Halloran attended the prestigious Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in 2006, has since opened three fine wine shops, was the Director of Marketing and Sales for nationally recognized fine wine importer A.I. Selections, and in 2013 authored “Eat Ink,” a photo essay and cookbook published by Adams Media. Collaborating with college friend Karl Antle, O’Halloran saved half of his paycheck for three years and maxed out his credit cards to begin his oenophile-istic journey. He sought out and collaborated with wine industry titans like Dan Petroski of Massican and Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines, who was voted winemaker of the year in 2014 by the San Francisco Chronicle. The self-professed “wine geek” and “comic book nerd” then hired legendary Wonder Woman artist Cliff Chiang to design some of his unique labels. These are not your French uncle’s wines.
The flight started with Iconic’s 2014 “SK” Chardonnay, California, which is slow-pressed before fermenting in temperature controlled steel tanks, giving it a fruit-forward deliciousness found in European chards. We then transitioned to two versions of Iconic’s world-class Heroine “MM” Chardonnay, Michael Mara Vineyard. O’Halloran chose to do a split production, harvesting grapes at different times and stages of ripeness. A portion of the harvest then goes through malo-lactic fermentation, while the remainder does not. Additionally, O’Halloran uses native yeast for one portion of the split, while the other is inoculated with champagne yeast, creating a significant difference in finish. Both presented a beautiful combination of citrus fruit and spice, with the champagne yeast version finishing stronger. (I preferred the native yeast offering.)
We finished with Iconic’s “SK” Cabernet Sauvignon, a delightful fruity red that will appeal to those who find heavy tannins unapproachable.
Birk O’Halloran has proven the American Dream is still alive and well, and if pursued with hard work and a great sense of humor, it can even happen in the stodgy world of wine.
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