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Uncorked: Frog's Leap zooms into internet tastings

A glimpse into the future and a glance into the past highlighted an online tasting.

Tasting rooms are closed because of the spread of COVID-19, but Frog’s Leap winemakers took to Zoom on Saturday for an hour-long tasting. It was the first in a series of events the family-owned Rutherford winery scheduled. It featured owner, founder and winemaker John Williams and his son Rory Williams, director of viticulture and winemaking.

Positioned side-by-side at a table, the resemblance ot the two men was uncanny. John’s mane of silver hair was parted at the side. He wore a gray V-neck sweater pulled over a white collared shirt. A 5 o’clock shadow dotted his face. With a denim shirt, a bushy brown beard and long, flowing dark hair, it’s not a stretch to imagine Rory Williams’ appearance today looks a lot like his dad did back in 1972 when he was just an intern at Taylor Wine Company before he founded Frog’s Leap in 1981.

Winemaker spotlight 

Comfortable in front of the camera and so chatty it seemed like you’d just plopped down on a stool next to them for a glass, John and Rory Williams held court over three wines, the 2012 and 2017 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their 1996 Rutherford Cabernet. 

The 2012 was the first time they’d produced an estate Cabernet.

“It was so humble of a beginning,” John said. “I had no idea I’d have my own fruit and that makes this a really special wine.”

It was also the first vintage where Rory was back from school and working full-time at the winery. No longer a spring or summer break employee, he said the wine “tasted like home.”

“There’s that distinctive Rutherford dust,” said Rory, whose tasting notes included cedar, dried herb and graphite. “It’s a sense for me and a wine that speaks to a place. The dust is a romantic term that’s applied to our terroir.”

While I didn’t have the 2012 in my cellar, I was able to join in with the 2017. Despite a year marred by a rainy spring, a Labor Day heat wave and wild fires in the fall, the tumultuous events of the vintage didn’t affect the wine in the bottle. 

There was a youthful juicy currant, black olive, cedar, snappy green herb and dusty dark chocolate flavors. It’s a wine worth cellaring, but in its youth, has an enticing green edge.  

“Wines made properly need to be a little bit on the edge,” John said. “The tension between the green flavors and the black flavors in Rutherford is perfect.”

It prompted Rory to chime in, “A wine with the absence of that green note has less potential.”

Frog’s Leap has always felt like a socially conscious family acting responsibly in not only the wine ecosystem but the world outside. Dry farmed and California Certified Organic Farmers since 1989 and solar powered since 2004, they’re stewards of the land. Employees are treated right, too, with full-time employees on the vineyard crew, college funds established for offspring and a sprawling community garden steps from the LEED Silver certified tasting room. 

Membership in its wine club, whimsically coined the Fellowship of the Frog, was a Valentine’s Day gift for my wife last year. It’s the gift that keeps on giving as we’ve now totaled five shipments of wine. 

It’s easy to fall in love with the view from the Frog’s Leap tasting room, an old red barn off to the side, sprawling vineyards and mountains blinking into view on the horizon. The wines, and now the virtual exploration of the winemakers, are even better. 

The John and Rory show runs at 5 p.m. Saturdays through April 11. Find it on Zoom or Instagram Live.

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at

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