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Noah Dorrance Captures the Spirit of California in BloodRoot Wines

Cover Image for Noah Dorrance Captures the Spirit of California in BloodRoot Wines
By Sophie Brochu

Although he was born in the Midwest, Noah Dorrance was drawn to California for its intoxicating sense of possibility. Since the early 2000s, he has been making a name for himself in viticulture, both as an entrepreneur and a winemaker. Dorrance’s latest project, BloodRoot Wines, focuses on approachable bottles with a timeless expression. See what he has to say about extreme climate, consistency, and the future of California winemaking.

What was your introduction into the wine world?

I was 18, and my friends and I had been on a bit of a James Bond kick. In pretty much every movie, there’s a scene where Bond orders a bottle of vintage Champagne or Bordeaux. It piqued my interest because obviously James Bond is super smooth. I went to Barnes & Noble and bought Wine for Dummies, and I was off and running, totally enraptured by the cultural element of wine.

Back then, I had a really shoddy fake ID. I would be reading about Chianti, for example, and I would go to the grocery store, find a bottle, and bring it home. I had a friend that was interested in wine, too. We would drink together and talk about the wine.

Where does the name BloodRoot come from?

I jotted the name down in my phone more than ten years ago. It triggered something in my mind of wine being the blood of the ground, and it seemed super evocative and kind of edgy. I liked the visceral quality of viticulture, it’s kind of this rebirth of things that are dead and then getting brought back to life by the plant.

What is the winemaking process like?

It varies, but in general, we do very small lot fermentations with a hands-off winemaking style. We’re really just trying to play our small role in guiding a time and a place that happens here into a bottle. And so each wine, each vintage, is a unique recording of what happened in a specific place and time.

Gretchen Gause Photography.

What would you say makes a good bottle of wine?

One of the things that makes wine the most amazing beverage in the world is that there is no real recipe—it evolves and changes. It’s a reflection of the time, place, and people that made it. What was going on with the climate, the people that were pruning the vines, and the winemaker, what was his mood?

Sometimes people ask, ‘How do you make it consistent from year to year?’ And I’m like, well, we have some consistency in terms of the people, processes, and techniques that we might use, but ultimately it changes and we want it to change. We want it to be a unique thing and not always exactly the same.

And that’s what makes each vintage special. It’s not just a replication of the last one, right?

Exactly, there are so many factors. For example, in 2020, we didn’t really bottle any wine because of smoke damage. This has influenced some of the ways that we’ve made wine in ’21 and ’22, knowing that we missed a whole vintage. We had wines last year that were made in a slightly different style that would allow us to release them earlier. Normally, we’re thinking about long aging, structure, creating something that has a long evolution. The trade off for that is they’re not ready quickly and they’re not always ready to drink right away. We had to rethink that, taking a subset of our wines and making them a little bit more approachable, so we could release them earlier to make up for a big hole in our inventory.

What challenges have you faced over the past few years, in addition to the fires?

Drought has caused a number of issues, not all negative. Sometimes, in the short term, vines can produce more intense fruit out of drought. Over the long haul, with multiple years of drought in a row, the plants start getting tired—they can’t continually do that forever. And so we’re seeing lower yields over a series of vintages, which is what we’re dealing with now. 2022 was very low yielding. We actually decided to make some wine from Oregon for the first time this year just in response to drought and the potential fire risks.

This year we dealt with extreme heat. We were in the 113-115 range in Healdsburg, and that had a severe impact on both when we decided to pick and how we made wine after that with grapes that had weathered the heat. It really changed everything.

“California is a land of innovators, risk takers, and dreamers.”

With extreme climate taking affect, what does the future of California winemaking look like?

There are a couple of things that give me hope. One, winemaking is very much about agriculture. And if there’s one thing that people involved in agriculture have learned to do over thousands of years is adapt. You find new ways to work and new opportunities. This is just another challenge to face, but I feel like we’re suited to tackle that.

Secondly, it’s part of the spirit of California. If nothing else, California is a land of innovators, risk takers, and dreamers—we’re culturally oriented to shift as opposed to more traditional regions. California has always been a land of exploration and there’s no real rules or cultural norms of what can be grown.

What makes BloodRoot unique to California?

We’re focused on creating extreme value. The wines are a little less expensive, but we’re devoting the same amount of energy to high end winemaking principles. With BloodRoot, we want people to feel like every bottle massively over delivers. We’re definitely a little bit more experimental, putting a twist on classic wines like pinot noir and chardonnay. We’re always trying to think about the drinking experience and deliver something exciting.

Is there a particular wine that you’re offering that you would recommend for the holiday season?

The BloodRoot pinot noir is kind of our calling card. It’s extremely versatile and crowd pleasing. For somebody that doesn’t know anything about wine, they’ll find it interesting, enjoyable, and delicious. For somebody that’s way more wine savvy, I think they’ll be wildly impressed with the quality of the wine. It’s amazing at the holiday table, Thanksgiving, Christmas, aperitif, or any occasion. It’s probably the most versatile wine in our lineup.

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