Close to four years ago, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rob Barney, the vintner of Stressed Vines. Back then, he had just started building the brand, was working on the wines he cultivated and creating the grower relationships needed to make great wine.
It is a journey that started when drinking wine from him was once a “safe label” choice – the big brands, the 90+scores and the brand name producers. But the traditional, big steakhouse Texas wines weren’t the style of wine he preferred, and he started on a quest to find the wines he liked.
Part of that started at Veritas where he struck up a friendship with Heather Gee Cole, who taught him to embark on a journey to find out what wine he liked and why. He also discovered how terroir makes a difference and had the chance to work harvest for two weeks at the Furthermore Winery in Graton in the Russian River Valley in Sonoma.
Rob still thought the other path to a vineyard was through retirement and buying a vineyard to become a winemaker. But a side conversation with his friend, Ted Weisser, Winemaker and Partner of Satyre, convinced him that he could buy fruit. He started working with Winemaker Erica Stancliff, winemaker for Trombetta Family Wines and Furthermore Winery, as they built the brand together. He also began to seek out great growers for his wines sourcing grapes in elevated places and soils that are known for being “stressed vines,” hence the name of the winery.
Now you now know how the story started. Let’s fast forward to what’s happened since.
It’s a story of growth. The staff has expanded and it’s fun to see that so many years later, he and Heather are working together. She’s now the Director of Winery Events and Consumer Experiences.
It’s also given him a time to focus – on the business, on the brand, what vineyards he partners with and in what areas, on decisions about the type of wine he makes and what makes the wines special.
We stopped a few times during our discussion as we both paused at how much the winery had grown since we talked during 2017. Like the fact that he has tasting rooms in Santa Rosa and Richardson, TX, where Rob is a resident. They started in 2017 with 135 cases and today produce 2,300 cases. How Rob has fulfilled his vision of making wine in regions important to him like Howell Mountain. Long-term contracts for fruit have become easier as the wines get better and he’s no longer the new kid on the block. And today he often pours his selections next to the wines that inspired his journey – O’Shaughnessy and Failla wines.
Stressed Vines has a mantra that it needs to take care of its customers. In Dallas, that included a four-course dinner at Billy Can Can, the first restaurant to carry their wines. Not a wine dinner where you pay to be there, but an invitation to dinner for great customers.
I had the chance to try the 2021 Stressed Vines Rosé of Pinot Noir. This was one that evolved from the first time I tried it. It was crisp, but it had some depth and structure to it. I tasted citrus, melon, strawberry and pear with some herbal notes.
The first course was bluefin tuna crudo, kumquat, chili crisp, nasturtium and smoked salt paired with 2021 Stressed Vines Block 4 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. This was on the lighter side with notes of lemon curd, stone fruit, jasmine, butterscotch, honey and toasted brioche.
The second course was a morel mushroom agnolotti, asparagus, wild ramps, baby turnips and truffle broth served with the Stressed Vines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Another one from the original tasting from years ago. Rob describes it still as a “cab lover’s Pinot Noir.” I tasted cherry, cranberry, Asian spice and black tea. It was still one of my favorites.
The third course was a braised spring lamb roulade, peas and carrots, black garlic, ancient grains and mint with a 2020 Stressed Vines Reynoso Vineyard Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I tasted notes of black and red fruit, black tea, mocha with great balance.
The fourth course was a prime ribeye from 44 Farms, green garlic potato pave and bordelaise sauce with a 2020 Stressed Vines Cavedale Vineyards Moon Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon. The Bordeaux blend was 80 percent Cabernet and 20 perfect Cabernet Franc. This wine was very elegant with black fruit, red fruit, Asian baking spice, herbs and leather.
It’s fun to see how Rob’s quest to start Stressed Vines has led to a flourishing winery just a few years later. It all started with his hypothesis that “stressed vines make the best wines.” The harder the vine works to produce fruit, the more vibrant and concentrated the flavor, the more balanced the acid and the smoother the tannins. And it appears that Rob and Erica are showing the beauty of what those wines can make.