The Magical Wines of Dan O’Brien and GAIL (supporting an end to gun violence)

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Hi everyone –

This week’s offer is special for two reasons.

First, they support our friend Dan O’Brien, who is single-handedly bringing the AVA of Sonoma Valley back into the spotlight. He doing EVERYTHING we want to support: farming old vineyards, celebrating family heritage, encouraging organics, and making wines of place. More on Dan’s story and his wines in a bit.

Second, this offer supports a very special cause. One that everyone can agree on.

The cause: Wine Country Unites for GIFFORDS, to prevent gun violence in schools

National Gun Violence Awareness Day is Friday, June 7th, the day this offer is going out.

A year ago, Kelly Dorrance of Reeve Wines and Bloodroot Wines lost her niece Evelyn in the Nashville school shooting.  Following that tragic loss, Kelly has gone on to build a huge wine country initiative for gun violence awareness and are now partnered with Giffords, a leader in the cause. 

In memory of Evelyn, and through the organization of Giffords, they have created Wine Country Unites to help raise funds to end gun violence. We are proud to help support this campaign through this week’s offer.

An incredible list of wineries have dedicated a portion of sales over the next few days to the cause, and the local wholesaler for the GAIL wines is donating 10% of sales.

Dan O’Brien in the wine cellar. Photo from the incredible Vinography article cited below.

The wines of GAIL from Dan O’Brien

Dan is hands down one of the smartest and coolest people I know.

We were lucky enough to do a wine class with him years ago when he first launched his brand, before he became one of the top names in a small club of winemakers to truly keep an eye on for the future. Since our event with him, he’s become a favorite of sommeliers and wine-people-in-the-know worldwide, yet he’s humble and quiet and shuns the spotlight.

The wine brand is named for his mother, who Dan lost a number of years ago.

From the Sonoma Index-Tribune:

O’Brien searches nooks and crannies in Sonoma to find varietals “no one is making here,” he said. He makes nine different wines, all single-vineyard, producing about 1,500 cases annually.

Using a “traditional” approach to winemaking and natural yeasts, he coaxes layers of flavor from the berries he sources from some well-known names in the wine industry. For example, he buys chenin blanc grapes grown on Warm Springs Road in Kenwood.

Informally trained as a winemaker, O’Brien has a pedigree beyond his sommelier experience worthy of the wine he is producing.

He was chief operations officer at Larkmead Vineyards in Calistoga where he gained hands-on experience in the vineyard under the tutelage of Dan Petroski, who was named the Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year in 2017.

He met Petroski in 2009 at Cavallo Point where O’Brien was the wine director. O’Brien learned how to run a winery during the more than three years he was at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, and was the managing partner at Cultivar Wines in Rutherford.

Dan walking the vineyards. Photo from Vinography.

A long-format article on the site Vinography does a great job of telling the story of Dan, far better than I can. I invite you to check it out.

Here’s one nice quote from it:

When I first tasted O’Brien’s Chenin Blanc, I had one of my favorite moments as a wine writer and critic: when I’m stopped in my tracks, my existence narrows down to a tunnel-like focus on what is in my glass, and I usually utter some unprintable exclamation of praise filled with expletives. My next question is always, “who the hell made this, and what is their story?”

In this case, the answer is a working-class kid from Cranston who eventually found his way to exactly where he belongs.

More links for learning:

GAIL Wines website:

Cru Podcast interview with Dan Obrien:

Let’s get to the wines!


200 cases produced.

Vineyard: Morning Sun (western slopes of Sonoma Mountain), an old vineyard originally planted exclusively to Italian varieties for the Sebastiani family. Native yeast fermentation, neutral puncheon and neutral oak aged, 8 months on the lees and bottled unflitered.

Anyone who questions the seriousness of Pinot Grigio as a great grape needs to try this wine. The color is simply beautiful, with light golden touches framing a vibrant light straw. The aromas layer in the glass: lemon zest, white flowers, key lime, and peach. The flavor is running full-tilt, with a rush of deliciousness that originally took me off-guard. This is STUNNING wine.

The last time I had a Pinot Grigio this good was from a single vineyard production by Alois Lageder of Alto Adige. That’s a big compliment. Holy god this is good.


200 cases produced.

Vineyard: Two Creeks Farm. Native yeast fermentation, 75% neutral oak and 25% stainless steel. 12.3% ABV. Bottled unfiltered.

Dynamic aroma explosions of lemon, wax, grapefruit, and even pine resin. This is serious Chenin Blanc, with more layers of complexity than any Chenin I’ve had this year.


100 cases produced. Hand-numbered labels.

Vineyard: Nelligan Road, which has two parcels of Cabernet Franc (younger vines and olders vines), located in Nuns Canyon.

Native fermentation in stainless steel, followed by 16 months on the lees in neutral oak, keeping the natural fruit profile of the wine.

Complex aromas of blackberry, menthol, graphite, tree bark, pepper, and licorice. Medium bodied and beautiful, and also age-worthy. Drink between now and 2030.

This is the last vintage of Cabernet Franc for GAIL for the foreseeable future.


Without question, Pickberry ranks up there as one of the greatest vineyards of California. Years ago when we did our class with Dan, he brought along 1992 Ravenswood Pickberry Merlot from his cellar to share with the class. “No doubt one of the top wines ever made in California!” he exclaimed. “I hope someday to make Merlot from that site.”

Fast forward to today, and you have opportunity to buy one of the greatest reds made in California today. Oh my this is a treat!

100 cases produced. Hand-numbered labels.

14.1% ABV. Early morning harvest brought in cool fruit, which was de-stemmed and tucked away for a five day cold soak. Two punchdowns a day until the wine was dry was followed by 20 months in neutral French oak. This is serious winemaking! It was aged on the lees and bottled unfiltered. In other words, this is absolute purity and very similar to the winemaking used by Joel Peterson for the legendary 1992 vintage.

Aromas of blueberry and menthol (trademarks of Pickberry fruit) plus herbal components such as sage and thyme. The flavor is medium to full bodied and loaded with mint-meets-cocoa imacts. Wowza.

Buying advice

These wines are gems, and we’re very lucky to be one of the few states in America to get some. Dan’s support of the Wine Country Unites initiative, along with the support of the distributor (Libation Project, donating 10% of sales) is all the more reason to grab some bottles.

Thank you, everyone! We couldn’t do this without you!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education

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