These Snakes Won’t Bite: The Return of Diamondback Vineyards

By Bob Johnson

Diamondback is back.

John Quinones introduced Diamondback with the 1999 vintage, and kept the label going for three additional vintages. Being a full-time winemaker left little time for his own project, however, so Quinones retired the label.

But as with the Eagles (remember the “Hell Freezes Over Tour”?) and Brett Favre (remember his stints with the New York Jets and Minnesota Vikings?), “retirement” did not mean “forever” when it came to the Diamondback label. It’s now back with two outstanding wines from the 2012 harvest and two from the 2014 harvest.

“My goal for Diamondback Vineyards is to utilize the diverse experience I’ve gained as a winemaker over the last 30 years, and focus on sourcing special vineyard sites that have the ideal climate, soil type and exposure to bring out the best in a specific varietal,” explains Quinones.

“The wines will be handcrafted in small lots, with careful attention paid to every detail,” he adds. “The focus will be on showcasing the unique fruit characteristics of each specific site. The winemaking techniques will be designed to maximize site expression, and will vary accordingly.”

 

QuinonesHolman

Above: John Quinones (left) with bowling legend Marshall Holman, who will lead Diamondback’s sales and marketing efforts. (Photo by Michelle Johnson)

 

Why Diamondback for the label’s name?

“I had been doing a lot of consulting,” Quinones says. “Wherever the best [Cabernet Sauvignon] grew — hot, dry, mountainous — there were rattlesnakes.”

The consulting gigs came about because of the sterling reputation Quinones had developed, first with Lyeth Estate Winery, and later with Clos Pegase Winery.

Quinones joined Lyeth, a Bordeaux specialist in Sonoma County, fresh out of college. A fellow student at U.C. Davis got a job at the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley at the same time, and they’d often compare notes.

“Lyeth and Mondavi were the top places at the time,” Quinones recalls, “yet they were making wine in an entirely different way. At Lyeth, we’d cold-soak, sometimes for six or seven days. And we’d minimize pumpovers, trying to retain as much of the natural flavor as possible, and to avoid the harsh, gritty tannins.”

Quinones adds that eight to 10 years later he’d taste the Lyeth and Mondavi wines side by side, “and the Mondavi tannins never went away.”

Interestingly, the Lyeth wines he made “didn’t do great in California, but they sold like gangbusters on the East Coast because they were more Bordeaux-like.” Mondavi wines remain among the most popular in the marketplace.

From Lyeth, Quinones went to Napa Valley’s Clos Pegase, where landing a wine among Wine Spectator’s “Top 100” one year cemented his reputation as a skilled vintner, and opened the door to numerous consulting opportunities.

But unlike some vintners, Quinones did not enjoy the limelight. What gave him the greatest satisfaction was simply making great wine. So, he decided to escape the “glare” of the Napa Valley and re-locate to the peace and tranquility of southern Oregon, where he’s the winemaker for RoxyAnn Winery. There, he can focus on what he enjoys: crafting “world-class wines with complexity and varietal expression that capture the essence of southern Oregon.”

There are four wines currently available from Diamondback, two from the 2012 vintage, and two from 2014.

There are four wines currently available from Diamondback, two from the 2012 vintage, and two from 2014. The Port comes in a 500-ml. bottle.

He has a nearly identical goal for Diamondback, although the fruit sourcing figures to be a bit more widespread.

For instance, one current release is the 2014 “Manchester Ridge” Pinot Noir from California’s Mendocino Ridge growing area. The 13-acre vineyard is perched on a hill, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, some 2,000 feet above sea level. It’s a site with which Quinones has worked in the past.

A bit austere at the time we tasted it in June, the wine has everything it takes to be rich, full and mouthfilling. Quinones calls it “the ultimate swing wine” as a food companion. “It doesn’t stand up to steak,” he says, “but it’s a great burger wine.”

The other release from the 2014 vintage is the “Oregon” Chardonnay, made entirely from grapes grown in the RoxyAnn Vineyard in the Rogue Valley.

“There wasn’t a lot of Chardonnay in southern Oregon when I got here, and this vineyard had a lot of Dijon clones,” Quinones says. “We brought in some different clones that are better suited for the vineyard. The wine spent 14 months on the lees — almost twice as long as I’ve ever done — to get that rich, creamy mouthfeel without sugar. Eighty percent of the oak was new; I use oak not for wood flavors, but for wood sugars.”

The wine is Burgundian in style, but you can almost feel in “thickening” in the mouth as it opens up. I’d suspect “prime time” for this wine would be right around Christmas 2016.

It isn’t “fashionable” to get excited about Merlot these days, but the 2014 Diamondback “Rogue Valley” Merlot is a wine that could help change that. As Quinones notes, the Rogue Valley experiences the same number of growing days as the Carneros region that straddles southern Napa and Sonoma counties, and Carneros is noted for producing expressive Merlot. “With the season the way it is here, the Merlot is actually bigger than the Cabernet,” Quinones says. “In Napa and Sonoma and most other places where the varieties are grown, Cabernet is used in blends to boost Merlot. Here, Merlot is used to boost Cabernet.”

Diamondback’s other current release is the 2012 “Bella Forte,” a Port-style dessert wine that is among the best I’ve ever tasted. That John Quinones would craft such an incredibly flavorful wine of this type should come as no surprise. Earlier in his career, through relationships with barrel manufacturers, he was able to visit three of the great Port houses: Warre’s, Graham’s and Sandeman.

“The people there took me in, and basically showed me the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of Port-making,” Quinones says. As a result, RoxyAnn presently has a “Port project” underway — a one-acre portion of the estate vineyard devoted exclusively to Port varietals. The 2012 vintage is 53% Touriga Nacional and 47% Tinta Cao, resulting in a sweet (but not at all cloying) wine that’s brimming with berry flavors.

“This is the best port I’ve ever made, and I’ve made them every year for 30 years,” Quinones enthuses.

So, how does one go about obtaining Diamondback wines? Well, there is no website (although a Google search could take you to the site of Diamondback’s first iteration, which has been long dormant). There also is no wine club. But there is this new-fangled invention called a telephone, and Quinones would welcome a call to his office at 541-500-8287. You also are welcome to call his partner in the “new” Diamondback venture, Marshall Holman, at 541-261-6704. In fact, Holman is in charge of sales and marketing.

If the name Marshall Holman sounds familiar, you could be a bowler… or a bowling fan. Holman is one of the greatest players in the history of the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, known for his pin-splitting power and fiery demeanor. As one of only two “wine and bowling writers” on the planet — the other being Wine Lines Online’s own Glen Frederiksen — I can tell you that Holman has always been passionate about everything he does.

“I’m a passion-driven guy,” Holman says. “That’s a key ingredient for me to be successful in anything. That’s what killed my bowling game; I burned real hot, then I lost my love for the competition. At 61, it’s fun to have passion for something new. It’s a pretty cool thing.”

You can read more about Holman’s involvement in the project in the just-out issue (August 2016) of Bowlers Journal International magazine.

As for the return of Diamondback, Quinones sees it as an opportunity to stretch his skills without risking someone else’s capital.

“With these wines, I kind of pushed the envelope,” he explains. “But I’ve never had a great wine that some people wouldn’t like. If everyone likes it, it’s not a standout.”

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