Bee Bop and Wine Solos

I first met Timothy Milos at a tasting held at the Bentley Reserve in San Francisco, where I was first introduced to his lovely wines and warm presence. Curiously, Timothy’s last name literally means “nice” or “endearing” in Slavic, so perhaps it is not surprising that his persona matches his name. In any event, it was a very enjoyable encounter. I instantly knew that I needed to learn more about this engaging winemaker.

I later caught up with Milos at a Hess hosted Mt. Veeder appellational tasting where he poured his Rubissow wines.  These compelling wines stood out in the company of many worthy compatriots.

Tim’s background is a confluence of science, biology, enology and viticulture; with a bit of the architecture thrown in for good measure. Timothy was pursuing a PhD in molecular genetics at Cornell when his attention turned to viticulture and winemaking. He never looked back and forged a career that led him to cross paths with some of the most diverse viticultural regions, prestigious growers and influential vintners.  Along the way, he partnered with superstar wine maker, Marco di Giulio.

In the conversations that followed our initial meeting, Timothy’s gradually revealed his  winemaking philosophy.  He views the winemaking process as if it were a living, vibrant, ecosystem; with each individual component making a powerful and indispensable contribution to the end result. He believes in a light touch when making wine. He honors the grapes by coaxing the best out of them; assisting in the process with his technical skills, only when absolutely necessary.  Given his significant scientific and technical background, his restraint is a testament to his judgment.  Perhaps this is why his wines present a cohesive, harmonious, and balanced palatal presence.

A Philosopher and a Gentleman

Recently, I had the opportunity to shadow Milos as we wandered through his custom crush facility.  He sampled his customers wine to determine if they were ready to be transferred to barrels.

A man of gentile presence and an occasional contagious hearty laugh, Timothy guided me through the facility with ease and grace. Bin to Bottle is a relatively new facility with the capacity to process thousands of tons of fruit.  It is home to over 6500 oak barrels and comes with all of the high tech “bells and whistles,” including a shiny reverse osmosis machine that resembled a relic from Roswell. We were surrounded by dozens of shiny tanks with various grapes purring and tossing restlessly in their captive chambers

We tasted the various offerings, all from the 2010 harvest. Starting with valley floor and the epic 2010 To Kalon Cab, we moved on to high elevation Atlas Peak CS, then to Mt Veeder and Howell Mountain cabs and then to two lots of Cab Franc and finally some Petite Verdot.

All were vastly different from one another and in various stages of readiness. The standout was the To Kalon Cabernet destined for Bounty Hunter’s “Justice” program. It was a sleeping giant, once awakened, it made a quite an impression. There is little doubt that this Cab will be a magnificent creature.

I have always found it fascinating that no two rows in the same vineyard are alike. A few rows a dozen feet apart could yield entirely different fruit; something that make fruit sourcing one of a winemaker’s greatest challenges.  Every winemaker I know is an active and consistent participant of fruit selection when it is sourced externally (as oppose to estate fruit where they obviously work with what they have and the most powerful tools outside of vineyard management becomes blending and separating the lots).

A big voice in the winemaking world

Tim was a cook at age nine and brewed beer at fifteen, he also loves to sing. The youngest of four children, wine was an everyday part of his family setting. One of his earliest memories is a Magnum of Sebastiani and Scharmsberg being presented at the dinner table.

people_tim2A hybrid of scientist and master craftsman, he focuses on capturing the essence of given grapes.   He trusts his palate more than his formidable technical knowledge. He never substituted refractometer for taste and lab results for intuition.  “Flavor doesn’t exist outside a mind” quotes Milos, a truism that is often forgotten in the winemaking process.

As I was watching him taste and talk of the wines an image of a midwife floated into my mind.  It felt very much as if he was waiting for that perfect moment, when the grapes were fully spent and had no more to give so that he could transfer and guide them to their new stage.

Determining when the grapes have given up as much as they can is not science. It is art. The changes are sometimes very subtle, sometimes dramatic and span from weeks to mere hours. When the wine stops evolving it has to be immediately moved to the next phase. The character of wine is cemented during the fermentation process, barrel aging attributes very minimum by comparison and primarily reveals nuances rather than the substance.

Milos’ goal as a craftsman is to create a complete wine that stretches tannins in order to extract every ounce of taste.  He strives to create a harmony of flavors, creating a story similar to a jazz band arranger. Composing a jazz riff of flavors is no easy task; yet I can’t help but notice that Milos, an improviser at heart, somehow combines a series of flavor solos into an integrated, lush, mature and well-structured composition.

Timothy’s current and previous clients span across the valley and the globe.  His current projects include:

  • Howell at the Moon
  • Bounty Hunter Rare Wines & Provisions
  • Haber Family Vineyards
  • Hidden Ridge Vineyard
  • Loomis Family Vineyards
  • Rubissow Family Wines
  • Sedna
  • Girard Winery
  • Windsor-Sonoma
  • Hidden Ridge
  • Black Coyote
  • Lookout Ridge
  • Spence Vineyards

Past consulting, full-time winemaking and enology projects include:

  • Black Coyote Wines
  • Marcowine, LLC
  • Cliff Lede Vineyards
  • S. Anderson Vineyard
  • Dromana Estate Winery
  • Opus One
  • Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars

Milos’ favorite CD is Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”, a classic jazz album that was recorded in 1959; yet, like his wine, is as fresh and original as the day it was released.  The album was a collection of modal sketches.  As Napa’s Bebop King of Flavors, Milos’ wines produce a series of flavor sketches that flow from one to another as seamlessly as a Coltrane riff flows from a Bill Evans solo.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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