La Vie Dansante reflects on changes

Winemaker Jeff Fadness pours a glass of Perry Cider. Contributed photo

Winemaker Jeff Fadness was thrilled to see a familiar face approaching the recently reopened La Vie Dansante tasting room out on Dryden Road in Gilroy, in April. It was none other than the local legend Tom Kruse, who began making wine in the Santa Clara Valley in 1971.

In 1993, Kruse purchased the 20-acre plot on Dryden Road where he planted 12 acres of grapes at what would become the new home of the Thomas Kruse Winery. Preserving history and making it at the same time was Kruse’s modus operandi. He proudly employed century-old bottling tools like a French dosage machine, a Swiss bottling filler, a French cage and capsule applicator for sparkling and a beautifully simple hand corker made in San Francisco back in the late 19th century that once belonged to the Mirassou family.

Kruse sold the property in 2015 to Fadness and his business partners at the time, who created the concept of Blended, a joint tasting room between La Vie Dansante, Medeiros Family and TASS. It operated until Fadness took it over in 2019, after Ted and Tammie Medeiros headed to Fairplay and Ron Mosley took over Cinnabar in Saratoga.

Fadness said 2020 brought a lot of changes, with more to come in 2021. One of them is his popular Frosé, based on a 2018 Grenache Rosé, of which he says, “We might have made way too much!” They added some strawberries and created a frozen concoction that sells for $12 per glass. He’s also contemplating white wine and lime-based frosés for variety.

Then there’s The Perry. 

“This is a cool story that started back in January,” Fadness said. “Tim Slater called James Fahey (Besson Family Vineyards) and me to see if we might be interested in splitting a 250-gallon tote of pear juice from Hood River Juice Company. We decided as a threesome to create a Pear Cider, or ‘Perry’ together and each label it under our brand. Tim, James and I made all of the fermentation and blending decisions together and are planning to market it as a joint project.  It’s slightly sweet, slightly effervescent, and just over 7 percent alcohol: perfect for a hot day.  We’re planning to sell it at $15 per 750 mL bottle.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Fadness is most excited about his first-ever release of Carignane. The 2017 La Vie Dansante Carignane is made from vines that were planted in 1889. It’s hand-tended and organic, which is rare for the Santa Clara Valley. That vines this old still exist on property that hasn’t been sold for housing or industrial development is a phenomenon worth noting.

Carignane is one of those grapes that most people don’t know, but there’s actually a fair bit of it in the Santa Clara Valley, and folks like the Guglielmos and Dan Martin of Martin Ranch are pretty keen on the varietal. 

“We weren’t too sure how the first vintage was going to turn out, but it’s pretty amazing and super popular,” Fadness said. “Starting with the 2018 vintage, I took over the vineyard maintenance and we’re trying to resuscitate the vines. We’ll be releasing a 2018 ‘Pamela’s Vineyard’ Carignane next March that’s naturally fermented and low intervention, i.e. no store bought yeast and almost no SO2.”

How was vintage 2020 overall? Well, suffice it to say that not everyone escaped the scourge of smoke taint. Fadness said they only processed about six tons of fruit, enough for roughly 350 cases. So, 2020 will be a short vintage, but that will give some breathing room to sell through previous bottlings. 

While wine lovers are excited to be out wine tasting once again, the way people are enjoying wine has significantly changed due to the pandemic. Fadness said that wineries have essentially replaced bars as social gathering places, at least until the economy fully opens up. But, beyond that, the seated, by-reservation-only policies that tasting rooms were forced to employ during Covid, have impacted the way people approach winetasting. 

“In a nutshell, people aren’t spending a day travelling to multiple wineries,” he said. “Instead, they’re choosing one and spending the whole day there. They want to be entertained, they want food, and they want something besides wine to drink.”

He also said people are telling him they’re reassessing priorities.

“Rather than having five wine club memberships, they’re dropping to two or three to save money and streamline their lives,” Fadness said. “A wine club discount doesn’t motivate as it used to. Now it’s about, ‘What kind of events do you have?’ and ‘Can I bring my kids and dog?’”

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Laura Ness is an accomplished freelance writer offering travel tips and commentary on the California wine industry.