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Athair: Pinot Noir With a Gaelic Twist

Athair is a collaboration between two winemakers, Tom Keith and Jim McMahon. Tom says he discovered the Threshold of Heaven in Sonoma Valley in 1977. Through the years he raised a family and made wine at home, garnering multiple medals for several varietals including Pinot Noir. After 34 years operating an international men’s apparel business, he decided to partner with his son-on-law, Jim McMahon, to form Athair (the gaelic word for “father”). Jim’s winemaking career began at Kenwood Winery in the Sonoma Valley where he developed a love for Pinot Noir and a familiarity with the Pinot Noir vineyards of the Russian River Valley. He started as a laboratory technician and rose in the ranks to assistant winemaker. After nine years at Kenwood, he moved to Luna Vineyards in the Napa Valley as assistant winemaker where he is currently employed.. In 2004, he married Courtney, whose father, Tom, became his business partner in Athair. Jim is the winemaker for Athair, while Tom handles most of the marketing, sales, and winery grunt work.

The pair’s Irish heritage and strong family traditions are reflected in the name Athair. Jim chose the name as a tribute to the fathers who have played such a profound role in his life. Jim says, “As you pour your first glass, raise it in a toast in honor of your father.” Around Father’s Day this year, Athair was giving 20% off on all wine purchases.

Jim’s winemaking is centered around patience. Like so many top Pinot Noir producers today, he realizes that most of the work is done in the vineyard, and once the grapes reach the winery, the winemaking process requires only prudent message and careful handling to bring out the sensuality of this most delicate of grapes. Winemaking is traditional with minimal pumping and a single racking. The wine is aged in 25% new and 75% neutral French oak. Jim says the aim of his wine crafting process is to make a Pinot Noir “that will have a ten year shelf life.”

2005 Athair Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

14.5% alc., 600 cases, $35. This wine is composed primarily of grapes from the Calegari Vineyard on Eastside Road in the Russian River Valley and the Cleary Ranch Vineyard in Freestone. The way-cool silk-screened bottle is unique for California Pinot Noir. · I will get to the point: flat-out terrific. Aromas of cherry, rhubarb, toast and cola keep your nose in the glass and flavors of cranberry, Bing cherry and vanilla keep you coming back for another sip. There is deft use of oak and the texture is velveteen. Harmonious and complete, this is the stuff that Russian River dreams are made of.

Athair wines (there is also a 2006 Chardonnay) are available from the website at A number of fine restaurants in Sonoma County have this wine on their list. 707-732-6896. If you want to put on a tasting and serve a benchmark example of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir, this is the wine to uncork. In 2006, there will be a Calegari Vineyard-designate Pinot Noir in addition to the Russian River Valley bottling.
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