Smoking Loon

Karen Frazier

It is often said you should never judge a book by its cover, but it's likely that many people judge wines by their label when choosing from the vast selection arrayed on store shelves. More than a few people have likely picked up a bottle of Smoking Loon based on that smashing red and yellow label featuring a loon smoking a cigar. The fact that the wines routinely rank in the mid-80s on both Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast's lists doesn't hurt, either. Inside those cute bottles are uncomplicated, drinkable, value-priced wines (usually ranging from about $6 to $15) that will give you a good bottle when you need something easy to eat with a pizza or another casual dining alternative.

Sebastiani: A Tradition in Wine Making

Smoking Loon is just one of many wines Don Sebastiani and Sons produces. Sebastini is a California negociant company. In other words, the company buys grapes from growers and does not cultivate any vines itself, although Sebastini does have a winery in Napa.

Don Sebastiani's father Samuele got into the wine business with his winery, Sebasitani Vineyards, in 1904. The Italian immigrant leaned the craft of wine as a young boy in Italy. For many years the winery only made bulk wine, which it sold to be branded by other companies.

In 1986, Don took over the business and started a partnership with his brother-in-law, Roy Cecchetti. Known as Cecchetti Sebastiani Cellar, the enterprise marked the beginning of the family's negociant wine making.

Don's sons, Don Jr. and August, bought out Roy's interest in 2001 and the family founded Don Sebastiani and Sons. The company grew quickly. Producing more than one million cases in 2004, it became at that time the 16th-largest wine maker in America. In addition to Smoking Loon, the company produces Pepperwood Grove, Aquinas Napa Valley, Used Automobile Parts, Mia's Playground, Fusee and Screw Kappa Napa brands.

In 2005, another division of the company, known as The Other Guys, started with wines sold under names such as Hey Mambo, Plungerhead and Le Bon Vin de la Napa Valley. Wine Enthusiast named the winery as a whole the American Winery of the Year in 2005.

The Smoking Loon Concept

The concept behind Smoking Loon is to produce reliable wines that are distinctive from each other but recognizable as coming from Sebastiani. Wine maker Richard Bruno spent 12 years in the San Francisco restaurant industry before he started working at wineries, and his emphasis is on wines that are food-friendly. He previously worked as the distiller at Bonny Doon.

Smoking Loon Varietals

Smoking Loon produces eight varietals, four reds and four whites. Here's a quick rundown of what you can expect from a bottle of Loon:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon: A blend of 94 percent Cab and six percent Syrah gives this wine a dark, fruity look and a spicy flavor. This is the heartiest red of the bunch, so bring it out for your red meat dishes.
  • Merlot: This berry-filled bottle is a great go-to wine for folks who like an easy-drinking red that's fine with food but just as agreeable drunk on its own.
  • Pinot Noir: Another fruity wine, this mostly Monterrey pinot is perfect for drinking with chicken, if you prefer a red with your white meat.
  • Syrah: This is a tough wine that stands up to spicy foods and even sweets with relative ease. The caramel and mocha notes would blend well with chocolate cake, or how about chocolate-covered strawberries?
  • Pinot Grigio: The key word for this wine is light. It's filled with fruity grapefruit and orange aromas and a slightly lemony finish. It is perfect for a summer evening with a salad, or a picnic lunch on the beach.
  • Chardonnay: This straw-colored, springy wine is great with foods prepared with fruit or citrus.
  • Viognier: The folks at Smoking Loon call this a "most fashionable" wine, great as an aperitif and filled with floral aromas, apricot flavors and a hint of clove in the finish.
  • Sauvignon Blanc: This bright wine has a taste of apple and lemon, making it great for light seafood dishes or drinking on a summer's day.

More Than Just Wine Making

If you can't get enough of the wine, the Don and Sons website shouldn't be missed. It provides information about all of the brand's wines, and features a blog that shares the latest information.

Smoking Loon