While touring the Central Coast of California, I had to stop by and check out and meet the man behind one of the most recognizable brands (and labels) in the US wine scene.
Cycles Gladiator’s redheaded Maiden is simply one of the more avant-garde wine label in the US!
As I discovered, it is not only that, but rather, the story of brilliant and super-kind winemaker, and the tale of a brand revival making great value wines.
Cycles Gladiator: The Story
Central Coast winemaker Adam LaZarre started the Cycles Gladiator brand some 12 years ago, back in 2005, wanting to express the land of this part of California through his wines.
For a label and brand name, he picked a symbol of the liberation of women in France during the Belle Époque, a poster by a French bicycle company named Gladiator that launched the sale of its new bicycle “Le Bicycle Velocipede” in 1895. At that time, bikes were a symbol of the new freedom women were experiencing, allowing them to move around more than ever before.
The avant-garde label and the Cycles Gladiator wines proved so successful that the brand was acquired by a large wine firm, who corporatized the brand, expanding production volumes and extinguishing what the wines originally stood for, top quality and value. LaZarre took on new projects in the Central Coast. But the story of the brand didn’t end there.
In 2013, wine entrepreneur and executive Dennis Carroll acquired Cycles for his Wine Hooligans artisan wine brand reinvention company, and he wanted nothing else but to reunite Gladiator’s brand with its original winemaker.
Today LaZarre is not only the winemaker of Cycles Gladiator producing authentic and tasty Central Coast wines (see wine reviews below), he is also the head winemaker for Wine Hooligans focusing on a number of central and northern California brands for the company.
Cycles Gladiator is back to its roots, with the back label adorning a new Vineyard to Table™ stamp that guarantees the wines’ sourcing, because LaZarre guides the whole process from selecting vineyards in Central Coast and overseeing grape production, to making the wines the way he wants them to be.
Winemaker Adam LaZarre
There are no two winemakers like Adam LaZarre on Earth!
Meeting him and spending time with him, I could tell. As a former winemaker myself, I often experience a special connection with fellow winemakers, at least the good and unpretentious ones. It’s hard to describe and absolutely intangible, but it’s there. Some sort of mutual respect.
The feeling and shared thoughts that ‘you’ve done it to make wine, you know what I’m talking about’. This connection was certainly there for me with Adam.
Like many good winemakers, LaZarre is humble and shines with passion for his products. What he adds though that is rare, is, from his own words: “I always try to make wine fun!”. Now we know why Cycles Gladiator label is so special in the world of wine!
He also shares with many inspired winemakers I’ve met being a musician, although I think he’s the only saturated guitar player making fermented grape juice at this level I’ve met!
LaZarre wasn’t always a winemaker. Growing up near the Finger Lakes in upstate New York, he spent 7 years in the Navy, part of it stationed in Seattle where the local wine & food scene was an important feature of his Washington experience.
He graduated from California’s Fresno State’s Department of Viticulture and Enology in 1995 before being hired as the Vice President of winemaking by Hann Estates, pioneering Pinot Noir in the Santa Lucia Highlands and creating the successful Rex Goliath brand.
With the Cycles Gladiator brand he created in 2005, Adam’s philosophy was and still is that: “It’s one thing to sell $300 bottles of wine to a few people. I love to produce really great wines that taste two to three times the price and to know that, on any given night, someone somewhere is enjoying my wine.”
Tasting the wines indeed, it is hard to believe they bear $10 to $15 price tags and deliver 88- to 91/100-points kind of quality for these bucks!
5 Wines for Most Palates by Cycles Gladiator
Not only do the Cycles Gladiator wines deliver in absolute quality, but LaZarre also manages to combine important features into the bottles he signs:
- wines that express the typicity of the style and grape varieties they are made of
- wines that appeal to most palates and will satisfy the most-demanding tasters, and that will pair well with any food.
Cycles Gladiator – 1 Minute Wine Ratings Video
Here are my tasting notes:
2014 Cycles Gladiator Chardonnay, Central Coast
Fruit from Livermore, Monterey, and Paso Robles, providing winemaker Adam LaZarre with plenty of blending options. About 15% new oak, 50% malolactic fermentation in barrel, 50% in stainless steel tank without going through malo.
Score: 88/100 pts. An elegant nose, aromatic but balanced with a wide array of aromas in balance. Lemon, melon, and pineapple combine delicately with leesy notes of brioche, and touches of oaky vanilla. Dry with a soft oily texture, pleasing and smooth with no aggressively whatsoever, just a satisfying suavity and typical fresh Chardonnay flavors. Very well made.
2014 Cycles Gladiator Pinot Noir, Central Coast
Fruit from Monterey, Santa Barbara, and the west side of Paso Robles.
Score: 89/100 pts. The nose is vibrantly fruity with a wide spectrum of fruity flavors, from the floral violet characters, to the ripe and richer dark plum, through the typical Pinot’s signature aromas of sour cherry (griotte). Add some black pepper and clove spicing things up and you have a wine that is very pleasant and appealing to smell at, interesting too. The palate is soft and round, with silky tannins on a medium body; A pinot that satisfies by its balance, its upfront fruitiness but also some depth provided by spices, dark cocoa, and caramel notes.
2014 Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon, Central
Most of the fruit comes from Livermore, hillside vineyard, very steep so it has to be picked by hand; it takes almost a month to pick it up so the fruit comes at various levels of maturity. Small proportions of Merlot and Syrah to round up and complete the blend.
Score: 90/100 pts. Very clean and pure fruity expression of Cabernet Sauvignon on the nose, you can recognize the variety very clearly from having such bright blackcurrant and red berries character, with hints of bell pepper. The overall impression is ripe and generous yet controlled and not too exuberant or alcoholic. Round body, soft and smooth tannins make for a suave experience that allows to enjoy the vibrant red berries, fresh plum fruity flavors. Some floral notes, and light apple ones amplify the light and soft flavor profile. Some salivating and delicate bitterness, almost saltiness to the finish make the wine end on a very juicy feel promising this wine will pair very well with food.
2014 Cycles Gladiator Merlot, Central Coast
Adam LaZarre confesses this is perhaps his favorite varietal wine in the range. Despite Merlot’s bad reputation lately, I do share with Adam much respect for this grape variety that shows much depth, and unmatchable silky/velvety texture when it’s well made.
Score: 90/100 pts. Dark and deep fruity nose, filled with very dark cherry aromas complemented by dark chocolate and blackberry liqueur. Soft and round tannins, with the main feature being a round smooth oily texture. It feels dry, drier than the Cabernet, having less opulent super-ripe berry flavors, but more expression of juicy red cherry. Velvety tannins, with a granulous texture leave a slight ashy feel to the finish, which is actually enjoyable and give the wine personality. The fact that it is dry and a little savory to the finish balances the abundance of fruit in the tasting very well and suggest it will be great with food as well. Bursts of spicy black pepper and caramel to the finish leave you with a yummy-tasting after-taste.
2014 Cycles Gladiator Petite Sirah, Central Coast
Score: 91/100 Pts. Opulent ripe fruity and dark nose, dark plum, coffee, and dark chocolate dominate the nose together with dark berry notes. Round oily texture, with solid body but not over the top, plenty of tannins make for a great structure, but they’re soft and smooth, just kicking in with a little astringency to the finish. A concentrated Petite Sirah (Durif) wine with liberal fruity expression of dark cherry and dark plum, touch of spices and more importantly these dark toasted flavors of chocolate and licorice that give it seriousness, and juiciness as well as an intriguing feel.