For as long as I’ve lived in the area, the Blackstone Hotel had stood as a monument to a time when Omaha hadn’t yet begun its glacial urban sprawl. We don’t dislike West Omaha, but Sonja and I moved from our new town home on Standing Bear Lake to the century-old craftsman house we now live in in Field Club, 109 blocks toward the Missouri River, because like everyone else we have our preferences. The popularity of West Omaha, however, and the allure of wide streets and beautiful new construction, left many parts of older Omaha without much for population or identity. The Blackstone is the eponymous sentinel that stands in a neighborhood that for the past five or six decades had been more or less forgotten by all save those who lived there. Then, five or so years ago, Blackstone was redeveloped, rapidly gentrified, and quickly became a hub of good restaurants and bars. Not long after, Kiewit, the Fortune 500 company that had repurposed the relic as office space, determined that it should be turned back into a luxury hotel.
When I used to work in DC, my employer typically put me up in Kimpton hotels. My colleagues and I used to laugh at some of the amenities, not least the zebra and tiger print robes that we knew would be waiting for us in the closet of every room. Still, we appreciated the professional staff, the proximity to Dupont Circle, and the free cocktail hours each night. Kimpton hotels were like a boutique Hilton but without the sterile, generic feeling, and I came to regard them as worth seeking out. When the Blackstone was taken over by Kimpton and turned into the Cottonwood Hotel, less than a mile from my house, I wasn’t disappointed, and quietly began planning a stay-cation.
We haven’t had that stay-cation yet, but I did have occasion to visit the Cottonwood Hotel the other night, when Three Sticks Wines from Sonoma came to Omaha for their Fall Release Tasting. It’s been a while since I’ve attended a wine tasting as media (damn pandemic) and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to try these widely-heralded wines so close to home. I ended up leaving a fundraiser early, quickly changing into suitable clothes, and driving the few blocks that I normally would have walked in order to get there in time.
The pool house, or perhaps more accurately the massive event space overlooking the pool, was packed with people happily sipping at Three Sticks Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I spent time chatting with a few local shop owners who I genuinely enjoy, shooting the shit about my recent trip to wine country and lamenting that I hadn’t visited Three Sticks while we were in Sonoma. Sipping through the wines they had with them helped me to realize that this was a winery I would need to put on the itinerary for our next trip out to Sonoma.
While there, I also got to speak with Prema Behan, a founding partner in Three Sticks, as well as Rob Busson, the Hospitality Manager. Both were kind and willing to answer my questions about this intriguing producer. Bill Price III, known to some by the moniker “Three Sticks”, has long been the proprietor of some truly excellent and renowned vineyards in Sonoma. In 2002, Prema told me, he had a few barrels of excellent Pinot Noir from the world-class Durell Vineyard and suggested starting a small label. Together, Prema and Bill began to build a brand, and over the past few decades have taken what was essentially little more than a good idea and turned it into a boutique label with an almost cult following, producing 8-10K cases annually, with a beautiful tasting room in an historic adobe home. That Prema is making lengthy market visits in Omaha says good things about the growth of the producer, certainly, and nothing at all bad about the city I call home, either.
I sincerely enjoyed each of the wines I sampled that night at the Cottonwood Hotel, but as those who follow my reviews know, I don’t look for what is good so much as I seek out what is special. I shy away from the oft-misused term “unique” whenever I’m able, but one of the wines I tried was as near to being truly so as any I’ve had lately. The Castenada Rose’, typically reserved as a tasting-room-only wine, was delightfully refreshing on that hot August evening. A kitchen sink style blend of three different Syrah clones, Grenache Noir, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Marsanne, it caught me off guard with its supple acidity, the complexity of aromas and flavors it was able to offer, and its Provence-like delicacy. It only made me want to visit the tasting room more.
In addition, I’ll add that while I enjoyed the Chardonnays a great deal, the single-vineyard Pinot Noirs are on a whole other level. I never hold it against a producer for making multiple varietals or styles of wine, though it seems perhaps that Three Sticks’ laser focus on only two, along with their intimate familiarity with the single vineyards and terroir from which the fruit is sourced, has allowed them to become exceptionally adept at making these wines. The Pinots were among the best I’ve had all year, probably longer, and while they are far from low-cost, in my opinion they exceed many of the cult Pinot producers both in terms of quality and QPR.
Whether I would have been able to attend this tasting if we didn’t live so close to the Cottonwood Hotel, I’m unsure. Having said that, now that I’ve tried Three Sticks wines and begun to become acquainted with their story, I know I want to know (and taste) more and think it’s likely that Sonja and I will visit Three Sticks the next time we’re in Sonoma. To readers who are looking for your next great wine, especially if you’re a lover of small-production, artfully-crafted wines that offer a genuine sense of place, well, I think I’ve pointed you in the right direction.
To learn more, or to order wine, visit Three Sticks at https://threestickswines.com/