Just yesterday I learned that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is the only breeding bird found in New York that has been documented nesting in every month of the year. This bit of trivia was given in an article in my local bird club’s monthly newsletter about the ongoing breeding bird atlas in New York State. I do have a vague memory of the last Barn Owl report in my home county of Albany dating to the Carter administration (before my birth), so I’m not holding out much hope for finding a nest of this species around here anytime soon. Besides, now that we’re over a week into autumn in the Northern Hemisphere, my birding thoughts have turned from breeding bird atlasing to the peak of fall migration.

Barn Owls will nest year round and are apparently just as happy to use brick ruins as barns, if this 18th-century painting is to be believed.

Barn Owls with their Brood (c. 1775) by English painter William Tompkins (1730?–1792).

But that Barn Owl fact did remind me that, way back in late February – just a few weeks before the pandemic changed the world – I promised another look at wines by Z. Alexander Brown, a California label whose proprietor is the country musician Zac Brown. Each wine from the label’s main “Uncaged” range features the same depiction of a Barn Owl: a hovering, unearthly visage suspended in midair over some unseen prey. It certainly makes an attractive mascot in its own right, but it’s also one that was chosen for a reason: as the company explains, the Barn Owl is a “guardian of the vine” and it welcomes the presence of these birds in its fields by installing nest boxes. The deadly prowess with which their resident Barn Owls hunt rodents allows Z. Alexander Brown to avoid environmentally unsound pest control measures.

Their Cabernet Sauvignon sources grapes from coastal vineyards in Northern California. The 2017 edition displays bold aromas of oak and dark fruit on the nose, as well as complementary hints of fig, black olive, and cinnamon. The full-bodied palate is rich with black cherry flavors, bold and juicy to start, before giving way to a crescendo of soft, mocha-inflected tannins. Blackcurrant rounds out the smooth finish, accented by notes of oaky notes of vanilla, pepper, and fennel. The 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from Z. Alexander Brown is robust and affordable, making it a great everyday selection to enjoy as the weather cools with the changing seasons.

Good birding and happy drinking!

Z. Alexander Brown: Uncaged – Cabernet Sauvignon (2017)

Three out of five feathers (Good).

Note: This wine was reviewed several months before the publication of this review, in late December 2019.

Written by Tristan Lowery
Tristan Lowery’s busy homebrewing schedule took a hit in 2010 when he discovered birding and found that scanning the waterfowl at Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge on a frigid midwinter morning could be just as much fun as standing over a steaming mash tun in a sweltering Queens apartment in August. While his growing commitment to birding has undeniably diminished his brewing output of ales - fine and otherwise - Tristan finds that birding still affords him plenty of excuses to at least keep drinking beer, especially when celebrating life birds, lamenting unsuccessful chases, and capping off an exhausting Big Day or Christmas Bird Count. After leaving behind a hectic cooking career in New York City’s fine-dining scene, Tristan moved inland to the New York's Capital District, where the relative abundance of Pileated Woodpeckers almost makes up for the fact that he’s only seen a single Sanderling in Albany County ever. When he isn’t birding his local patches in urban Albany, Tristan works in energy regulation for the State of New York.