Between an initial stint with the wine industry throughout most of the 1980s and founding Sostevinobile a couple of years ago, Your West Coast Oenophile spent what should have been the most productive years of his professional life tiptoeing through the minefields of commercial advertising. Suffice it to say that I’ve experienced more decency and humanity in just twenty minutes working with winery folks as I have in over twenty years enduring the latter-day Mad Men of San Francisco. Not that I’d ever go Ted Kaczynski on the various malefactors (perceived or real) I have endured, but I do often indulge myself in fantasizing over serving up some just desserts.
The torpid economy in which we continue to languish has compelled nearly every food and drink purveyor I know to offer some form of a Happy Hour to entice a financially struggling clientele to fill their seats. Ever the contrarian, I am proposing to hold Misery Hour at Sostevinobile, where people gainfully employed in the ignoble sciences (investment banking, corporate law, brokerage, and, of course, advertising) would be charged double regular prices from 5-7 PM. Or maybe charge them regular prices, but serve a 2½ oz. pour instead of the customary 5 oz.—quite the apt metaphor for how it feels to be offered a freelancing assignment instead of a full-time gig.
Obviously, I realize that actually holding Misery Hour will only succeed in guaranteeing empty bar stools at Sostevinobile. My point in spinning this little snippet of self-indulgence is to note that, clever as it may sound, Misery Hour stands as much chance of happening as does encountering a bad professional wine tasting in the Napa Valley.
The latest validation of this contention took place this past Wednesday at the reconfigured Rubicon Estate, which Francis Ford Coppola has transformed from the previously named Niebaum-Coppola Estate Winery to a deluxe showcase for his movie memorabilia, as well as his most prestigious wines. 36 member wineries of the Rutherford Dust Society gathered in the Historic Barrel Room at the Grand Estate to celebrate A Day in the Dust, a trade tasting of the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons and other Bordelaise-style wines from Napa’s Rutherford AVA. A more fitting way to celebrate Bastille Day, I could not imagine (apart from guillotining a handful of Creative Directors whose names I need not mention).
I hadn’t been to the winery since its transformation, and it took a couple of drive-bys before I located it vastly understated gateway (in contrast, Niebaum-Coppola’s frontage had stood as an unmistakable landmark on Highway 29). Of course, preceding stops at Razi, Luna, and Silverado Trail Wine Studio may have contributed to the slight diminution of my homing skills, but I prefer to lay the blame on my ever-errant GPS.
After catching up with noted wine essayist Gerald Asher and greeting old familiars like Shari Staglin and Paul Rogers, whose Balzac Communications had invited me to the tasting, I affixed my name tag, gathered the program and wine glass, then thrust myself into the cavernous, heat-laden, upper-level chamber of the monumental Château Gustav Niebaum commissioned in 1880. An inner ring of tables featured the handful of Sauvignon Blancs several of the wineries had included, while the outer configuration contained their red wine samples. Logic dictated that I taste in the same manner, sampling the smaller array of white wines first.
First, I meandered over to find the table for Meander, my first contact with this winery, which could have won me over simply with the name for its Sauvignon Blanc, the 2009 Conspire(but the wine itself proved even more compelling). Next, I zipped over to the station where 94574 Wine poured its debut 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, a stark yet compelling expression that showed little of the grapefruit or grassy tones I find can mar the varietal.
I made a note to myself to circle back to the tables for Alpha Omega and for Fleury Estate, wineries I have sampled on several other occasions, then rounded the corner to try the 2009 Rutherford Sauvignon BlancRound Pond was pouring at its white table. Next to them, Rutherford Grove poured a superb 2009 Pestoni Estate Sauvignon Blanc, while Lieff opted to share their 2009 Rutherford Crossroad Sauvignon Blanc.
I’d tried the 2009 Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc from Long Meadow Ranch at their Farmstead Restaurant recently but was pleased to resample it in this different setting. Nor did a different venue affect my favorable impression of the newly-released 2009 Fumé Blanc Rutherford from John Robert Eppler, a frequent denizen of the tastings at Rock Wall I have chronicled here. On the other hand, having recently tasted both of Honig’s Sauvignon Blanc, I decided to forgo a reevaluation and wait for their red table pours.
Perhaps I should have skipped the grapefruity 2009 Rutherford Estate Sauvignon BlancSawyer Cellars poured, but having espied this winery along Highway 29 for several years now, my curiosity got the better of me. I overcame my disappointment with their silky 2007 Rutherford Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, however. First, however, I introduced myself to the Raudabaughs of 12C Wines and sampled their lush 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Beckstoffer Georges III, a single varietal boutique producer.
I had hoped that D. R. Stephens would be pouring the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Moose Valley Vineyard that succeeded the extraordinary 2006 vintage of the same that had wowed the crowd at Acme’s Pulse Tasting a few weeks back, but had no complaints at settling for their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Walther River Block. And while almost any of Larry Piña’s wines would have suited the occasion, I was delighted with his 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Firehouse Vineyard. equally impressive was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Bosché Vineyard that Freemark Abbey, my late friend Jim Warren’s former winery, poured alongside their 2006 Petite Sirah Wood Ranch.
Another friend who is very much alive and running his own winery, John Williams, featured a trio of wines from his pioneering organic winery, Frog’s Leap: the 2007 Petite Sirah, an impressive 2007 Merlot Rutherford, and the 2007 Rutherford, a proprietary Cabernet Sauvignon with a generous dollop of Cabernet Franc. Also on hand, fellow Bay Club member Greg Martin served up a trio of his Martin Estate vintages: the 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Bacchanal, the exceptional 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, and a new release—the 2008 Cabernet Rosé.
Despite my frequent trips to Napa, a number of the wineries on hand had escaped my awareness. Nonetheless, Monticello Vineyards greatly impressed me with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Tietjen Vineyards, as did McG Cellars with both the 2007 Scarlett Cabernet Sauvignon and their yet-to-be released 2007 Scarlett Cabernet Reserve. One of Corley Family’s prestigious labels, Monticello Vineyards, upheld the Jeffersonian wine tradition with their 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Tietjen Vineyard. Of course, the name Pedemonte Cellars begs a Sangiovese and, indeed, their Adagio is a Sangiovese/Syrah/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, but on this afternoon, they only featured their noteworthy 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, followed by its superior successor, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Speaking of Sangiovese, I may have finally wrangled a taste of the elusive 2008 Stagliano Estate SangioveseStaglin Family Vineyards produces. For the time being, though, I had to “settle” for the pleasure of their 2008 Salus Estate Chardonnay, as well as the equally seductive 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. And though some may consider it bad form to show up your guests, host Rubicon Estate clearly affirmed the profound depth of its œnological mastery with its flagship 2007 Rubicon, an organically-grown Meritage.
I was a bit surprised that more wineries did not feature a Meritage but focused instead on straight varietals. Agustin Huneeus’ Quintessa, however, blends eight different estate lots of Cabernet Sauvignon with their Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Carménère, richly exemplified by their soon-to-be released 2007 Quintessa, plus a preview from the 2008 barrel sample. Another surprisingabsence was the paucity of Zinfandel being poured, though Julie Johnson’s Tres Sabores did more than make up for this omission with its organically grown 2007 Estate Zinfandel and its exceptional counterpoint, the 2006 Rutherford Perspective Cabernet Sauvignon.
I like allusions—great fodder for the myriad digressions that frequent readers know populate this blog. Though William Harrison Winery bears as much connection to the 9th President of the United States as John Tyler Wines has with his successor, their wines proved to be far hardier than Old Tippecanoe, who lasted but a month in office. Their exemplary 2007 Cabernet Franc Rutherford and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford were complemented by the artfully blended 2006 Estate Rutherford Red, a subtle mélange of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Cabernet Franc, 8% Malbec, and 8% Merlot. And if only Slaughterhouse Cellars would blend a full quintet of Bordeaux varietals and call it Slaughterhouse-Five! Still, I was immensely please to discover both their 2007 Cabernet Franc Rutherford and the truly well-crafted 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford.
Circling back to revisit wineries who had poured Sauvignon Blanc, I was a bit surprised that I preferred Lieff’s 2006 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon to their 2007 vintage, but the test of time will tell which will prove the more striking long-term. Meander’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Morisoli Vineyard may not have as mischievous a moniker as its Sauv Blanc but tasted equally delightful. Also in harmony with its white confrère, Round Pond’s 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon lived up to its advanced billing, while Honig showed itself quite adept on the red side with its 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Campbell Vineyard.
Hewitt Vineyard is an autonomous label produced by Provenance, which had separately poured its 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Rutherford; Hewitt’s single vineyard effort, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford, certainly validated the limits of this focus. Provenance and Hewitt are two of the better labels within Diageo’s vast portfolio, as is one of Napa’s crown jewels, Beaulieu Vineyards. To the perplexity of most attendees, A Day in the Dust, though scheduled until 5 PM, suddenly announced it was ceasing to pour at 4:30, which meant several of the wineries began folding their table shortly after 4. BV had quit before I had a chance to circle back to their table, meaning I missed out on the 2007 Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and their ubiquitous other Cabs, but a bit of legerdemain rewarded me with a taste of the 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Clone 6, an exceptional rarity.
The abrupt end to the affair also meant I missed out on familiar labels like El Molino, Sullivan Vineyards, Trinchero Napa Valley, Riboli Family(not certain whether they manned a table, despite the program listing), and, most regrettably, Heitz Cellars. I did manage to sample Flora Springs’ 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Hillside Reserve before they closed, as well as a pair of wines from Peju Province, the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford Reserve and an intriguing, almost sweet 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon H. B. Vineyard my tasting notes describe as “candy.” Not sure whether Peju will appreciate that attribution or ask for my head when they read this.
GivenA Day in the Dust took place on Bastille Day, I needed a contrived segue to bring this entry to a close, but not before commenting on my final stop en route back to San Francisco. My fellow scribe Liza Zimmerman apprised me of the French national celebration to which Clos du Val had invited the wine press, so donning my proverbial blogger’s beret, I followed her down Silverado Trail and joined the grande fête. Somehow, in between the repeated rounds of shucked oysters from the justly celebrated Hog Island Farm, I managed to sample their proprietary Sémillon-Chardonnay blend, the 2008 Ariadne(Ἀριάδνη was the wife of Poseidon who abetted Theseus in his quest to kill the Minotaur, her association with wine an elusive part of classical mythology), the 2007 Carneros Pinot Noir, and a pull-out-all-the-stops selection from their library of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, notably the 1974, 1979, 1987 and 1999 vintages. The last two, while not initially regarded as notable vintages, showed remarkable finesse with aging.
Clos du Val’s ostensible purpose in inviting the press to this event was to launch their latest promotional effort, which they have dubbed Vindependence. As appreciative as I am of their wines and of their generous hospitality, I cannot help but revert to my advertising past and critique the ineptitude of this campaign. As my fellow Dartmouth alum and Italian Long Island refugee Michael Corleone ruefully notes in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather III, “every time I try to get out, they pull me back in.”
It isn’t so much the jejune satire of their Declaration of Vindependence, nor the logical and thematic inconsistencies of muddling French and American traditions, nor the obvious irony that Clos du Val’s 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon was one of the wines that helped upend the French hegemony over the California wine industry in the storied 1976 Judgment of Paris Tasting (note the revisited rankings from 1986), that dilutes, rather than promotes, their brand perception. Rather, it is the deployment of such an aberrant neologism—not the inadvertent malapropism of George Bush’s “misunderestimated” or Sarah Palin’s “refudiated” but the echoes of DSW’s Sandalicious! or the utterly wretched Olive Garden’s Freshissimo that make this contrivance so off-putting.
Believe me, Sostevinobile knows a thing or two about skillfully forging a portmanteau. And, despite this critique, I have nothing but appreciation for the excellence of Clos du Val’s viticulture—and their hospitality. And so I will simply suggest that, like the late Marie Antoinette (who never did say “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”)‚ Vindependence could benefit from a little trimming at the top.