Uno…due…tre…

Eight tastings in the space of 32 hours. And that’s not including wine breakfast at Clos du Val! Is there any wonder why Your West Coast Oenophile is just now filing my review of Première Napa? So, in the interest of posting this review out before Tax Day and trying to do justice to all the wineries with which Sostevinobile connected, let me take a stab at something totally uncharacteristic of this blog—brevity!

To say that Première Napa is the premier trade event of the winter isn’t a tautology; major wine buyers from around the country descend upon the Valley for the entire week preceding this highly anticipated auction. Various trade groups and other associations host dozens of tastings and private parties throughout the entire region, showcasing their barrel samples as well as many of the bottlings they typically reserve only for select customers. With each district seemingly trying to outdo each others, this friendly rivalry makes for quite lavish entertainment for attendees.

It’s hard to countenance, but Sostevinobile is not (yet) on Première’s A-list. I understand the priorities given to auction bidders and the people who already actively purchase wine. Once we are up & running and amassing inventory, though, we will be a force with which to reckon! Last year, I wasn’t even aware that I was in the midst of these events the same day I was conducting a business swing through the Valley; I thought I was meeting Chris Dearden of Costa Del Sol Consulting at the Vintage 1870 Barrel Room simply to try his wines—only to find myself catching the tail end of First Taste Yountville. Being able to sample a small modicum of the wineries on hand, I resolved to redeem myself by starting off my Première marathon here.

1) Yountville

First Taste 2011 included 26 of this sub-appellation’s most distinctive wineries, too many to fit on a single-sheet program but just enough to be able to engage with everyone in a reasonable amount of time. I started off with Tor Kenward, whose Cabernets from Howell Mountain draw inordinate attention at that AVA’s summer gathering; here the 2008 Cabernet Mast Vineyard proved every bit their equal. His tablemate, Tom Scott Vineyard, which really ought to feature a saxophone on their label, held court with a preview of their sole endeavor, the prodigious 2008 Barn Burner Cabernet Sauvignon.

Not too frequently, I land up overlooking a label in the mistaken belief I have previously sampled their wines. I could have sworn I had tasted Tamber Bey on several occasions, but here was glad to be introduced to their two thoroughbreds: the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2008 Deux Chevaux Vineyard Rabicano, a Meritage of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their tablemates, the redoubtable Rocca Family, upheld their repute with the 2007 Grigsby Cabernet Sauvignon and the lone representative of a 2007 Syrah here this afternoon.

No question that I’d previously tried Bell Wine Cellars, which staked their claim with today’s only 2007 Petit Sirah Massa Ranch. Blankiet Estate, on the other hand, came as a completely fresh revelation, first with their 60%/40% Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot mélange, the 2007 Proprietary Red Wine Paradise Hills Vineyard, then followed by the more intriguing 2008 Prince of Hearts Red Wine, a Bordeaux blend of unspecified proportions. Similarly, at the next table over, Ted Astorian’s boutique Clos Valmi has flown under the radar without even a Website to promote it, though his delightful 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon and atypical (for Yountville) 2008 Pinot Noir certainly spoke for themselves. Sharing a common nook here, Charles Krug continues in its evolution into a formidable 21st century winery with its Yountville bottlings, the 2008 Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon and their limited release 2008 X Clones, the pinnacle of their Cabernet Sauvignon production.

Five other tables fell into this same pattern of matching a long-standing acquaintance with a fresh face. Like Blankiet, Joe Grupalo’s Groppallo offered an unvariegated Bordelaise blend, their 2009 Bliss alongside a distinctive 2009 Estate Merlot. Their “neighbor” Gemstone p
erformed its customary bedazzlement with the cult-like status of their 2008 Facets of Gemstone, paired with a special release, the 2006 10th Anniversary Cabernet as well as the 2009 Parma Clone Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.

Lest anyone think Yountville only produces red wines, newcomer Dillon contrasted two Chardonnays grown from the same estate vineyard, the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented vs. the 2009 Chardonnay Oak Fermented (I found both equally pleasing). Not accidentally, this winery shared its spot with familiar faces from 5th generation Gustav Niebaum descendants Lail Vineyards, who juxtaposed their renowned Philippe Melka-crafted 2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc with their new 2008 Henry Sauvignon Blanc, grown on their remnant of the former Inglenook estate. For good measure, they also poured their flagship 2006 J. Daniel Cabernet Sauvignon, an unblended interpretation of the varietal. I also had no previous experience with Joseph George and their very fine 2009 Sauvignon Blanc but had previously tried an earlier vintage of the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc from Gamble Family Vineyards.

A second Pinot, the 2009 Pinot Noir came from Elizabeth Rose’s certified organic vineyards. Winemaker Kristi Koford’s fresh effort naturally demanded she produce a 2010 Rosé, blending Syrah with Grenache and Cinsault. The formidable Ghost Block, also produced at Bonded Winery No. 9, poured alongside this boutique label, staking its claim with their extraordinary 2007 Yountville Single Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and an assimilable 2009 MorgaenLee Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc. Finally, I caught up with Chris Dearden pouring both the 2008 Sangiovese and the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his main project Chanticleer (not to be confused with Chaucer or the men’s choral ensemble). Next to him, my new friend Carmen Policy put an impressive seven points on the scoreboard with the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon from his Casa Piena, then quickly chipped in three more with his backup label, the 2008 Our Gang Cabernet Sauvignon.

If wineries truly correlated to football franchises, Christian Moueix’ Château Pétrus would undoubtedly stand as France’s version of the Dallas Cowboys. Here in Yountville, his Napa affiliate Dominus Estate consistently vies for the lead in Bordelaise-style wines, with his single bottling, the 2007 Dominus, a blend ironically devoid of Merlot but consisting of 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Cabernet Franc, and 3% Petit Verdot. Next to his station, Corley Family showcased their sole Yountville endeavor, the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon State Lane Vineyard.

By contrast, Hopper Creek inundated attendees with seven of their vintages, beginning with a three year vertical from the 2007 Estate Merlot to its 2009 counterpart. Though appreciably young, their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon impressed even more than the matured 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon Valerga Vineyard. And while I particularly cottoned to the 2005 Petit Verdot Massa Ranch, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc Massa Ranch left me somewhat indifferent. I would have anticipated a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay from table partner Grgich Hills, but happily settled for their superb 2009 Petit Verdot and the 2006 Yountville Selection Cabernet Sauvignon.

Though Kapcsandy may also challenge the strictures of English orthography, I have nothing but the greatest admiration for their œnology, as evidenced here by both the 2008 Family Estate Cuvée, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Meritage and their proprietary blend, the 2008 Endre. I defied convention by next sampling their exotic 2009 Rosé (49% Cabernet Sauvignon, 41% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot) before elbowing over to try the 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Keever Vineyards.

Granted, I mistook John Piña for his brother Larry, but had no confusion with their outstanding 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Wolff Vineyard from their Piña Napa Valley. Not that it bore any significance, but finishing up with the 2007 The Philanthropist, a limited production estate Cabernet Sauvignon from Markham Vineyards, allowed me to move onto the next stage of my excursion on a most pleasant high note.

2) Oak Knoll

Oak Knoll is a road I frequently take to bypass downtown Na
pa and cross from Highway 29 to Silverado Trail relatively unimpeded. While I’ve long recognized Oak Knoll as a district within the City of Napa, I only recently realized it constituted its own sub-AVA. Though dominated by the vast acreage of the Trefethen family, several other highly-acclaimed wineries like Laird and Darioush also dot this terrain. And so the prospect of sampling premium wines with a complementing bounty of appetizers lured me to Bistro Don Giovanni, a familiar sight along St. Helena Highway, where the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley held its gathering.

This afternoon, eleven Oak Knoll wineries participated in this intimate tasting. For the second time today, Corley Family garnered a table and poured an array of wines from their Monticello Estate. While the 2008 Corley Reserve Estate Grown Chardonnay and the 2008 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Cabernet Franc showed their greatest strength, there was much to appreciate in both the 2007 Monticello Vineyards Estate Grown Merlot and the 2006 Corley Proprietary Red Wine, an opulent blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc.

Focused solely on its proprietary blend, Matthiasson impressed not only with their Right Bank-style 2006 Red Wine (51% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot, 1% Malbec) but also with their inimitable 2009 White Wine, a fusion of Sauvignon Blanc, Ribolla Gialla, Tocai Friulano, and Sémillon. Anchor winery Trefethen presented their own 2009 Double T Red Blend of the same Bordeaux varietals, along with the 2008 Harmony Chardonnay.

Lewis Cellars offered a typical Napa red & white selection with anything but typical results: both the 2009 Chardonnay Napa Valley and 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley proved exquisite wines. Veteran vineyardist Robert Biale produced similar across-the-board excellence with his four reds: his delightful 2008 Sangiovese, the 2008 Petite Sirah Napa Valley, and a pair of Zins—the 2009 Zinfandel Aldo’s Vineyard and the 2009 Black Chicken Zinfandel. Michael Polenske’s Blackbird showcased their interpretation of a Pomerol Merlot with the 2007 Illustration and a more balanced blend of Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon in the 2008 Arise.

A few years back, the Ginkgo Girl had given me a subscription to Black Stallion when they opened. Regrettably, their acquisition by Diageo has diminished their viticultural output in my estimation, as the roughly passable 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon demonstrated. No such qualms about the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Erna Schein, whose hand-designed labels reminded me of the fluid style of Thomas Hart Benton. From primitivism to simplicity, the unadorned labels of Boyd belied the complexity of their 2006 Merlot and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.

O’Brien Estate sports the golden calligraphy of an “O” on their label, symbolizing the lofty standards their wines meet. Following their superb 2009 Chardonnay, I moved onto an even more impressive 2008 Merlot and the complex 2007 Seduction that blended Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. The sheer apex of the afternoon came from O’Brien’s remarkable 2008 Unrestrained Reserve, a flawless wine derived from 49% Cabernet Franc, 44% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 7% Merlot.

I finished off this event (along with the pizza and the crab cakes) with John Anthony, sampling his well-crafted 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and 2007 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ve often cited Carneros vintners Tony and Joanne Truchard of Carneros in this blog, but hadn’t correlated John Anthony Truchard as their son prior to speaking with him this afternoon. As my next event was the annual Next Generation tasting at Ted Hall’s Farmstead, this revelation provided a perfect segue before I headed up to St. Helena.
3) NG: The Next Generation In Wine

OK, so technically this gathering didn’t encompass a specific AVA, but it was an invitation I couldn’t pass up. A number of trade associations focus on the promise burgeoning wine aficionados hold for the wine industry, like New Generation Growers and Vintners and my friend Bridget Raymond’s Next Generation Winemakers™. The 4th Annual gathering of The Next Generation showcased the efforts of the progeny of 18 of Napa’s leading wineries, including host Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch.

I suppose more seasoned industry veterans would have recognized the advantage of providing attendees with a program detailing who was in attendance, so without a printed guide, I may have overlooked some of the stations. But those with which I did visit portended great promise for the next decade or two, as the ensuing generation of these well-established wine estates move into more prominent roles.

With no prior awareness of Broman Cellars, I was happy to let daughter Lisa Broman Augustine guide me through their three current releases: the 2009 Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc and the equally appealing 2005 Napa Valley Syrah and 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Certainly, I had heard of Spelletich and their new generation Spell Wines (not to be confused with Shane Finley’s superb Spell Estate), but had not met the mother-daughter team of Barbara & Kristin Spelletich before this event. I found myself particularly impressed with the 2006 Spelletich Reserve Merlot and the stout 2005 Spellport, while the splashy gradients radiating from Spell Wine’s labels hardly belied the youthful, fruit-forward approach of the 2006 Spell Wine Syrah and the 2006 Spellonu Red, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with 41% Merlot.

Over at Ray Signorello Jr.’s table, Marketing Director Ryan Shenk previewed a barrel sample of their 2009 Collaboration, a Cabernet crafted in unison by the Estate’s two winemakers, Pierre Birebent and Luc Morlet, then wowed with the bottled 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet stalwart Marston Family expanded their operations to enable their son John and daughter Elizabeth Marston Leahy to launch their own autonomous label, ElizabethJohn; here they poured their own 2009 Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the 2007 Marston Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and a new release, the 2009 Marston Family Vineyard Albion, a Sauvignon Blanc with 4% Sémillon.

One of the most established wineries here, Burgess Cellars, featured scion Steve’s contributions to their exceptional line of reds: the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the unblended 2007 Estate Merlot, and the 2007 Syrah (10% Grenache). And continuing their family’s organic practices, Brandon and Jill deLeuze poured ZD Wine’s 2009 Pinot Noir Carneros, the 2009 Chardonnay, and a surprisingly ripe 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Brette Bartolucci, representing her family’s organic Carneros winery, Madonna Estate, instinctively poured this Italian lad a fetching 2008 Dolcetto, then followed with an equally appealing 2007 Estate Pinot Noir. I also relished her 2005 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2009 Riesling. Cleo Pahlmeyer poured both the 2009 Jayson Chardonnay and the 2007 Jayson Pinot Noir from her father’s second label, before impressing with the 2006 Proprietary Red, and its successive vintage, which focused even more (85% vs. 81%) on Cabernet Sauvignon.

This event provided my introduction to Rutherford’s Stewart Cellars, a serendipitous discovery as daughter Caroline escorted me through the 2008 Chardonnay Farina Vineyards, the exquisite 2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley before pouring their special 2007 Nomad, their reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Another Pinot that rated a “Whoa!” in my hastily scribbled notes was the 2007 Stewart Ranch Pinot Noir from Hill Family Estate, Son Ryan Hill also treated me to the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc and their noteworthy 2008 Clarke Vineyard Syrah.

I’d met Robert Fisher a few years ago, but hadn’t tired his wines in a while; the current releases of both the 2008 Syrah Hidden Terrace Vineyard and the 2007 Coach Insignia, their signature Cabernet Sauvignon, proved just as delightful as I had recalled. I ran into Janet Viader only a couple of weeks before, but was pleased to be regaled by her brother Alan as he poured their sumptuous 2007 Viader, a Cabernet Sauvignon/Cabernet Franc Blend. Meanwhile, there seems always to be someone from the Ceja clan at every Napa event I’ve recently attended, but it was still fun to have Dalia pour me her
2007 Carneros Pinot Noir.

Of course, no New Generation wine event in Napa could be complete with Mt. Veeder’s Yates Family, with both Whitney and Mary holding down the fort here this evening. And even though I am always charmed and smitten, I nonetheless remain thoroughly objective in my praise for their 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2007 Fleur de Veeder (Merlot), and the 2007 Cheval, a stellar Cabernet Franc. I nearly lost my barely legible tasting notes after this visit, so I decided it was time that I head back to my hotel room in downtown Napa (not before stopping once again for my dose of Onion Rings across the street at Taylor’s Refresher) and ready myself to arrive on time for my 9 AM wine breakfast the following day.
(to be continued)

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