In 2007 Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch and five other members launched Napa Valley’s Next Generation with the mission to unify a group of family wineries and vineyards through collaborative marketing, education and fun. Now 30-plus strong, the group takes to the road with trade and consumer events to spread the entrepreneurial wine gospel and to inspire success for the next generation in wine.
Last month The California Wine Institute and Napa Valley Vintners brought a Quebec-Ontario-Manitoba Canadian wine contingent to pay a visit to St. Helena. The group was received by Chris Hall, renaissance man, St. Helena shepherd, ranch hand, multi-purpose Napa wine country purveyor and Next Generation co-founder at his family’s Long Meadow Ranch farmstead. Lisa Peju, Ryan Hill and Steve Burgess joined us for a tasting of two wines from each of their estates, cumulatively embracing and pitching the raison d’être for the concept of Next Generation wines.
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There is nothing overtly or philosophically profound in the sweet jeux d’esprit ideal but at the NG tasting there assuredly was a deep connection between the wines. Altitude, especially for Cabernet Sauvignon, is a common thread running through Long Meadow Ranch, Peju, Hill Family Estate and Burgess Cellars. They all farm Napa vineyards of elevation, typically colder in winter, hotter in summer and short on the abundance of water. Mayacamas Estate, Pope Valley Ranch (at 2,000 feet, higher than Napa Valley), Atlas Peak and Howell Mountain contribute slope and attitude to the Cabernet wines culled from their terraces. It is out of these craggy places where a broader flavor palate emerges in wines that embody a struggle. These four vintners fight the good fight, to use the best grapes.
Related – Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens
Long Meadow Ranch
First settled in the late 1800s and abandoned during Prohibition, Long Meadow Ranch was revitalized in 1989 by proprietors Ted, Laddie and Chris Hall, who produce Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon using sustainable and organic farming practices. LMR farms three estates; Rutherford, Mayacamas and in Sonoma they farm Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris on the Anderson Valley Estate. The farmstead in St. Helena hosts a plethora of permanent fixtures and private events. There is a café, restaurants, chef’s table/wine tasting room, events facility, farmer’s market, bluegrass-fed concerts, eco-fitness and live fire with guest chefs.
Long Meadow Ranch Winery Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Rutherford, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $22 US)
The tenth vintage of this valley floor Sauvignon Blanc is grated with a proper pungency, graded with grape tannin and indexed by mineral. The feigned sweetness is attributed to vitality, the kind that pops in mouth, sings in spoon-fed bursts, like a “drop D metal band we called requiem” sister jack kind of SB. The lead in chords are early harvested fruit (first week of august), 100 per cent stainless steel ferment in tall skinny tanks and some surface area but not excessive lees contact. Finishes with salinity from proximity to the Napa River and a GCGC bar chord mineral tang. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted February 2016 @LMRwine
Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $52 US, WineAlign)
On a trip to Napa Valley with many opportunities to taste ripe and elongated Cabernet Sauvignon from a long, dry (albeit coolish) growing season, Ashley Heisey’s LMR is a standout in the name of balance. Currants and peppercorns are popping in a very savoury aromatic sting, calling out varietal obviousness in a wise and abiding red. The cool, savoury, linear, focused and unabashed fruit, not in concentration or pomp, but in certainty of enough litheness meets cure. The right kind of purple fruit. This is primarily Mayacamas Estate but also Rutherford (with warmer, riper, dusty) fruit, in elevage of 50 per cent new and 50 used barrels for 18 months. The kind of Napa Valley Cabernet that from now to 2022 will taste almost exactly as it does today. Drink 2016-2024. Tasted February 2016
In 1982 Tony and Herta Peju purchased 30 Rutherford acres between Highway 29 and the Napa River in a neighbourhood that includes Robert Mondavi, Inglenook and Beaulieu. Daughters Lisa and Ariana work alongside their parents. The winery earned organic certification for its Rutherford Estate Vineyard in 2007 and Peju is moving towards organic farming practices in all three of its Napa Valley vineyards; H.B. Vineyard in Rutherford, Persephone Vineyard (sustainable) in Pope Valley and Wappo Vineyard (sustainable) in Dutch Henry Canyon. Peju works with a wide range of varietals, including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, Syrah and Chardonnay.
Peju Chardonnay 2014, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $54.95, Winery, WineAlign)
From fruit grown at the Persephone Ranch, central to the sub-appellation of Pope Valley (behind Howell Mountain) out of one of the driest seasons in Napa history. Done up in (60 per cent new) French barrels of half toast resulting in medium glade, buttered only on one side. Six months on the lees to seek mostly the orchard and some smoky reduction, reactive like a lick of gemstone and teasing brimstone. Either way, it’s struck one way or the other. Finds its exit out of the barrel and wants to talk about the soil, the soil, the soil. Supper’s ready with this variegated Chardonnay. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted February 2016 @PEJU_Winery @LeSommelierWine
Peju Red Wine Blend Fifty/Fifty 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $149.95, Winery, WineAlign)
A covenant betwixt Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and between French and American oak. Also from the Persephone Ranch vineyard, the harvest goddess, queen of the underworld. Good thing the varietal-wood (65 per cent new for 16 months) arrangement is bounded by Jesse Malin rhythms, with quite a bit of peppery warmth rising up the olfactory in a purposed floral lift, culminating in white light, snappy ardor. A direct red blend from some of the best blocks of Persephone that rarely sees the light of export day as it sells out every year from the winery. Big blends and bigger oak can be dangerous, “like an age old contradiction, with alcohol and lust.” When treated right by the hands of an experimental winemaker like Sara Fowler, danger turns to excitement. It will take you for “a ride on the tilt-a-whirl.” Enjoy it two years from now. Drink 2018-2024. Tasted February 2016
Hill Family Estate
After three decades of farming and selling Napa Valley grapes Doug Hill and family decided to enter the business of producing wine. Doug farms the grapes and helps craft the wine with winemaker Alison Doran while Ryan runs the sales at the Yountville winery. Production includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño and Rose’ of Pinot Noir.
Hill Family Estate Chardonnay Carly’s Cuvée 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $30 US)
Quite reductive and conservative out of the glass, reluctant to allow a netting or getting of the fruit. Attributable because of the shellac and then patience is deserving of a soft, caressing interior, opined in preserved citrus and groping white pH of grip. Density is not a texture thing but it is weighted. Grippy work from winemaker Alison Doran from fruit gathered out of the southern end of American Canyon, the coldest, windiest part of the valley. If any Napa Valley Chardonnay could be considered cool-climate, this is it. Done up in 60 per cent new, 40 per cent used barrels for only 10 months. “We’re not fans of a cube of butter and a baseball bat in a glass,” says Ryan Hill. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016 @HFEWine
Hill Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Red Door 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $85 US)
A red door is a symbol of welcome, or for the Chinese, a center of positive energy, abundance, and opportunity. This portal parts a swath with extraction and from ripeness right there with the best of them. Silky, voluptuous, textured Cabernet crissed by a cool middle streak on the palate and crossed with caressing tannins. Clearly borne of an ideal vintage. The Red Door is the entrance door to the tasting room of reclaimed wood laminated onto a pine core and painted red. Yountville (10 per cent) Petit Verdot and Oak Knoll (10 percent) Malbec add firmness and ease to fill and fluff the Atlas peak Cabernet. Spent 16 months in 100 per cent French Oak. Bloody delicious stuff. Drink 2018-2023. Tasted February 2016
Tom Burgess purchased the 1870’s era mountainside winery in 1972 with a plan to express terroir, from grapes, through wines, to reflect the vineyard’s soil, exposure and micro-climate. The home estate Burgess vineyard produces the flagship Cabernet Sauvignon. Haymaker vineyard is the spot for Syrah on the eastern side of Howell Mountain and Triere vineyard in the Oak Knoll District is the site for Merlot. In Ontario Burgess works directly with VINTAGES and the member’s based Opimian Society.
Burgess Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $48)
Deep, dark and brooding (92 per cent) Cabernet Sauvignon with Petit Verdot, from a vintage that supplied exceptional fruit though this strikes as hyper-ripe, not quite baked but at the frontier. Some caramel and light soy, along with a bit of rubbery reduction. I’m guessing the Syrah style will be very similar. Fruit is from between Howell Mountain and Atlas Peak lava so the borders were drawn with Burgess outside of the Howell Mountain box. The spot is at 1500m on the western side of the mountain and 1200m on the east side, above the fog and the frost. The altitude and attitude leads to the darkest of black fruit flavours. Tufa soils are found at the winery, with the east side defined by volcanics and marine sediments. 6,000 cases were made. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted February 2016
Burgess Cellars Syrah 2012, Napa Valley, California (Winery, $36)
Brighter than the Cabernet with a very pretty floral and faint pepper scent. Don’t always get specific berries but here boysenberry and strawberry mix up the Syrah stylistic ideology to a Napa Valley end. Though sweetness pervades this has the chalky, grainy tannin to match the meaty suede of the fruit. From 100 per cent Syrah off of Steve’s brother’s vineyard on the east side of Howell Mountain. American oak vanilla and bourbon meld into the red and blue fruit. 500 cases were made. Drink 2016-2021. Tasted February 2016
Good to go!
WineAlign: Michael Godel