Napa Valley: The next generation

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

The #napavalley mustard is something else @CalifWines_CA #napa #califwine

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.

Early #napa morning

Early #napa morning

Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age

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 next gen. winemakers setting @LMRwine @HFEWine @PEJUWinery @BurgessCellars #califwine #napavalley #sainthelena

Long Meadow Ranch next gen. winemakers setting @LMRwine @HFEWine @PEJUWinery @BurgessCellars #califwine #napavalley #sainthelena

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

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

Peju

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

Burgess Cellars

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

Next Generation

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

Facebook

Much ado about Napa

When Napa Valley comes to town, wine people (I know, peeps) show up and take a seat.
PHOTO: NAPA VALLEY VINTNERS ASSOCIATION

as seen on canada.com

I would be lying if I said that I’m not a fan of Napa Valley wine. If you read hidden meaning into that statement it’s not because I dislike that to a red, so many examples are gorgeously voluptuous and decadent, it’s just that I seem to feel less insecure when they’re not around.

As a wine taster, when faced with any more than two or three massive, young California red wines at a time, I begin to sweat. In tentative waves of anxiety I question my palate. Will I be able to note the nuance, the terroir, the dreaded question of “will this wine age, will it stand the test of time?”

Doug Shafer, arguably one of the three or four household names in modern Napa, summed up the entire quagmire in one fell swoop sentence.” Funny thing, if they age well out the chute, they age well.” Napa Valley winemakers, or at least Doug Shafer, are demanding of an attitude that wine must not be assessed based on ageability. That’s the kicker. When the discussion centers on bold California reds, I gotta disagree. Who is shelling out $100-300 on a bottle of wine to pop and pour?

When Napa Valley comes to town, wine people (I know, peeps) show up and take a seat. As Russ Weis (Napa Valley Vintners & Auction Napa Valley Board Vice President and General Manager, Silverado Vineyards) noted, “reputation is large, the area is small.” No doubt. The famous place responsible for a pittance (four per cent) of California’s wine output has risen meteorically to legendary status in just a few decades. I’m not sneezing.

What I am doing is pushing the point that reds from Napa and I’m really talking about Cabernet Sauvignon and associated blends, that these wines are beasts to taste and enjoy while they are young. Surely I am making unforgivable generalizations here but for brevity must serve the purpose of a personal hermeneutic. Longevity is the key to unlocking Napa Valley’s secrets.

The Napa Valley Vintners Association rolled through Toronto in October. WineAlign’s very own John Szabo, M.S. moderated a short but so very sweet tasting and libertine discussion on 10 then and now Napa reds. Mr. Szabo dug into the concept of ageability, “what is it and what causes it?’ he asked. “How does vine age affect it?” Looking squarely back at 1997 as being the watershed vintage, “a changeover year,” Szabo noted that ripeness became very important in terms of critical and by extension, commercial success.

Chris Howell, manager/winemaker of Cain Vineyards stressed “no analytic attribute will tell you whether your wine will age or not.” While Mr. Weis did not directly speak to the question of aging, his notations “we are cooler than the Mediterranean, we’re farming for high intensity and “the long form is in the glass” all point to the very question.

The ten wines poured at the seminar, while just a minute cross-section of what Napa Valley does well, proved my idiosyncratic and parochial point. Napa Valley’s big reds, especially those made in an era defined by hyper-ripeness, elevated brix and new oak influence, are most impressive in their immaturity. To belay any accusations of contradiction, the follow-up to that statement argues that the wines are far more interesting in their maturity. Time does not make them taste better but it does add provenance to their story.

Here are my ten notes on the wines poured at the ROM’s Peter Bronfman Hall Napa Valley trade tasting.

Clockwise from left: CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2008, LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005, SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007, and SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT ‘SOLO’ 2009

CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2004 ($125, release price)

Chosen from 25 lots, divided between Cabernet Sauvignon (47 per cent), Merlot (25), Cabernet Franc (21), Petit Verdot (4) and Malbec (3). A quiet child of “gentle, moderate ripening conditions” which saw grapes harvested over a span of 43 days. Has completed its graceful aging and with the fruit beginning to wane, the tannins remain in grain. A Brett-tinged vintage to be sure though punched down by Cassis, vanilla crème and a gravel relish.  89  @rogcowines

CAIN VINEYARDS RED BLEND 2008 ($124.95, consignment)

The second vintage, marking a return to 100% Cain Vineyard, Estate Bottled, which means 100 per cent of the grapes were grown in their Cain Vineyard, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. A composition consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (61 per cent), Merlot (15), Cabernet Franc (13), Malbec (6) and Petit Verdot (5). A small crop from a dramatic, wailing and tumultuous (rain, sleet and heat) growing season. The nose is especially top ranking, smelling fresh as the day it was bottled. The thin soils and Pacific weather here translate to rigour, anxiety and conviction. Though “they don’t want us to unite…they don’t want to see us come together,” these fab five find brotherly and sisterly love.  91

LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2005 ($65.00, winery)

Fully organic vines, reasonable brix meets abv number (13.2) and a tiny yet helpful two per cent Cabernet Franc added in for good measure. Exceptional showing from an endearing vintage. Pure black raspberry and red aspalathos tea integrated with the positive attributes of a bound stem fire starter of bell pepper, splintered cedar and twiggy black currants. All together they blow a blanket of background fog across fruit in a gentle holding pattern.  91  @LMRwine

LONG MEADOW RANCH WINERY CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 ($65.00, winery)

From a warmer yet moderate growing season the ’09 LMR solicits 10 per cent Merlot along with two per cent Cabernet Franc. Noticeably riper, with more cherry depth, lush mouthfeel and a dry, chalky, yet comfortable lengthy finish. Acids are lower and tension surely does not run high but the wine achieves a pleasant balance, if less complexity and offering increased pleasure.  91

SHAFER VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘HILLSIDE SELECT’ 2003 (NA)

Persists in full-blown hedonism. One would never accuse this of being treated with tartaric acid. Youthful, gorgeous and alone at 10 years-old. Cherry, berry, dusty grain swirl, a twister of iconic development and potential, realizing that potential in the here and now. Showing remarkably well with a transparency of ego, alcohol and a blender flurry of fruit and wood. While it holds court and its course now, flying time will likely be another three to four years.  92  @ShaferVineyards

SHAFER VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON ‘HILLSIDE SELECT’ 2009 (735712, $285.00)

A huge SVCSHS from 100 per cent Shafer’s Hillside Estate Vineyard in Stags Leap District including vineyard blocks such as Sunspot, John’s Folly, Upper Seven, Hitching Post and Venado Ilegal. An absolute killer B; bigger, brawnier, bolder, badass. “Engines pumping and thumping in time.” Mouth attacking, saliva stealing, inner cheek suffering Cabernet that spent 32 months in 100 per cent new 60-gallon French oak barrels. Mercy. The skin contact, in colour and tannin, is a nearly unforgivable act. White flag. Tempting to compare it to huge Cabernet-based IGT’s. Waves of unctuous raspberry and blackberry in perpetual maceration. Has so much cake (15.5 per cent abv), built for speed and distance. Never finishes. In fact, I think it’s still going. For two decades.  94

SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT 1989 (NA)

From a vineyard originally planted in 1884, by Abel McFarland and fast forward – replanted between 1992 – 1996, by Ron and Diane Miller. This red may be heading for a graceful descent beneath a Pacific sunset and the vintage may have dumped diluting rain upon harvest but complexity will not be denied. Rare, seraphic fruit lingers on, enveloped in the resinous aromas of wood, leather and tobacco. There lifts too an elder/lingon-flower/berry beckoning and something mint-metal cool. Classroom Cabernet, to thank the procurer and to seek higher learning.  90  @SilveradoSolo

SILVERADO VINEYARDS CABERNET SAUVIGNON STAG’S LEAP DISTRICT ‘SOLO’ 2009 (89482, $119.00)

Built on the academic intuition, augmentation and advancement of UC Davis oenology Silverado clones. Reneges and makes waste of the past in a hurried two-day harvest, October 7th and 8th, 2009. A product of reasonable brix (23.5 degrees) and alcohol (13.9 per cent). Uncommonly shy, a young introvert, lost in dark, layered abstraction, in blues, blacks and hues in between. Dried herb, withering blueberry, a ballad in ode to greatness that came before and a promise for a promising future. “There’s more to the picture than meets the eye,” though no guarantee.  90 

SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2007 ($120.00)

From proprietor F. Allan Chapman and winemaker Craig Becker, this is the flagship wine, distilled from two individual parcels, Soda Valley and Elder Valley, located high in the hills above Napa Valley. High brix (26.5 degrees) and alcohol (14.9 per cent) mark this cured Cabernet, something to ponder, to drink on a night like this. High-toned, in the realm of fig and prune, a big show of chocolate froth, mocha, vanilla and more. Thick and luminous, “it goes dark, it goes darker still. It goes deep, it goes deeper still.”  88  @SomerstonWineCo

SOMERSTON CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 ($120.00)

A scarcity of production (380 cases) and elevated further still, in brix (26.8) and alcohol (15.5). Sourced from the estates two best vineyard blocks; Queensberry block 30 and Oriental block 23, both hillside vineyards with an average elevation of 1250 asl. Shares an aromatic, cured profile with the ’07, though in its youth it waxes rich, lush and overtly tannic. Inflated drupe elongated by a magnitude of  Napa love. “I don’t care if Monday’s black…dressed up to the eyes, it’s a wonderful surprise.”  91

Good to go!