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

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Twitter: @mgodello

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WineAlign: Michael Godel

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Napa Valley: Where ripeness happens

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

Godello in the Napa Valley mustard

You need only spend a few days in Napa Valley to gain a basic understanding of what drives the machine. Immerse yourself into three or four structured tastings and hear the mantra repeated. Listen to the winemaker and the viticulturist talk about the growing seasons and intuit the very basic premise, the essential doctrine and the constitutive aspect on everyone’s mind. Ripeness.

The 2011 vintage was an unmitigated disaster. Cold, rain and low brix levels made for less than stellar Napa Valley reds and whites. At the time it wasn’t so much swept under the rug as much as shrugged off. Still some very good wines were made. Even today critical proponents of cool-climate and understated wines will champion the elegance and proportion of 2011 Napa reds, especially the Cabernets. Talk to or listen to a local winemaker speak and know they will (mostly) all agree to disagree with those ideas. There was little to no phenolic journey fully completed in 2011. Relativity is the general, special and principle quizlet to compare and contrast Napa Valley wines. The next vintage afforded the opportunity to put 2011 behind them. The proximate three relegated 2011 to the footnotes of history.

What followed 2011 was drought, extended drought, difficult times drought. Grapevines do quite will when they struggle, provided their keepers have equipped them with the organic and self-preserving tools to survive without water. While the rest of the state suffered, Napa Valley grapevines produced exceptional fruit. From 2012 to 2015 the pilgrimage to maturity happened with ease. Quality over quantity? Sometimes both. In 2012 there was a huge crop from an incredible growing vintage. Along with 2013 they are being heralded as two of the best vintages in the last 30 years.

If a tutored Napa Valley tasting is centred around Cabernet Sauvignon and parent grape variety Sauvignon Blanc then the mind may wander into comparative territories with Bordeaux clearly on the analogous radar. Cabernet defines Napa Valley, hook, line and sinker. Nearly everyone grows it, bottles it and employs it to define who and what they are. The numbers corroborate the abstraction. Cabernet is still the king. The interesting diversion is Sauvignon Blanc. In the context of Bordeaux it is not a diversion at all but Napa growers and producers are infatuated with it. It makes for good but rarely great wines. Chardonnay has proven its Napa Valley pedigree. So why Sauvignon Blanc?

If Bordeaux epitomizes a mono-worshipping culture then deconstructing Napa Valley reflects the effort of extricating monotheism out of a polytheistic context. But Napa is not Bordeaux and also avoids the affectation and mannerisms of monotheistic worship, something that is very specific to Bordeaux and even more so to other ancient wine-producing regions. In Napa there is great interest and time set aside for Chardonnay but also some love Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Cabernet Sauvignon leads with authoritarianism on a chilling scale and Sauvignon Blanc exists in a polar opposite vacuum. Nothing is inexpensive to grow and most markets expect to pay a premium for quality. Demand will perpetually support Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Sauvignon Blanc above $20 and not from Bordeaux is different. It is Napa’s greatest curiosity, made with great care and thrown caution to the marketplace wind. And it sells. Looked at from both sides clarity is noted in the adage that Napa Valley is not Bordeaux.

Berry to bottle

Berry to bottle

On February 9th, 2016 nine Canadians sat down to taste with the principals of three Napa wineries, Joseph Phelps, St. Supery and host Silverado Vineyards. Karen MacNeil is a wine author, journalist, educator and consultant. MacNeil moderated a two-varietal tasting with Bill Phelps (President of Joseph Phelps Vineyards), Emma Swain (CEO at St. Supery), Russ Weis and John Emmerich (GM and winemaker at Silverado). From berry to bottle was organized by the California Wine Institute and Napa Vintners.

“Dirt is once again the sexy part of the business,” began MacNeil’s presentation. “Place is the core construct and inescapable construct.” The hills, slopes, ridges and valleys of the Valley are indeed intricate and the soil sets as diverse as you are want to find anywhere. Napa Valley contains 33 soil series with more than 100 soil variations and half of the soil orders that exist within the world can be found in the Napa Valley. At the end of the day ripeness follows. At all other times it leads. We tasted six wines that day. Here are the notes.

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc

Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc 2014, St. Helena, Napa Valley, California (Agent, $59.95, WineAlign)

Graced by and driven for texture, with lees, out of second fill barrels and finished struck across a scraped mineral tang. Highly refreshing compression of density and weight. Long linger of stone fruit, primary peach and secondary apricot. Non-discernible citrus. Phelps has been producing this wine since 1975 from the home ranch vineyard, typically in increments of 2500 cases. If Sauvignon Blanc were made in Alsace, this is what it would be like. Unpronounced acidity and a floral note pay thanks to integrated Musque clones Bill Phelps says are integral to the mix. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @josephphelps  @LiffordON

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2012, Napa Valley, California (710400, Agent, $299.95, WineAlign)

The 2012 Insignia had me at first whiff. At first sip I could not be reached. Massive aromatics blast from this formidable Insignia, clearly noted with immediate clarity as a proprietary blend for the ages. The current torrent is so plugged in and highly climatic, like a visibly sparking conduit, storm and fire all wrapped into one electric happening. The peaks, valleys, waves and intonations are bred of perfectly ripe fruit sets traveling as one in perfect syncopation. The ripe, chain-link tannins will take this very, very far. This is as fine a California wine as I have ever tasted.  The first vintage was 1974. All five bordeaux varietals are represented which is not often the equation. In 2012 the blend is 75 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, 10 Merlot, 10 Petit Verdot with bits of Malbec and Cabernet Franc. Drink 2018-2045. Tasted November 2015 and February 2016

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Sauvignon Blanc Dollarhide Estate 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US)

An altitude effected, single-vineyard, warm days, cool nights Sauvignon Blanc so much more in residence of varietal hyperbole, from grass to gooseberry, apple terpenes and finishing spice. Highly emotional SB of San Pablo Bay cooling and antithetical drought thanks to Sierra Nevada snowpack, or lack thereof. Stainless on lees stirred weekly bolstered in texture by 18 per cent barrel fermentation. Aussie expat winemaker Michael Schultz controls this big, vivid and vital style. Drink 2016-2019.  Tasted February 2016  @StSupery  @vonterrabev

St. Supery Estate Vineyards and Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Dollarhide Estate 2012, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $100 US)

Dollarhide was a cattle farm, a 1530 acre enormity of a ranch, now one of the more impressive Napa vineyards of altitude, micro-climate and heterogeneous soil series. The 2012 is a 100 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon cornered from the finest (number eight) 30 year-old vines parcel, planted in 1982. It is youthful and even a bit reductive, with dark red fruit and cooler savoury curation. Possessive of some black olive and mint-like coolness. Sweet tannins and espresso, specified and agreed from all French oak, left to decide a hillside expression. A fine chocolate finish is far from bitter with paid homage to that parcel which is a combination of volcanic and ancient sea sediment. Large shells have been found in the vineyard at 1200 feet. Tres cool. Drink 2018-2027.  Tasted February 2016

Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Miller Ranch 2014, Napa Valley, California (AgentWinery, $35 US, WineAlign)

Fruit from vines burrowed into seep soil on a Yountville site between Hopper Creek and the Napa River (though 5 per cent is from Soda Creek Vineyard). A small elbow (four per cent) of Sémillon injects a shot of vitality into the arm of Sauvignon Blanc. For winemaker Jon Emmerich Miller Ranch in a climate sweet spot, a go between in which cool evening and morning temperatures mitigate the sweat of warm sunshine. Its home soils are blessed with terrific water capacity. No de-stemming is performed and the wine sees a long, cold (up to two months) fermentation. All in the name of aromatics. And so the Silverado home ranch Sauvignon Blanc lies somewhere in between the excitable and the elegant. Quite Bordelais but also grapefruit refreshing, with a slight spritzy tingle. Drink 2016-2018.  Tasted February 2016  @SilveradoSOLO  @KylixWines

Silverado Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Solo 2012, Napa Valley, California (Agent $119.00, WineryWineAlign)

From heritage Cabernet Sauvignon vines recognized by the University of California, Davis, in other words, a clone unto itself. The home ranch estate vineyard was planted in 1968 and over two decades the vines adapted to Silverado’s steep, shale soils and mutated. Through meticulous field selections an entirely new clone of Cabernet Sauvignon emerged. Here is one of only three Cabernet Sauvignons to attain this status and the only one from Stags Leap District. Who knew such magic lurked in the Napa hills? The stuff of Roald Dahl imagination. This is a dusty and grounded red, of chaparral in arid, arenose, hillside forest floor character. Higher tones (there is a bit of VA) leaps with this SOLO’s Cabernet metamorphosed self, in a semblance of the clone it used to be. It honours a perfect growing season. From General Manager Russ Weis: “In Stag’s Leap we are not looking for something mouth-filling as much as mouth coating.” Drink 2019-2028.  Tasted February 2016

Good to go!

Twitter: @mgodello

Instagram: mgodello

WineAlign: Michael Godel

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