Thursday, February 28, 2013

Building relationships takes effort

The events surrounding Premiere Napa Valley were quite impressive. The Napa Valley Vintners and individual AVA associations know how to throw a party. The whole PNV week is basically a big party celebrating all things Napa. It doesn't hurt that NVV has a multi-million dollar budget to work with and they were wooing the world's top wine media (present company excluded) and trade members itching to spend tens of thousands of dollars, but that shouldn't stop emerging regions like Colorado from learning how to host similarly successful events.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Six Further Thoughts on Premiere Napa Valley

I want to write about a few specific thoughts on Premiere Napa Valley in a bit more detail than my initial post.

1. Vintage matters. Tasting through a dozen producers' 2008, 2009 and 2010 cabernet sauvignon during the Vintage Perspective Tasting made this abundantly clear. After tasting 36 wines with only knowing the vintage, variety and that they were from Napa Valley, I concluded that 2008 is a great vintage. For almost every producer, I preferred the 2008 to the 2009 or 2010. Of the three vintages, 2008 had earliest bud break, a long, dry, hot growing season and the longest harvest period. Both 2009 and 2010 were cooler and wetter vintages. The 2008 wines were collectively the most complex and balanced wines in the room. The best offered a wonderful array of intense fruit, floral and earthy aromas and flavors complemented by smooth tannins. Wines from 2009 were a bit more varied in quality, and were generally lighter and with more floral characteristics. A few were unfortunately under-ripe, and the acidity was quite noticeable. The even cooler, shorter and wetter 2010 season was quite apparent in the wines as well. Most 2010s were marred with green tobacco aromas and rough tannins. Despite being greener, the 2010s still managed a bit bigger structure than the 2009s and few that achieved ripeness approached the 2008s in quality. The auction wines were mostly from the 2011 vintage which was even shorter, cooler and wetter than 2010. I think the detailed selection process that went into these unique wines may have provided a skewed view into the vintage as a whole, but many were thin and green. Others that managed to achieve proper ripeness were stellar, but many still were lacking much depth and hidden by massive tannins. For my favorites, see Tuesday's post.

2. Location matters. With the Premiere lot wines being mostly from the difficult, cool 2011 vintage, vineyard location was quite important. For me, wines from hills above the valley floor fared the best. The extra sun and lack of fog proved to be beneficial in this challenging year. From the variety of hillside locations, wines from Pritchard Hill were among the best. Both the Continuum and BRAND 2011s were two of my favorite wines the entire weekend. Other wines with Pritchard Hill grapes (Chappellet, Gandona, Krupp Brothers, Larkin, Montagna, Moone-Tsai and Purlieu) were nearly as wonderful. Howell Mountain (O'Shaughnessy and Derenoncourt California) and the hillside vineyards just south of Pritchard Hill (Oakville East Exposure) also yielded some of the better wines. Superior benchland sites on the west side of the valley (Vine Hill Ranch in Oakville and Corison's Kronos Vineyard in St. Helena) also made some exceptional wine. The best locations proved to make the best wines. Not really surprising when you think about it.

3. Winemaker matters. So many vintners will say that wine is made in the vineyard, but a masterful winemaker can really take great grapes and make exceptional wine. Bidders at the auction really were focused on name recognition. Philippe Melka had his name attached to more lots than any other winemaker and combined his 55 cases sold for $225,000, or just over $340 per bottle on average (Gandona at $28k, Vineyard 29 at $27k, BRAND at $26k, Gemstone at $26k, Roy Estate at $24k, Cliff Lede at $20k, Adamvs at $20k, Lail at $19K, Entre Nous at $18k and Moone-Tsai at $17k). I guess that is why he is the hottest name in California winemaking right now. Not only was name recognition important, but perhaps the most elegant, and my personal favorite, lot was made by a winemaker that is known doing more with cool vintages. Cathy Corison makes what many call a throwback style of Napa cabernet due to her lower alcohol, gentle extraction and delicate use of oak. While her wines are almost always very good, her wines' finesse and elegance are at their peak in challenging vintages such as 2011. I was wish I had an extra $15,000 laying around so I could have outbid the Houston company that was successful with a mere $14,000 bid.

4. The new kid on the block is ready to play ball. Thumbing through the catalog I was surprised to see so many wines list Coombsville AVA as a source for their grapes. I quickly counted at least 16 different wines with Coombsville fruit. That's pretty amazing given that Coombsville has only been an AVA for only about a year. Fruit from this small region just east of the town of Napa has been going into big name wines for years, but now this area is ready to take its rightful place as one of the premier districts in California. One of my favorite wines, though not an auction wine, was the interestingly named Inherit the Sheep. I'll definitely be looking into adding some of that to my cellar. Key an eye out for labels with Coombsville on them. Oh, and I much prefer the name Coombsville to the original name of Tulocay AVA; it just rolls of the tongue much more easily.

5. Cabernet Sauvignon may be King, but... Franc is the Knight in Shining Armor and a few other varieties excel in Napa. Many of the wines that I found most appealing had a heavy dose of cabernet franc. I think 100% cabernet sauvignon is often boring and greatly benefits from some blending with other varieties. BRAND (~50% cab franc) and Continuum (~30% cab franc) provide powerful evidence that more cab franc in the blend is a good thing. Oakville East Exposure's and Detert's 100% cabernet francs were also some of the standouts. And in a bit of a twist, O'Shaughnessy's 100% petit verdot was killer juice. Very rarely do you see varietal wines from petit verdot. Maybe next year they'll make a varietal St. Macaire! There were also a few random white wines in the lineup and Arietta's blend of 65% semillon and 35% sauvignon blanc stood out as a refreshing alternative to all the massive cabernet sauvignon based wines.

6. Winemakers and winery owners are real people. Sure, they may be rock stars in this little industry, but they are people just like you and me. They watched anxiously as people tasted their wines and were sincerely gracious when complemented on their product. I stood in the back of the room for much of the auction watching nervous vintners anxiously hold their breath when their wines were up for sale only to let out a sigh of relief when the bidding was over. I sat next to Tim Mondavi for about an hour and we chatted like he didn't have one of the biggest names in the wine world. At no time did I feel like the peon I am in the wine world. Sure, there is a lot of money and big egos in Napa, but isn't there everywhere? Most of the vintners I met were real, sincere people like you and I (except for you, and you know who you are...). I am already looking forward to next year (assuming I'm invited back) and working on convincing my wife to accompany me.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Quick note on Premiere Napa Valley

The weather in Napa last week was almost perfect and the results from the 17th annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction fell just shy of last year's record. Sixty seven bidders spent almost three hours purchasing 211 different lots of wine for a total of $3.04 million. The most expensive lot was a 120-bottle lot collaboration from Bevan Cellars and Chateau Boswell Winery that brought in $75,000. Shafer Vineyards' 2011 Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was the highest per bottle price with just 60 bottles selling for $50,000.

My trip was jammed packed with tastings. Friday started with a blind Vintage Perspective Tasting of 2008, 2009, and 2010 cabernets (I skipped the chardonnay portion). My quick takeaway from that tasting was that 2008 is in a good place right now. Almost across the board, 2008 yielded fantastic wines. Wines from the 2009 vintage were a bit lighter and more floral, but with rougher tannins and shorter finishes than 2008. The 2010 wines were spotty, with many showing green aromas and flavors. I had private appointments with Lou Kapcsándy and Stephane Derenoncourt as well as attended preview receptions at Ovid (Pritchard Hill Wineries), Shafer Vineyards, Far Niente (Oakville Winegrowers Association), Silverado Vineyards (Family Owned Wineries) and Corison Winery. Friday finally ended with a Vegas meets Disney World meets Napa party at Raymond Vineyards, palate fatigue and a black mouth.

Saturday was the main event. The barrel tasting portion of the auction showcased lots mostly from the 2011 vintage. I found the vintage to be quite varied in quality. Many of the Premiere wines were under ripe, some were overly massive, but just a few were really spectacular. Granted, the wines were not finished products, but with wines that will retail for $100 to $1,000 per bottle I wanted to be wowed at every turn and I was not. My favorites wines of the week included BRAND PNV Lot 162, Continuum PNV Lot 199, Corison PNV Lot 118, Derenoncourt 2009 Red Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Inherit the Sheep 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Kapcsándy PNV Lot167, O'Shaughnessy PNV Lot 116, Oakville East Exposure PNV Lot 148 and Revana PNV Lot 92. I also enjoyed meeting Alder Yarrow, Roy Piper, Doug Wilder and Adam Lechmere for the first time.

On another, and hopefully a final note on this subject, I was congratulated by more than a handful of writers, winery owners and other industry members for my post from two weeks ago. I had no idea that so many people would would actually care (and support me) that I called out Steve Heimoff for censoring his website. I was hoping to meet Steve, but the opportunity never appeared. It is too bad more of those people don't feel comfortable speaking out publicly, but I guess that is the problem with such an insular industry.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Going back to Cali (off to PNV)

When the wine hits ya lips just spits ya
Tannins so hard, that ya tongue can't lick ya
Either Parker's 90+ or against ya
Highway 29, back through that maze I go ya
Heading to the wine mecca
Wineries wit the fruit tight, pour that bottle right
Spell my name right, K-Y (oh that sounds bad...), L-E
Snow on my driveway, Headin out on the highway
Gettin wine from some winemaker you know
See it's all about the cabernet, nobody do it better
Going back to Cali, strictly for the weather

I'm going going, back back, to Cali Cali
Checking out Premiere Napa Valley
I'm going going, back back, to Cali Cali
Reporting from Premiere Napa Valley
Check me out on Twitter
 Find out which wines ain't bitter

I'm going going, back back, to Cali Cali
I'm going going, back back, to Cali Cali

Friday, February 15, 2013

Steve Heimoff doesn't like me...

Last week, Steve Heimoff wrote a book review of two new books. In the review, he accused Jancis Robinson and Linda Murphy of receiving money for placing labels in their soon-to-be-released American Wine. He also gets in a bit of name-calling as he says Robinson's name is "over-exposed," but that is not my fight to fight. Though I do not agree with is opinion of the content of the book, he is more than welcome to it. However, Heimoff seems content to only make mention the California regions he surrounds himself with, and I have to wonder (I’m just raising the question, not making any allegations) if Heimoff actually read the whole book. It is pretty sleezy to review a book without actually reading it.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Franc, Colorado's Cabernet...

In Europe, wines are named from the regions they come. Bordeaux is known for its cabernet sauvignon and merlot-based wines. Burgundy is synonymous with pinot noir or chardonnay. The Rhône valley is most often thought of as syrah territory. In Italy, Tuscany is known for its sangiovese and Piemonte for nebbiolo. I could keep going on. In New World wine regions, varietal labeling is commonplace. However, many wine regions still have grape varieties in which they specialize. Napa Valley has cabernet sauvignon, the Willamette Valley equates to Pinot Noir and the Barossa Valley is known for shiraz (aka syrah). Even an up and coming region like the Finger Lakes in New York is known for its riesling. Does Colorado have a signature variety?

Friday, February 8, 2013

Taking local to a whole new level

Colorado wineries are small. Even the big ones are small. The biggest wineries in the state produce about 20,000 cases annually. In fact, the entire state produces about 115,000 cases each year (much of it from Colorado-grown grapes). One winery takes the small and local approach to a whole new level. Settembre Cellars is perhaps the smallest winery in the state. Blake and Tracy Eliasson founded the tiny endeavor in their Boulder home in 2007. They made wines in lots as small as 4 and 5 cases. Today, their biggest lot is still a miniscule 84.2 cases and they have just recently crossed the 500 case annual production threshold.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Before they were stars, part 6 (as if Two Shepherds needs more praise)

Ok, so I may be a bit late in writing this given the recent attention William Allen and his Two Shepherds label has received recently. I had planned on writing this immediately after visiting with Allen last November (and before Meg Houston Maker's praise and being named one of the Top 10 Hot Brands by Wine Business Monthly). Now I'm not trying to say I discovered Two Shepherds before anyone else, as David White, Fred Swan and Jon Bonné all beat me to the punch, or perhaps shepherded me towards Two Shepherds. Nevertheless, I think I'm still ahead of the curve because Two Shepherds is going to be a star. Not a big star producing tens of thousands of cases, but a star for fans of Rhône varieties.

Allen is doing something that I've tried to urge Colorado wineries to do. He is focusing his efforts by producing only Rhône varieties. Sure, he has thrown a kink in that philosophy with his trousseau gris, but other than that aberration, he uses grenache blanc, viognier, marsanne, roussane, syrah, mourvèdre and grenache to make inspired wines. Not only is he making Rhône varieties, but he is making them from the Russian River Valley (the grenache blanc comes from the Saarloos Vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley). The Russian River Valley isn't exactly known for its Rhône varieties. Pinot noir, chardonnay and zindfandel, yeah, sure. Syrah, maybe. The other Rhône varieties, not exactly. Allen decided to stake his claim in the wine world by using grapes originally from a Mediterranean climate, but sourcing them from a cool climate. Oh, and he uses all neutral oak. No new oak to be found. He makes wines that show their sense of place and not a barrel's.