1. Premiere Napa Valley is a great way to taste a lot of wine, but a terrible way to actually taste wine. Spending only 30 seconds with several hundred wines over the course of a few days is like trying to buy a house by only using Google Maps. You can get a broad understanding of the neighborhood and certain houses may catch your eye, but you don't get the real look and feel you would by spending time inside the houses to really explore them. You don't get to see how the wines taste with food or how they evolve over the course of an evening with friends and family. Pretty much you only get a general understanding, dehydrated, and terribly stained teeth.
2. Most of the wines I tasted during my three days in Napa were from the fabulous 2013 vintage, but some of the wines that stood out most to me were from the much less heralded 2011 vintage. Napa wine from 2011 ain't so bad, and may outshine the more critically acclaimed vintages down the road. Yes, 2011 was cool and wet, and many wines are defined by herbal, even moldy, greenness that most people will find off-putting. However, the wineries that were able to sort and use ripe (not overly ripe) grapes made some stunning wines. I heard one retailer joke that he was going to talk the 2011s up every chance he had just so others would be tricked into buying them so he wouldn't have to. I pity that fool. I look forward to tasting the few 2011 Napa cabs I have in my cellar more than any other vintage.
Maybe there is something to the axiom of grapevines needing to be stressed to yield the best wines. I also tasted a few wines from the near-"perfect" 2007 vintage that producers were showing off and found them just muddied and falling apart. Perhaps years like 2007 (and maybe 2012) engender winery complacency and not the best wines? In years like 2011, growers and winemakers must work their hardest, and those that do can make absolutely beautiful wines. My absolute favorite wine of the trip was in fact a 2011 cabernet franc from Cairdean Estate. I thought this single-vineyard offering (76% cab franc and 24% Malbec) was simply stunning. It wasn't massive and imposing as so many other wines seemed to be in an attempt to impress with power. No, this wine had me at hello when I put my nose in the glass. It smelled like a flower shop was hosting red fruit convention. It tasted so smooth and refined that I would have been perfectly happy to drink (or even just smell) only it all weekend. In fact, when I saw Cairdean later at the Coombsville party I just had to get another taste. Speaking of Coombsville...
3. Coombsville is no longer a hidden gem. The Sonoma-like rolling hills tucked into the eastern outskirts of Napa city are producing some of Napa Valley's best wines; and it's not a secret any more. Big names Hobbs, Pahlmeyer, Phelps, and Quintessa had been purchasing Coombville fruit before the area received its AVA status. Now, the growers and producers in young AVA are standing on their own feet and people are noticing. A hefty 1/3 of the wines that I enjoyed the most during my PNV trip contained Coombville fruit. For a bit more detail on the region, check out Elaine Brown's recently posted story about Massimo di Costanzo and Coombsville. And the next time you're looking for a Napa, try to find one with Coombsville on the label. I hope to make my next Napa trip just an exploration of this little region.
4. I probably sound like a broken record, but I still think Pritchard Hill is perhaps the most impressive terroir in Napa. Many of the top-earning lots used Prtichard Hill fruit. Many of my favorite PNV lots and current release wines were from Pritchard Hill. The top earning BRAND Continuum, Fairchild, Gandona, and Pulido-Walker lots all came from this spectacular land. I don't know if the wineries will ever be able to create an AVA, but Chappellet is now allowing their trademark on the term "Pritchard Hill" to be used by their neighbors. One winery owner also confided in me that he thought Bryant and Colgin may soon join the others in working together to promote the district with a cohesive voice. Getting those two wineries involved would be a major (and long overdue) accomplishment. These Pritchard Hill wineries know they have some of the best wines in Napa, and price their bottles accordingly, but unfortunately out of the reach of most wine drinkers.
5. Very few of the wines I tasted cost less than $100 per bottle. Almost none were under $50. All too often, even for new brands with a few releases under their belts, the price is a staggering $150-$200 per bottle. Most of the Pritchard Hill estates are all pricing their top wines between $200-$500 a bottle. Yes, Napa Valley produces some great wine, but in general Napa Valley wine prices are absurd. So many other American wine regions offer high quality wines for a fraction the price. I understand the economics of Napa wine, but too many people are being priced right out of being able (or wanting) to buy Napa cabernet sauvignon. I don't blame the producers for pricing their wines for the most money they can get, but I am a bit sad that I don't get to drink them because I can't afford them.
6. Good thing there's more to Napa than Cabernet Sauvignon! I quite enjoyed the Lang & Reed Chenin Blanc, Coquerel Verdelho, Farella Sauvignon Blanc, Grassi Ribolla Gialla, and Schramsberg sparkling wines that I drank (yes, I drank those because they tasted so refreshing). I would prefer cabernet franc over cabernet sauvignon almost any day of the week. The malbecs and petite sirahs I tasted were a nice change of pace from the monotony of cab. The beauty of these "other" varieties is they are often much cheaper. $18 for a Calistoga Verdelho? Yes, please! There is so much more to Napa than just cabernet sauvignon (and there really is more to wine than Napa!), so I urge everyone to think outside the box, save some of your money, and drink something other than Napa cab...