Galerie’s Laura Díaz Muñoz
There seems to be a bit more going on underneath the surface of Laura Díaz Muñoz than you might at first suspect from her somewhat reserved demeanor. And if winemaking has any potential of being a window into the personality of a winemaker, her Galerie wines have enough intriguing tension under the surface to suggest Muñoz has more complexity than she at first reveals.
Currently, she’s one of the winemakers with Jackson Family Wines, working with Chris Carpenter on brands such as Cardinale, Lokoya, and Mt. Brave since she arrived in the U.S. from Spain about seven years ago. Befitting our little theme here, that last statement is a deceptively simple version of a circuitous wine career than Muñoz began in Madrid, continued in La Mancha, then extended with stints in Marlborough and Chile before settling down – sort of – in the States.
“I wanted to go to Argentina,” she told me while driving to one of the Knights Valley vineyard sources for Galerie, “but Chris convinced me to stay.” [ editor’s note: I’ve met Chris a few times; at well over six feet tall, he looks every bit like he’s just magically stepped off the artwork on the Brawny Towel packaging; I probably wouldn’t challenge him, either… ]
Of course, you’d expect a Spaniard to be crafting wines from Bordeaux varieties in the greater Napa Valley area, right? Or not…
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It’s not a stretch to say that Philippe Melka is, right now, the hottest winemaker in all of the Napa Valley (hottest as in “most in-demand,” and not as in “most hunky,” though admittedly I’d be a pretty poor judge of the latter). He’s got a 100-point Wine Advocate review under his belt with Dana Estates (no denying the power of that, no matter what your take on wine scores might be), and is now riding high on Dana’s stunning 2012 Premiere Napa Valley auction lot, which took the top-grossing slot at $70K.
So it’s interesting, in retrospect, that he was… let’s just say cautiously optimistic about Californian winemaking potential when coming to Napa from France with Dominus in the early 1990s. Being skeptical is part of the French culture, of course; and being skeptical about Napa wine is probably even more understandable when you’ve cut your winemaking teeth at Bordeaux stalwarts Haut Brion and Pomerol darling Chateau Petrus.
“In France I kept hearing, ‘in California they make good wine, but they have no sense of terroir’” he told me over lunch in the trailer that now marks the entrance to what will become the Napa Valley tasting room for Melka Wines, the only brand to which he’s attached his now-famous (in winemaking terms, anyway) surname. “And to some extent, they were right. I mean, everyone was planting Cabernet Sauvignon no matter what – regardless of the soil, the sunlight, everything. I was looking for limestone in Napa. I am still looking for limestone in Napa!”
Fast forward twenty-some-odd years from those cautiously-optimistic days, and through the thoroughly French exterior, you find someone that seems thoroughly Northern Californian at heart – a laid-back, down-to-earth surfer-dude of a winemaker. Philippe now consults on wines from the elegantly powerful (Vineyard 29, Parallel Wines, Entre Nous) to the sometimes-just-too-damn-powerful (Gemstone and Moone-Tsai), and he’s involved in at least one worst-kept-secret “cult wine” Napa project that I’ve tasted (if you’re wondering if that last one is worth the ton of money it would cost to try it, I’ll say this: I’ve had few wines that were bigger, but also few big wines that were better, and it’s got the purest black licorice and dark chocolate aromas I’ve ever encountered in a wine, period)…
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