Articles Tagged California wine

Context Is Everything: Araujo Estate vs. “The Score”

Vinted on July 29, 2010 binned in best of, California wine, on the road

Bart Araujo is an intense man.

It’s obvious when you meet him, if you’re paying enough attention.  And you’d have plenty of opportunity to pay attention during a visit to his Araujo estate, which for me began not in the vineyard, but in the winery’s offices.  We were standing in front of empty bottles of some of the best wines that this Calistoga property – the Eisele vineyard – has ever produced (some of which were made in basements during the `70s and `80s by dedicated hobbyists, and are obscure enough bottlings that you’ve likely never heard of them, even if you consider yourself a fervent wine geek.

Bart gave the same treatment to Jon Bonne recently, so I’m pretty sure that the brief history lesson in the final products from Eisele vineyard is S.O.P. for visiting press at Araujo.

The message?  Context is everything.

One might, at first meeting, take Bart to be a bit too serious, which would be slightly off-the-mark.  He jokes (albeit dryly).  He smiles.  He offers his time generously.  But he is definitely… focused.  “You have to reach for perfection,” he told me.  “Of course, you’ll never quite achieve it, but aiming lower means sacrificing something.  Otherwise, you might as well be making Coca-Cola.” 

Given his obvious pride in the history of Araujo, including its wines and the heritage of its impeccably maintained Calistoga vineyard, one might also mistake Bart Araujo as smug.  While his demeanor has been described by one Calistoga wine insider as possessing a good deal of the “Yes, I did” factor, that too is misleading – it would be more accurate to say that Bart Araujo’s demeanor reflects his knowledge of what the Eisele vineyard is capable of producing when it comes to fine wine.  Which is to say, some of the best wines produced in all of the Napa Valley – putting them in the running for some of the best wines in the world.

“Yes, It did” is what Bart’s demeanor is actually saying.

Why are we spending so much time on Araujo’s proprietor?  Because in this case, context really is everything, and to understand Araujo’s wines, you need to get inside Bart Araujo’s head, just a little.  He is far from a distant figure of a landlord: he still helps to make the call on the final blend, and is familiar with even intimate details about what is happening in their biodynamic vineyards.  Saying that Bart is involved in the production of Araujo’s wines is a bit like saying that Argentinosaurus was a slightly oversized dinosaur.

Or, put another way, it’s like saying that it was mildly surprising to the Araujo team when their 2007 estate Cabernet Sauvignon was given a 90-92 rating in The Wine Advocate

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Antithesis: A study in Extreme Serendipitous Winemaking

Vinted on June 30, 2010 binned in best of, California wine, wine review

I almost named the wine Serendipity because I discovered the technique which produces this wine by pure accident.”

This is a story that I’ve been chomping at the bit to tell for monthsIt’s the kind of story that makes you excited about the influx of talented, young winemakers in the Napa Valley, who are shaking things up with an attitude and passion that probably hasn’t been seen in the Valley since John Trefethen accidentally exploded a trash can full of fermenting juice in his basement in the `70s.

The quote that kicks off today’s article comes from Modus Operandi Cellars owner and winemaker Jason Moore.  And he is either a bit of a genius, a bit ingenious, or certifiably nuts (or some combination of the three), depending on whether or not you come from the traditional U.C. Davis school of California winemaking.  The story of the wine – called Antithesis – is the kind of stuff that is a bit stranger than fiction – in other words, you can’t make this kind of stuff up if you tried – which is why I’m excited to tell it.  Or, I should say, I’m excited to have Jason tell it, which he did via a recent e-mail exchange.  In that way, this article is part wine review, and part interview:

“In 2006 I had a little problem with one of my fermentations… the yeast stopped fermenting which left me with about two brix of sugar to ferment. I knew that the winemakers usual response to this issue is to prepare a new yeast build up and re-inoculate. I also knew that this is horrible for ultimate wine quality so I reeeeeally don’t like to do it… only as a last resort. So, I learned a trick from Phillippe Melka which has the ability to solve the fermentation problem while still retaining as much wine quality as possible.”

Before we talk about how Jason (quite creatively) overcame this little conundrum, I need to tell you a bit about the wine itself, which I first tried back in February during a get-together at Vintank HQ in downtown Napa.  Jason was pouring the `07 Antithesis (among some of his other M.O. wines).  I was struck by the quality and depth of the wine; I knew that it stood out as special, but couldn’t quite put my finger on why – that didn’t become totally clear until Jason described the strange history of the wine, which, as you will soon discover, is sort of like a twisted CA version of Valpolicella Ripasso.

Jason kindly agreed to send me a sample for review so that I could taste the wine under more controlled circumstances. And I enjoyed it just as much the second time around…

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Useless California Vintage Reports: A Template

Vinted on March 11, 2010 binned in best of, California wine, commentary

I get my fair share of wine samples, with a large proportion coming from California.  This is due mostly to proximity (regional wines), as well as the fact that the CA makes the vast majority of U.S. wine, hence the large number of CA samples stopping on my doorstep.

Most of those CA samples come with some form of wine information / tech sheets, and when they do, those tech sheets almost invariably contain a vintage report.

An utterly useless vintage report.

The vintage report is often utterly useless because no one ever says anything except that the grapes ended the vintage with optimal ripeness.

It’s become a joke for me, a game almost, to see if any of these press release vintage reports would ever admit that the grapes absolutely fried on the vine this year, or that they ended up greener than an under-ripe banana. It will probably never happen.

So I decided to do CA wine PR folks a favor, and I’ve created a template below that can freely be used as the vintage report for any CA wine! I’ve taken some minor liberties, primarily to make the choices sexier, because let’s face it, sex sells even when it comes to vintage reports.  If you’re in PR, you can simply circle the appropriate response and not have to bother with the rest!  Anyway, you can thank me later!…

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Size Matters (Tackling A Faust 2006 Double Magnum)

Vinted on March 10, 2010 binned in commentary, learning wine, wine tips

Just when you think that the topic of wine is starting to make sense and really come together for you, you’ll probably encounter the convention of naming large format wine bottles.

That should put you firmly back in your lowly place, since the convention of naming bottle sizes carries on the storied wine tradition of utilizing differing standards in order to confuse the living hell out of you.

I’ve been “thinking big,” as in large format bottles, since I recently won a 3L bottle of Faust 2006 Napa Valley Cabernet via the Palate Press Wine For Haiti auction.

The bottle is gorgeous (see inset pic).  The trouble is, I don’t know what to call it.

Before we get into that, I should tell you a bit about Faust itself, I suppose.

Faust is the brainchild of Napa legend Agustin Huneeus, who started up Quintessa, owns Veramonte, and had a hand in making other stalwart Napa wines like Franciscan.  It’s a big wine, but balanced and tight as a drum early on due to it’s massive, dark structure.  It’s like the Darth Vader of Napa Cabs, and is (more or less) Quintessa’s more-affordable-but-still-pretty-damned-good “second wine.” Damned-good… Get it?  Faust… damned… Ok, I’ll stop now…

As far as the 2006 goes, it’s 77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot, 3% Malbec, and 1% Cabernet Franc – all from Agustin’s family vineyards in Rutherford and Atlas Peak.  As far as Hunees goes, according to the Faust website, “He also believes that numerical ratings, as they are used today, are an aberration.”  Strong words.

Interestingly (as far as the bottle size discussion goes), I first tried this Faust vintage (via sample) in a 375 ml half-bottle.  I’ve yet to have the wine from a “normal” 750 ml.

Anyway, on to the good and the ugly of this situation…

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