Articles Tagged Napa Valley

Working At Too Perfect? (Michael Mondavi Recent – And Not So Recent – Releases)

Vinted on May 1, 2014 binned in crowd pleaser wines, kick-ass wines, on the road, wine review

“See, this pisses me off…”

Rob Mondavi, Jr. is upset. Moderately. It’s almost difficult to imagine why, given the sunny day, and the subsequently stunning Napa Valley view from his family’s Animo vineyard on Atlas Peak. But moderately upset he is.

The trigger for Mondavi’s small bit of angst? The spacing of the pruning cuts on some of the vines isn’t uniform. One is reminded of the scene in The Aviator, when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Howard Hughes is running his hand down the side of an airplane hull, testing to see if all of the rivets are totally smooth.

Rob Mondavi, Jr. is, it seems, a bit of a perfectionist, particularly when it comes to viticulture (as he remarked to me during our vineyard lunch, “the biggest challenge in Napa is that we’ve become complacent in farming”). An amiable perfectionist, with the Mondavi flair for gab and working the crowd, but a perfectionist nonetheless.

As it turns out, Rob’s excellent high-end wines can almost be too perfect, polished smooth to a such an glistening, art deco metallic sheen that one might start to pine for a blemish of any kind; not that the wines lack soul, it’s just that you want to see and feel more of that soul.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? Back to the vineyard, where the view is lovely and the scenery, apart from vines, is of liberally strewn about rocks, rocks, and more rocks on this volcanic soil…

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Yesterday’s Wines, Tomorrow (Stony Hill Recent Releases)

Vinted on April 3, 2014 binned in best of, elegant wines, on the road, overachiever wines, wine review

Peabody’s Wayback Machine has got nothing on the steep, two mile drive from Napa Valley’s Bale Grist Mill State Park up to Stony Hill Vineyard. Brave that vertical, moss-covered tree-lined climb between St. Helena and Calistoga, and in many ways you’re transported at least forty years back in Napa time, and to what seems an entire world away from the Disney-fied scene of the opulent temples of vino-ness that pervade Route 29.

Feel free to insert your own clichés about technology being the only indication we’re living in a modern age when touring this winery’s weathered but functional buildings and it’s gnarled old Riesling vines. They’re pabulum, sure, but in this case also apt (I was warned to plan on no cell phone coverage when I reached the top of their road; the Wayback machine renders that inoperative, I suppose).

“This is the land that Napa Valley Time forgot,” mused Sarah McCrea, the former corporate marketing brand director who, in 2012, stopped fighting the inevitable call of becoming Stony Hill’s third generation proprietor. “And we like it that way.”

McCrea’s grandparents, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, bought this little chunk of Spring Mountain in 1943, when it was a former goat ranch that “nobody seemed to want.” The first plantings happened “in `48, `49, after the war,” according to McCrea. Some Riesling vines from that era still remain on the property. A small winery was completed in 1953, and trust me when I tell you that, while charming and unquestionably setup in a beautiful place with a beautiful valley view, it would hardly qualify as garage-sized for some of the polished-with-gobs-of-cash winery façades just a few miles farther south on Route 29. Since that time in the fifties, almost nothing (thankfully, blessedly, miraculously) seems to have changed here. Case in point: in sixty years, Stony Hill has employed fewer winemakers than the venerable Pittsburgh Steelers have head coaches.

To put Stony Hill in perspective, one has to understand that when they started in the wine business in Napa, there was no perspective. There wasn’t even much of a Napa fine wine business. There’s is a tale that, as Morrissey sang, starts “from before the beginning…”

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Poetry Inn And Traveling Like A “One-Percenter” For Playboy.com

Vinted on August 8, 2012 binned in going pro, Wined Down (Playboy.com)

Last week, I made a foray into a (sort of) non-wine related piece of writing for Playboy.com’s Nightlife section, contributing to what they call the “1% Travel Guide.”

The idea behind that guide is to feature travel destinations so remote, or so extreme, or so exclusive, or so expensive (or some combination of the four) that 99% of us will likely never get to experience them.

Some of us get to piggy-back on that world, though. We usually go by the title of “winemaker” or “wine media,” and I fall into the latter category. Which means that occasionally I get hosted in surroundings that are ridiculously beautiful and/or ridiculously expensive, because I’m not fitting most/any of the bill myself. When I visited Napa as a guest of C. Milan Communications earlier this year, that’s precisely where I found myself, so I pitched the idea to Playboy about giving my hotel at that time – the Poetry Inn, owned by Cliff Lede (yes, that Cliff Lede, whose Stags Leap wine facility is visible from the Inn’s hillside perch, so this is actually a little bit wine-related) – a possible feature in the 1% section.

Since I got paid for the Playboy.com piece, I can now afford what I’d calculate to be a few minutes stay back in the Poetry Inn’s suite…

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Roots, Reconnected (Tasting Inglenook’s 1960 Cabnernet)

Vinted on June 7, 2012 binned in elegant wines, on the road, wine review

Jeff Smith, of Hourglass wines (and who, incidentally, just took the rather bold move of parting ways with long-standing and celebrated consulting winemaker Robert Foley, and bringing on Cade and Plumpjack alumnus Anthony “Tony” Biagi), knows his Napa Valley wine history.

Fortunately for me (more on that in a minute or two).

Smith’s roots are there, as grew up in the Napa wine scene, his family having now seen the whole kit-and-caboodle; from the bootstrapping farmers who, in his words, “picked up the scattered bones of an industry after Prohibition and phylloxera,” to the influx of outsiders flush with cash and dreams of world-class vanity projects on which they could invest (squander?) their fortunes.

In other words, Smith remembers when it was pronounced Mon-DAY-vee and not Mon-DAH-vee.

Napa’s is a winemaking history that many a wine lover has heard about, but few have really delved deeply into from a visceral standpoint, simply due to the fact that there isn’t much of the wine from those “old days” around to taste, most of it having been imbibed, or gone bad, a long time ago.

The really fortunate part for me was that when Jeff and I caught up over dinner at Press in St. Helena, he was in the mood to reconnect with the Valley’s roots, by way of directly sampling some of Napa’s history… from about the time when his former employer Robert Mondavi nearly single-handedly reinvented the Californian fine wine scene…

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