Thursday, March 3, 2011

Premiere Napa Valley: Friday Events

According to Napa Valley Vintners, the 15th edition of its annual barrel auction, Premiere Napa Valley 2011 (PNV11), broke all previous purchase records.  There is no scientific data to support this, but I contend that the fantastic events preceding the auction served to put bidders in the requiste frame of mind to drive the bidding up to heretofore unattained levels on auction day.  In two previos posts I reported on our Wednesday and Thursday #PNV11 activities.  In this post I report on our activities on Friday, the day preceding the auction.

Our first event of the day was the Spotswoode PNV event held at the historic Victorian-era farm that houses the offices of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery.  Just as for some of the Pessac-Leognan vineyards in Bordeaux, the Spottswoode vineyards are tightly bound to residential portions of the town of St. Helena.  Walking through the vine-covered metal arch that serves as the entry into the property, and onto the walkway leading up to the farmhouse, one gets a sense more of Southern charm than Napa powerhouse.  Credentials were established on the farmhouse porch, after which a glass of Sauvignon Blanc (that varietal again) was proffered and we were ushered into the farmhouse and the reception.

The wines being poured that day were set up on a table to the right of the entry door and a buffet lunch was set up in the room beyond. 

The wines poured were, in order, 1997, 2001, 2008 Cabernet Sauvignons and the Premier Lot.  I was disappointed with the 1997 and tweeted thusly.  A short while after the tweet was sent, someone came over and asked "Are you wineORL?"  My wife and friends walked off hurriedly at this because they thought I had been "busted" for pooh poohing the wine and was going to be thrown out on my ear.  But not to worry.  It was only @TexasWineGuy.  He had also tasted the 1997 and had made a more positive observation on twitter.  We discussed our differeing opinions and, after he left, I retasted the wine.  I held my position.  We did not stay around too long after that.  My friends were rattled.

After a wonderful lunch at Farmstead Restaurant, we set off for our next event, Atelier Melka 2011 Premiere Napa Valley Lot Portfolio Tasting.  This event was being held at 750 Wines, a new boutique wine shop on Adams Street (St. Helena) that is owned by David and Monica Stevens.  The shop is set back from the street in a little courtyard and, as such, proved a little difficult to find.  The idea behind the event was to feature, in a single locale, all of the PNV lots of the wineries where Phillipe Melka was the consulting winemaker.  It was a perfect match: an avante-garde wineshop and the wines of a French-born Napa wine consultant.

Spouse and Phillipe Melka
The wines were distributed around the room in a haphazard circle.  There were steps leading from the ground floor (where the event was being held) to the upper level and these provided an excellent vantage point from which to gain an overarching view of the proceedings.

The wineries represented were Cliff Lede, Gemstone, Kristine Ashe, Lail, Moon-Tsai, ROY, Seavey, and Vineyard 29.  By the time we got there, the event was well underway.  We went first to greet old friends (Robin Lail of Lail Vineyards and Jack Bittner of Cliff Lede) after which we began to make the rounds.  I had extensive conversations with Chuck McMinn of Vineyard 29 (he had not been around on our visit to the estate) and Jeremy Weintraub, winemaker at one of my favorite Napa Cabs, Seavey.  We tasted through the wines lot by lot and I was impresseed with the Lail, Seavey, and Vineyard 29 offerings.  The atmosphere at the event was electric with a lot of people jammed into a tight space, all talking at the same time about variations on a single theme.  Attendees were close-up-and-personal with the top echelons of these wineries and their consulting winemaker.  Good stuff.

Robin Lail
Jack Bittner, VP and GM, Cliff Lede

Jeremy Weintraub, Seavey Winemaker
Our next stop was the Oakville Wine Growers Association event held in the caves at Far Niente.  This was a spectacularly executed event with wine and food stations distributed along the two north-south corridors, and the connecting arms, of the quarter-mile of caves that serve the winery.  With wines poured from leading lights such as Bond, Harlan, and Mondavi, and food from establishments such as Mustard's Grill and Brix, all in a delicately lit, underground environment, it was a wonderful night.

@wineontheway and Paul Roberts, Bond Estate Manager

Earlier in the day, I had received a tweet from @CornerstoneCellars asking me to come around to their tasting room in Yountville, as they would be there until 8:00 pm.  I indicated that we had a full day but would visit after we left the Oakville Growers event.  So after we left the Oakville event, we headed into Yountville in search of the Cornerstone tasting room.  When we got there, they were just wrapping up their #PNV11 event but when I mentioned that we had been invited over, staff let us in.  Soon after we arrived, @CraigCamp, General Manager and Managing Partner of the winery, and the person who had initially issued the invite, came out of the back office to welcome us.  This was a very pleasant visit.  Craig brought the winemaker over and, as the premises emptied of PNV revelers, we settled down into a warm, pleasant conversation about the winery, winemaking, and PNV, all the time tasting through the Cornerstone and SteppingStone (a moderately priced label within the Cornerstone firmament) offerings.  I had not had Cornerstone wines before and was very impressed with their Steppingstone Cabernet Franc and the Cornerstone Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon; so impressed, as a matter of fact, that I bought bottles of both wines and had them shipped home

In tomorrow's post I will report on the actual barrel tasting and auction.

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