Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Premiere Napa Valley (#pnv11): The Early Experiences

On the final weekend in February, 2010, I was in Miami enjoying the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.  I spent the last weekend of February 2011 in Napa attending Premiere Napa Valley (PNV11) and I had a truly wonderful experience (The question to be asked is: why do they hold these two great events opposite each other on opposite sides of the country?).  Premier Napa Valley is the Napa Valley Vintners annual, invitation-only barrel auction for wine retailers, wholesalers, restauranteurs, and members of the press.  Auction proceeds go towards the trade association's promotional and other activities on behalf of valley winemakers.

I travelled out to PNV11 as a guest of @wineontheway. We had done a lot of pre-planning in order to ensure a healthy mix of private winery visits and the #PNV11 (the hashtag designation for tweeting about PNV) events that were broadly distributed across the valley.  The official PNV2011 guide listed activities as: Private Vintner Parties at locations throughout the Valley on Thursday and Friday nights; a Multi-Vintage Perspective Tasting of Pinot Noir (2007, 2008, 2009) and Cabernet Sauvignon on Friday morning at The Culinary Institute at Greystone ; and the Barrel Tasting and Auction on Saturday, February 26th, also at The Culinary Institute at Greystone.  According to Frank Husic (Husic Vineyards) it seems as though the vintner events surrounding the core Barrel Tasting and Auction have become even more importat than the Barrel Tasting itself.  The opportunity for one or more vendors to put on an event where they can wine and dine their best customers, as well as showcase past, present and future offerings, is being seized with both hands by the vintner community.

A total of 200 wineries contributed lots to the auction for the 2001 edition of the auction.  These lots were either 5-, 10-, or 20-case lots; were from a yet-to-be-released vintage; and were unique as regards the wineries current offerings.

We drove up to Napa from San Francisco on Wednesday morning and our first stop was dropping off our luggage at the Husic Vineyards guest house, our home-away-from-home for our stay in Napa.  The guest house offers spectacular views of the Stags Leap District from its perch on the hills above.

Our first appointment that day was a lunch with Robin Lail (Lail Vineyards) at her home among the vines in Angewin.  Robin's DNA is all wine and all Napa with the family history stretching all the way back to 1879 when her granduncle Gustav Niebaum founded the famed Inglenook Vineyards, through her father John Daniel Jr. whose stewardship of the estate is legendary, and through her many ventures to include co-founding Dominus with her sister and Christian Mouiex, co-founding Merryvale Vineyards with Bill Harlan and others, and, along with her husband Jon, founding Lail Vineyards in 1995.  Robin is one of the class acts in Napa and her unstuffy grace, elegance, and poise rendered this a memorable lunch.  (The food and wine were pretty impressive also; compliments to the chef). 

At Lail Vineyards we tasted the 2009 Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc, the 2008 Georgia Sauvignon Blanc (named after Robin's granddaughter and one of only 9 bottles left in the winery library), 2007 Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon, and 2007 J. Daniel Cuvee.

After a touchy, feely, huggy goodbye from Robin (she had just recently lost one of her dogs and we had an especially touching moment as we talked about it), we made our way to Blankiet Estate where we had a private tasting and tour scheduled with the proprietor Claude Blankiet.  Claude was a fount of information as he walked us through the vineyard and the winemaking practices.  After a tour of the winery, we made our way up to his residence for tastings of the 2007 and 2008 Proprietary Blends.

We had a private tasting at Vineyard 29 on the morning of the 29th.  It was a cold rainy day and as we were drying ourselves off in the lobby of the winery, we encountered @thewinebarn, another Orlando-area retailer, leaving after their private tasting.  We were welcomed into the winery with the well-regarded, and hard-to-obtain, 29 Estate 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Vineyard 29 is located at 2929 Highway 29 in St. Helena, hence the derivation of the name.  Chuck McMinn, after stellar technology careers at Intel and Covad, along with his wife Anne, acquired both the Vineyard 29 and Aida properties in 2000 and have combined these two prime properties with state of the art facilities and the skills of the legendary winemaker Philippe Melka to turn out critically acclaimed wines.

Our tour was conducted by Holly Anderson, National Sales Manager for Vineyard 29.  It was too cold and wet to go into the vineyards so we settled for an extensive tour of the winery facilities and an extended tasting in the beautiful wine library.  Two of the interesting aspects of the Vineyard 29 operation is the use of a utility stainless steel vat which serves to aid both gravity flow and racking and the use of egg-shaped vats for fermentation of the Sauvignon Blanc.  Fermentation tanks are concrete, oak, and stainless steel.

In addition to the mentioned Sauvignon Blanc, we tasted the 2008 Estate Aida, the 2008 Cabernet Franc, the Vineyard 29 Estate, Cru Estate, and the 2011 Premiere Napa Valley Lot.

After Vineyard 29 we had Lunch at Redd in Yountville and then started out on our Journey to Ovid on Pritchard Hill.  The winery had given explicit instructions that a GPS should not be used in trying to find the winery.  Instead we should follow the written directions precisely.  It was raining and we were climbing a steep, winding hill into unlnown territory.  There was not a lot of laughter in the car on the initial climb.  Surprisingly, given our driving skills, we made it up the hill safely and were welcomed by Dana Johnson, the proprietress.  Dana was casually dressed in faded blue jeans and a red jacket over a white shirt and her mode of dress and mannerisms quickly put us at ease. We were guided through a large dining-room-like area, where staff was setting up for a later #pnv11 event, and out to a patio from which we could survey the vineyard, the neighbors, and the valley below.  After this panoramic view, Dana took us outside to explore the multiple points of entry for grapes and then down below to show how those entry points integrated into the oak and concrete fermenters and the gravity-flow system. After our tour we sat in an informal tasting room which was dominated at one end by a massive blackboard with scientific notations and formulas and overhead by a note-paper chandelier.

According to Dana, they had initially bought the property to build a family home but after they saw the success their neighbors were having with wine they consulted David Abreu as to the feasabilty for their property.  He saw merit and 15 acres of Bordeaux varietals were planted in 2000.  The team was rounded out with the addition of Andy Erickson as winemaker and Michel Roland as Consultant. The first vintage, 2005, was well received by customers and critics alike and the comapny has never looked back.

This visit concluded the "personal" aspects of our #pnv11. In tomorrow's post I will cover the public events which we attended.

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