Wednesday, November 7, 2018

A Vertical Tasting of Christian Moueix's Ulysses Napa Valley at Vintage Vino

The land upon which Christian Moueix's Ulysses Vineyard lies has had as many owners as its namesake had adventures on his epic journey home after the conclusion of the Trojan War. The land came into American lore as a part of the 1836 Rancho Caymus land grant by the Mexican government to the farmer/trapper/settler George C. Yount (after whom the town of Yountville is named). Yount planted the first grapes in the area on what is now the Napanook Vineyard (also currently owned by Mouiex and the source of the grapes for the highly regarded Dominus wine).

Yount sold 640 acres of Rancho Caymus to Charles Hopper in 1850. Hopper had originally traveled to California from Missouri in 1841 but had returned shortly thereafter. He came back out to California with his family in 1849 and settled in Napa Valley. Hopper planted his first vines on the property in 1873 and gifted the land to his daughter Missouri in 1877. Missouri was forced to sell the land in the 1880s after her husband's death.

The original ranch has been broken up and sold off in pieces. The land that comprises today's Vine Hill Vineyard, Missouri Hopper, Ulysses Vineyard, and Kelleher (see map below) passed through the ownerships of Whitton, Hahn, and Taddei before being purchased by Bruce Kelham in 1959. The Missouri Hopper Vineyard was purchased from the Kelham Family by Andy Beckstoffer in 1996.

The Ulysses Vineyard, as noted by Antonio Galloni (Vinous), had been a part of the Missouri Hopper Vineyard. It came under the ownership of the Schmidts either before or during the Beckstoffer acquisition and was purchased from them by Christian Moueix in 2008.

The soil at Ulysses is a deep, gravelly clay loam. It is valley floor soil, but with excellent drainage. When purchased it was home to a substantial number of Merlot vines but, given his early experience at Dominus, Christian pulled out all of the Merlot vines and replaced them with Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard composition is now 85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, and 6% Petit Verdot.

As is the practice at all Moueix properties, Ulysses is dry-farmed, a practice which, he maintains, enhances root depth and drought resistance.

Grapes are harvested at "perfect ripeness" and fermented/macerated with extraction facilitated by pump-overs. The wine is aged for 20 months in 40 - 50% new French oak.

John Siudut of Vintage Vino organized a tasting of the first three vintages (2012 - 2014) of Ulysses, said tasting held at Vintage Vino and led by him and Billy Hendriksen. Attendees were limited to 10 people in order to ensure meaningful pours for each participant. The bottles were opened at 2:00 pm and the tasting began a little after 5:00 pm.

Parlo and Soo

John showing a label to some of the attendees

They're happy

Billy prepping to lead the tasting

John bringing his expertise to bear
According to Billy, the 2012 growing season had heavy spring rain and a mild, warm summer. The Ulysses 2012 was perfumed with honeysuckle, dried herbs, leather, vanilla, and dark fruit. On the palate, dark fruit, green herbs, and green pepper.

The 2013 season was characterized by a very dry spring and consistently warm summer and fall. Early ripening with 6.4 inches of rain, compared to a historical average of 17.5 inches. Yields in 2013 were between 1.4 and 2.5 tons/acre. The 2013 Ulysses showed more green pepper than the 2012. Fruit-forward, vinous, with fruit somewhat overwhelmed by the green character. More green notes on the palate. Intense. More structured than the 2012.

The 2014 season had a dry, early winter with heavy rain in February. Much higher than average temperature with moderate heat spikes. Yields of 2.2 tons/acre. The 2014 Ulysses  exhibited dark fruit, wet cigarette, and baking spices on the nose. A slight green note. Lusher, plusher, and softer on the palate than the preceding wines. Creamy. Open.

For comparison purposes, we tasted two wines from other Moueix properties: 1996 Dominus (similar varietal composition as the Ulysses) and the 2005 Trotanoy (from his Pomerol estate of the same name; Merlot-dominant).

The Dominus showed chocolate, tobacco, coffee, black tea, coal tar, and a duskiness. Complete from front to back. Rich and creamy. Beautiful. Long, creamy finish.

The Trotanoy was young. Dark and red fruit, earth, and baking spices. Power on the palate with red fruit. Way too early.

The Ulysses wines are currently young wines from young vines but the long-term potential of this vineyard is apparent. Great job by John and Billy in walking us through this very revealing tasting.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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