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NorCal Wine Blog

Premiere Napa Valley 2012 in Photos

Premiere Napa Valley 2012 took place on February 25 at the Culinary Institute of America's Greystone Campus in St. Helena. I thoroughly enjoyed the event. The best thing for me was the ability to taste wines and meet winemakers from so many top echelon Napa Valley wineries. They were conveniently collected for me and the other attendees in the spacious barrel room.

I did not try to taste every one of the wines offered by the 200 attending wineries. Instead, I primarily sought out the wines and principals of those wineries listed as first-time Premiere participants. It was my first experience with many of them.

In this post, I'll offer some tasting notes and interesting factoids. But I really want to give you a taste of the event through photos. If you're looking for more complete coverage, here are some articles I recommend:

Premiere Napa Valley is an annual auction of custom barrel lots of wine made by Napa Valley vintners. The wines are donated by the wineries. The event is open to trade (wine shops, distributors, restaurants, etc.) and media only. Proceeds from the event go to support the Napa Valley Vintners trade association. This year's auction brought in a record-breaking $3.1 million.

After arriving at the Culinary Institute, attendees registered in the main floor lobby. Registration began at 9am. There was coffee in the lobby and this excellent layout of cheese upstairs just outside the barrel room to ensure everyone was sufficiently fortified for the tasting.

Buy this cheese! It's amazing. The Flora Nelle is a semi-soft, blue cheese made from organic cow's milk. The ash-rolled cheese is made by Rogue Valley Creamery of Central Point, Oregon, one of my favorite producers. It's has a ligher, fruitier flavor than their best-known blues, Caveman Blue and Crater Lake Blue.

Reluctantly, I left the cheese. Armed with glass and spit cup (handed to me by the sagacious Russ Weis of Silverado Vineyards), I entered the hall of deliciousness.

In an unusual, yet delectable, move, Casa Piena and Jones Family Vineyards teamed up on an auction lot. Winemaker Thomas Brown took Casa Piena's Yountville valley floor fruit and the Calistoga hillside grapes of Jones Family to create an excellent wine that was rich yet fresh and had ample structure so well-integrated as to be almost subliminal. I thanked Casa Piena owner Carmen Policy for his contributions to all those great 49er seasons. It was a pleasure to meet veteran vintner Rick Jones for the first time as well.

Just steps away, I was greeted by Frank Farella and his son Tom Farella of Farella Vineyard in Coombsville. Tom was a driving force in that region's recent elevation to AVA status.

Managing partner Craig Camp and winemaker Jeff Keene of Cornerstone Cellars poured a three-vineyard blend. Davis Block Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon was rounded out with 10% Merlot from the Stewart Vineyard in Carneros and 5% Cabernet Franc from the Talcott Vineyard in St. Helena. The wine had a gentle attack, loads of juicy cherry balanced by plenty of ripe tannins, and a very long finish. As with most of the recent Cornstone Cellars wines I've tried, it's ageworthy yet immediately accessible.

Sean Capiaux of O'Shaugnessy Estate Winery on Howell Mountain poured a unique blend from its two estate vineyards. The wine was 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Malbec and 10% St. Macaire. The latter was one of the eight original, sanctioned grapes of Bordeaux. Today, O'Shaugnessy is one of very few wineries in the world to grow it. The wine was very good, sporting fresh cherry and berry fruit, medium body and a long finish.

Winemaker Cathy Corison once again delivered an elegant and balanced Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Her Premiere wine was a special blend of Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvigon and Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. To learn more about Cathy and her wines of "power and elegance," check out this short video interview by Ed Thralls.

Normally, the weather is something you discuss when you can't think of anything else to talk about. Not so in Napa Valley last week. Warm days and beautiful cloudless skies may well lead to an early start for the growing season. Darioush winemaker Steve Devitt and I discussed the impact of the mild winter. He said bud break could potentially come this week.

Scott and Joann Snowden of Snowden Vineyards poured a Cabernet Franc from their hillside estate vineyard that lies above Auberge du Soleil. The wine was tasty and replete with bright red fruit.

If you need to find MLB Hall of Fame first baseman Eddie Murray, hang around bottles of Shafer Estate. I met him at the winery on Friday where he celebrated his birthday with the great wines they poured at their pre-Premiere party. I ran into him again on Saturday the Shafer's barrel and got him to pose with proprietors John and Doug Shafer. Murray knows a good thing when he tastes it. 5-cases of the Shafer Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $40,000.

Dirk Fulton (left) and his wife, Becky Kukkola are the proprietors of The Vineyardist. The winemaker is Mark Herold (right).The Diamond Mountain property, originally called Calarcadia, was first planted with vines in 1884. Purchased in 2000 by Fulton and Kukkola, it's now bearing Cabernet Sauvignon managed by Jim Barbour. The Vineyardist auction lot, a 2010, is from that winery's second vintage.

Denis Malbec makes wine for Kapcsandy, Blankiet and his own Erba among others. I tasted the Kapscandy auction lot, a Cabernet Sauvignon pulled from barrels normally reserved for the Kapcsandy Grand Vin. It was one of the best wines I tasted that weekend; long, very well balanced, textured and full of beautiful fruit yet somehow restrained. The 10-case lot sold to the Nakagawa Wine Company of Tokyo for $60,000. Nakagawa also snagged the Cabernet Sauvignon from Ovid Napa Valley, one of my favorite wines from the Friday tastings, for $55,000.

Among the other wines I tasted worth noting are:

The very luxurious 2010 Dana Estates Cabernet Sauvignon made by Philippe Melka from the fruit of three vineyards: Helms (Rutherford valley floor), Lotus (a west-facing vineyard at 1,200 feet on Howell Mountain), and Hershey (at 1,800 feet on Howell Mountain). This 5-case lot brough the day's top price. $70,000. That's $1,167 per bottle.

The 2010 Moone-Tsai Cabernet Sauvignon from the To Kalon Vineyard, also made by Philippe Melka, was a ripe and chalky wine that whispered sweet "drink me's" in my ear. The 5-case lot sold for $31,000.

Lunch Time!

Nothing makes a person hungry like tasting 200 wines. Satisfying that hunger was no problem at Premiere Napa Valley. Greystone is a tremendous venue in this regard with its huge teaching kitchen and legion of cooking instructors and students. They prepared a massive buffet spread.

Ellie Proctor slides massive butternut squash agnolotti into a steaming cauldron.

Plates full, attendees gathered in the baking center to talk about their favorite wines — and sample more — while chowing down.

The Auction

Napa Valley Vintners Executive Director Linda Reiff offered opening remarks and introduced the day's auctioneers.

Among the vintners on-hand for the auction was Koerner Rombauer. His winery put a 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Proprietors' Reserve Stice Lane on the block.

Restauranteur and ex-NBA star Mark Eaton attended, completing a Premiere sweep for the big three sports. He played his entire career with the Utah Jazz and is now part owner of a Holladay, Utah restaurant called Tuscany. The restaurant, which holds a Best of Award of Excellence rating from Wine Spectator for its wine list, has been a successful bidder several times in the past. The 7' 4" Eaton definitely had an advantage in spotting top wineries in the packed tasting room. This year they grabbed Roy Estates' Voix Basse for $25,000.

1(Pro)WineDude Joe Roberts watched the proceedings closely along with other members of the media.

Fittingly, bidder #1 was among the first to jump into the fray, going after the opening lot from Pine Ridge.

"Sold!" says Auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski.

I have to admit that I didn't stay for the entire auction. As I'm not trade, I wasn't bidding and I wanted to spend some time enjoying the vineyards with their explosions of brilliant yellow mustard.

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This article is original to Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.