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Tasting Report: Grace Family Vineyards at Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

Richard Grace wants to be on a plane to Tibet tomorrow. But he won’t be. It seems the Chinese government is cracking down on foreign visitors again. His presence in Tibet could put his hosts at risk, so he will stay in Napa for now. How does this relate to a wine tasting?

When winery owners go to a tasting, they often bring a binder or portfolio. In some cases, the binder includes pictures of the vineyards or tasting room. Sometimes it has pictures of the winemaking process. Other binders have winemaker’s notes on the individual wines. What is the blend? How much new oak was used? At how many degrees brix were the grapes picked.

Dick Grace brought a binder to the tasting last night. He showed it to everyone he could.   It was full of pictures. But there was not a grape or vineyard to be seen. The pictures showed Tibetan children. It showed the poor living conditions they used to have and the run down schools. And it showed the new dormitories and beautiful schools Mr. Grace has helped build for them. It showed supporters of the Dalai Lama unfurling banners of support on the Golden Gate Bridge. And there was a photo of Dick showing THAT photo to the Dalai Lama.

Grace Family Vineyards makes some of the best wine in the world. Many people can attest to that and we will too. The wine is so sought after and made in such low volumes that at this moment there are about 4,500 people on a waiting list just to get onto the allocation list. That allocation list can only include 600 people. So if you want to try to taste the wine, you need to have a friend who already gets it. Or buy it on consignment from a store with such a friend. Or go to one of the rare public tastings as we did.


Even though the wine sells to people on the list for as much as $335 a bottle, the last thing that Dick Grace needs or wants to do is push wine. Please don’t call to get on the list. Please don’t email either. The vineyard is only so large and the wine is spoken for. There is no tasting room and the winery is not set up to accommodate visitors.

What Dick Grace really wants to do now is help people. He has a special interest in helping the people of Tibet and Nepal. His father was born in China in 1903. His grandfather was living there working in sales for the Singer sewing machine company. So, the family has long-standing ties to the area. And the path Dick’s life has taken led him back to it.

Many things have changed there since 1903. Not all of them have been good. Poverty is still widespread and repression of people due to their spiritual leanings is strong. Those are the problems that Dick Grace and the Grace Family Foundation spend their time and money trying to improve. And so it goes that a wine referred to as the first “cult wine” is now responsible for working toward education and spiritual freedom in Asia. It also supports food banks and the like here at home. The Grace Family Foundation supports more than 23 charities overall with a heavy emphasis on helping children. You can learn more about it by watching this video. Or you can look at these pictures.

There are actually a lot of wineries and wine people heavily focused on charity these days. It’s a very good thing. At some point, we’ll do an article on that topic alone. For now though, we’ll just focus on Grace Family Vineyards and we’ll shift our focus back to wine.

The whole thing started out as a family project in the mid-1970’s. The first harvest was in 1978. Family and friends did the picking. There was no winery. Those first grapes were made into wine at Caymus. The fruit was great. The wine became great and it developed a following. The Grace Family has brought a lot of innovation in grape growing and charitable giving to Napa Valley over the years while putting out some of the area’s most prized bottles. A specially etched 12-liter bottle once brought $90,000 at a charity auction.

Kirk Grace, one of Dick’s sons, is the vineyard manager. The winemaker is Gary Brookman. For many years, just one wine, a Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate vineyard, was produced. Now they also make a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Blank vineyard which is right next to Caymus. Both wines seem to be a mix of California attention to fruit with Old World restraint and complexity. Even the most recent vintages come in at just 13.8% alcohol.

We tasted four wines last night. Here are our comments on them.

2005 Grace Family Blank Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Appearance: medium ruby with a lighter rim and colorless legs

Nose: medium plus intensity with a character that changed substantially over 30 minutes in the glass. It started with cedar, oak, black cherry and black currant fruit with some spice. After a little while, it took on very floral notes, including violets. Fifteen minutes later, it was giving off a very strong aroma of freshly chopped dill with some parsley.

Palate: The wine is medium plus to full in body with medium plus tannins that are rich and silky. The acidity is medium but the flavor intensity medium plus. Flavors included both fresh and dry herbs with toasted brown spices to start. Over time, cocoa, medium dark chocolate, coffee and very dark fruit came to the fore while the herb receded somewhat. The mouthfeel is very luxurious without being heavy.

Conclusions: An outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon with a long finish. You can drink it now, but it will last a long time in the cellar and develop additional complexity. $140.

2006 Grace Family Blank Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon

Appearance: medium plus ruby in color from the core to the rim, colorless legs

Nose: medium plus intensity with dark cherry, cocoa and the smell of the rich red fruit syrup filling you get in some boxed chocolates.

Palate: full body with high tannins that feel powdery in the mouth. The flavors are medium plus in intensity and resemble fresh dark fruit rolled in cocoa powder.

Conclusions: A very good to outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon with a long finish. It’s ready now but will improve with proper cellaring. It would be interesting to see how its tannins change and whether they are as silky a year from now as those of the 2005 are now. $140.

2005 Grace Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Appearance: Nearly opaque with a color that is ruby leaning to garnet at the rim. It’s legs stain the glass.

Nose: medium intensity with tart red fruit, cherry, tangerine peel and earth.

Palate: Richly tannic and full-bodied with medium plus acidity and intensity of flavor. The flavors are of mineral, earth, very dark chocolate and spice along with a hint of dry licorice. It has a medium plus finish.

Conclusions: An outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon that can be enjoyed now but will bloom quite a bit with some bottle age. $335.

2006 Grace Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

Appearance: Luminous medium plus ruby from core to rim and legs that stain the glass.

Nose: medium intensity but quite closed with faint red fruit.

Palate: A full body with rich, drying tannins, medium plus acidity and flavor intensity. We tasted black fruit, mineral and dry herb and found it to have a medium plus finish.

Conclusion: An outstanding wine needs some bottle age to be at its best. $335.

Before we sign off, we’d like to thank the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant which has been putting on a great series of tastings with winemakers. And, for the record, we’re paying for our tastings just like everyone else...

This article is original to Copyright 2009 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.