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General Interest

Harvest 2011 in Paso Robles and Freshly-Picked Roussanne at Tablas Creek Vineyards

I have just spent three days visiting with wineries in Paso Robles. The weather was great with cool mornings and warm, occasionally hot, days under a clear blue sky. Harvest for some grapes is underway, though most varieties have yet to achieve necessary ripeness.

The harvest is late this year due to poor weather in previous months. At Terry Hoage Vineyards, for example, harvest will probably start next week. That’s at least two weeks behind normal. Even then, brix levels may be lower than average. Because of the cool growing season and the need to pull in fruit slightly prematurely should there be forecasts of substantial rain, many winemakers are suggesting 2011 Paso Robles wines will be lower in alcohol and higher in acidity than is typical. The difference may be noticeable, but not extreme.

The biggest problem for Paso Robles growers and wineries this year is not ripeness though. It's low yields. A series of early April frosts are primarily to blame. Vines that had already entered budbreak were damaged and didn’t flower. Viognier was the most affected. [Some varieties tend to reach budbreak early, others late. The timing of the frost this year happened to hit Viognier the hardest.] Tablas Creek figures their potential Viognier crop may be just 20% of average this year (or less). On the positive end of the spectrum, Grenache yields should be at about 90% barring heavy rains during the remainder of the season.

Tablas Creek GM Jason Haas told me on Tuesday that Paso Robles has had much less trouble due to weather than most of California's AVAs. The previous day his blog post was, “Why Paso Robles will make California's best wines in 2011.” It is an interesting read. The calcareous earth beneath the thin topsoil holds water like a sponge. It soaked up the heavy winter rains, aiding those vineyards which are dry-farmed. But Paso Robles' specific location isolated it from most of the untimely rain and heat spikes.

As a Paso Robles producer, Mr. Haas is not an unbiased observer. His arguments are sound though and there has been no shortage of dire reports from other AVAs. I expect top Paso Robles vintners to sell out of wine even earlier than usual. If you have favorite Paso Robles wines that are tough to get in normal years, consider joining the wine club/mailing list to improve your access for this year.

While at Tablas Creek, I had the opportunity to see freshly-picked Roussanne grapes. They looked healthy and tasted great. The fruit was perfectly ripe with sweet flavorful juice and dry, crunchy seeds. A sip of frothy juice straight from the press was equally promising. The other varieties I saw on vine — Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Tannat — looked good as well.

Roussanne-at-Tablas-Creek-Vineyards
Freshly-picked Rousssanne at Tablas Creek Vineyard. The name Roussanne is a reference to the grapes' russet color.

pressing-roussanne-at-Tablas
The Roussanne is sorted and then put into this horizontal bladder press.

roussanne-juice
Juice coming out of the press looks like this.

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2011 NorCal Wine. All rights reserved.

Brand Building in the Wine Business, It Ain’t Easy

A brand is a set of expectations. We think of McDonalds and Coca-Cola as brands, but those are just the names. The golden arches and red can with white script are the brands’ symbols. The real brands are the collected expectations those names and symbols represent. Whether you like the products or not, you know exactly what a Big Mac is, how McDonalds french fries differ from those of Wendy’s and can tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi in a blind tasting.

320px-McDonalds Times SquareMcDonalds and Coca-Cola are strong brands not because we recognize the name but because we know what they stand for. Decades of advertising and your personal experience with their extremely consistent products have almost literally etched their products into your brain. How many wine brands can you say that about?

Building a brand is difficult and expensive. It requires uniformity of products, seemingly endless repetition of messaging and many, many personal experiences with the product by each target consumer. This presents serious challenges for the wine industry.

The first problem is that the quality and character of wine is subject to change from year to year because of weather, harvest dates, increasing vine age, circumstances during fermentation and numerous other factors. Compounding that lack of constancy is the fact that wine changes as it ages in bottle. Consumers may drink it any time from the date of release to many years later. And then there’s the way serving temperature affects a wine. The only wineries that can achieve anything like the product consistency of a McDonalds or a Coca-Cola are those that produce at very high volume and don’t mind using additives—or at least blending multiple vintages as in Champagne— to build wine to a relatively simple and specific flavor profile.

Another issue is that fine wines often have complicated, multi-part names. In one hand we hold a McDonalds Big Mac sandwich. In the other we clutch a 2011 Wind Gap Chardonnay James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles. Which is easier to understand? The Big Mac is, or was, a cute but generic name. Today we know it to be just one thing, a two-patty, three-bun burger with cheese, shredded lettuce and special sauce.

wind gap bottleshot whiteBut the wine’s name is full of variables. You can tell Wind Gap is the winery name and you may be aware they make small-production wines of individual character and high-quality.

Next we see “Chardonnay.” Okay, that’s easy. Most wine lovers know that Chardonnay is a white wine. Experienced sippers will know that Chardonnay is a dry wine... except when it’s a little bit sweet.

What else do we know about Chardonnay?

  • Chardonnay smells and tastes like lemon or green apple or yellow apple or pear or peach of varying degrees of ripeness. And it can have accents of chalk or limestone, lemon curd or cheese rind, baking spice or flowers...
  • Chardonnay is fermented with native or commercial yeast
  • Chardonnay undergoes malolactic fermentation making it round and buttery or partial malolactic fermentation making it a little crisp, a little smooth and not very buttery or no malolactic fermentation keeping it very crisp and medium-bodied.
  • Chardonnay is fermented in oak, stainless steel or, very rarely, concrete.
  • Chardonnay is aged in new oak, probably French, or aged in neutral oak or it’s not aged at all.

So far so good? We also know 2011 was the vintage and have heard it was a cool year. But then the grapes came from Paso Robles which we know to be warm. So that means...? And wait, isn’t Paso Robles best-known for Cabernet Sauvignon? No worries! It’s from the James Berry Vineyard which is kind of famous. Um... for Syrah.

Please allow me a brief aside. Lately it’s been fashionable to bash tasting notes and call them unnecessary. If, after simply reading the name of this wine— that was made from America’s most popular grape by a famous, small winery from a vineyard that has produced 100-point wines in an AVA that’s one of the United States’ best-known—you can honestly say you know what that wine is like, then you’ve either tasted the wine before or your name is Larry Stone. For everyone else, here’s my tasting note which is way better than nothing.

2011 Wind Gap Chardonnay James Berry Vineyard Paso Robles
The grapes came from the vineyard’s last remaining block of Chardonnay (own-rooted, 50-year old vines of Wente clone). The juice was fermented with native yeast in concrete and stainless steel tanks, then aged 12 months in neutral French oak barrels. The wine is medium to medium-plus in body with matching acidity and light-grained texture. The nose is controlled but expressive, the palate even more forthcoming. Aromas and flavors of yellow apple are embellished with notes of baking spice, apple blossom and dusty soil. Highly Recommended.

So, back to branding. The complexity of wine makes it very difficult. That is true whether we’re talking about a single bottle of wine, a winery producing many different wines or even a growing region.

If you’re trying to build recognition for an AVA, you have to educate consumers on it’s character. That character is determined at minimum by its climate, topography, soils and principal varieties, plus the quality and style of its wineries. There is also a danger that the region will be overshadowed by individual producers or the grape varieties.

French wines are labeled by region rather than variety. That’s great at building awareness for the region, perhaps too good. I can’t tell you how many Americans I meet who think Burgundy is a grape variety.

Here in California we tend to label varietally. I’m convinced this straightforward approach helps the average consumer. It doesn’t help regions though. As with the wine above, our eyes go first to the winery and then to the grape. People often stop reading at that point, especially if the producer is recognized and the variety something common like Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

So how do you go about building the brand for a region? Next week I’ll tell you about one winery’s attempt to do exactly that. It’s a cool, if quixotic, project.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on FacebookAlso check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. Photo of McDonalds in Times Square by Sallicio. McDonalds and the golden arches are registered trademarks of McDonalds. All rights reserved.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

It’s been easy for some people from outside the immediate area to make jokes about “free run juice” and “air-lifts of water crackers,” but last week’s earthquake in southern Napa devastated many homes and businesses. There are still people in great need of assistance.

Tinacci 060926 0643-540x
Give Napa Valley residents and business a hand this week.
(Photo: Jason Tinacci / Napa Valley Vintners)

Many in Napa and Sonoma will say that one of the best things you can do for them is indulge yourself and buy their wines or spend time (and money) in the area as a tourist. But there are also a number of charitable funds to which you can contribute. Some come with benefits for you beyond the warm-hearted feeling that comes from helping others. I’ve collected information on many of those here for your convenience.

How You Can Contribute to Earthquake Relief in Napa

Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund of the Napa Valley Community Fund (NVCF)

This fund will allocate money to projects it feels will best help in Napa’s recovery. You can donate directly. See their dedicated web page for details.

If you prefer, or in addition, you can donate through a purchase of Matthiasson Quake Cuvée. 100% of the after-tax profits will go to NVCF. This limited release wine, made by SF Chronicle Winemaker of the Year Steve Matthiasson, will ship in Spring, 2015. This opportunity is limited in duration since there’s only so much wine available.

You may also donate through the Bank of Napa Earthquake Relief Fund. Donations via the bank can be made in person at the bank or by mail to Bank of Napa, 2007 Redwood Road, Suite 101, Napa, Calif., 94558. Make checks payable to Bank of Napa. The monies will be forwarded to NVCF.

NapaStrong

Napa winemaker Jason Moore founded NapaStrong at gofundme. The fund stands at about $13,000 right now with a target of $30,000. The money will support people working on the dangerous winery cleanup projects by providing lunches, childcare, etc. Any remaining funds will go to other residents and businesses in need. You can contribute directly at this page.

Alternatively, you can contribute through Rocca Wines. Buy some Rocca wine here, and they will give you a 10% discount and they will contribute 10–20% (depending on how many bottles you buy) of the net proceeds to NapaStrong.

Community Action Napa Valley

CANV is a non-profit that has been providing relief to needy Napa Valley residents since 1965. Their support includes emergency shelter, housing, food, coaching and financial assistance. To donate money, a vehicle or learn how to volunteer visit this page.

If you donate $50 or more to CANV in September, provide proof to Doug Wilder of purely domestic wine report. If you’ve not a subscriber, you’ll get 12 months of free online access to the reports. (If you are a subscriber, I suspect Doug would entertain allow you to gift the 12 month access to a friend.)

Foundation SAVE Cards
Napa City firefighters and the California Fire Foundation are collaborating to provide $100 SAVE cards to people needing emergency assistance. Every dollar counts for someone who has just lost their home in an earthquake or fire. You can donate to the California Fire Foundation here. They’ll allocate to your money to SAVE, or one of their other aid programs for Californian’s effected by fires or natural disasters.

Other Options

My friend Elaine Brown of Wakawkawinereviews.com, who spent a lot of time helping in the community during the aftermath, also suggests these agencies for your donations:
Aldea Children & Family Services
Red Cross Napa Valley Chapter

If you, or someone you know, is in need of assistance, please visit the Napa Valley Vintners excellent listing of community resources here.

If you know of other means of contributing, please provide details in the comments section below.

Disclaimer: Neither I nor NorCalWine.com are affiliated in any way with the people or entities listed above. I don’t endorse any one of these over the others, nor do I have any control over how or when your donations might be allocated by these parties. I, like you, am trusting that it will be done appropriately.

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for wine news, information on events and more, or friend me on Facebook. This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

An "Interview" with Roger Ebert on Wine Criticism

You probably don’t know that Roger Ebert had thoughts on wine criticism. It may have surprised Mr. Ebert too. He didn't address wine writing directly. [He was actually a recovering alcoholic, dry since 1979, and wrote well on that topic.] However, much of what he’s said and written about film criticism is directly transferrable to wine reviews.

ebert620MontyBrintonI first thought of Ebert in the context of wine criticism more than a year ago during the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. There were lengthy discussions on the nature of wine notes and the style of wine reviews, a pitched battle about how to address readers. How much reader knowledge do you assume? Are 100-point scores, or any scores, too simplistic? Are they artificially precise? Do you describe a wine or tell a story, detail the flavors or recount the drinking experience? Do capsule reviews have value? I realized that Roger Ebert had dealt, very successfully, with essentially the same issues for years.

How cool, I thought, would it be to do an email interview with him about this? That never happened. But, through his writings and interviews, I’ve been able to assemble a virtual interview pairing questions I would have asked with things he’s said relative to film. That interview makes up the latter portion of this article.

Roger Ebert vs. Robert Parker, Film vs. Wine

Wine-centric people might say Roger Ebert was the Robert Parker of movie criticism. It’s really the other way around though. Ebert preceded Parker in criticism, in gaining a national audience and in finding a way to make his work accessible to a broad base of consumers.

Both men have been champions for certain producers and genres. Both eventually supplemented their print work with alternative media, Ebert with much a greater enthusiasm and following. Roger Ebert wrote more than 40 books, his articles were widely syndicated, his television show, Sneak Previews—the most popular “entertainment” show ever on PBS—eventually went network. He embraced blogging and collected more than 800,000 followers on Twitter.

Like Parker, Ebert created a controversial, and extremely popular, new rating system that massively disrupted his industry. Ebert primarily used a four-star rating system that included half-stars. (In essence, it was an eight-point system. Zero-star ratings were reserved for films that were “beneath contempt.” Four stars were awarded to “first-rate” films.) However, he later created the even more accessible thumbs up/down system, popularized by his television shows with Gene Siskel. Thumbs resonated with consumers but enraged many of Ebert's colleagues who saw it (and the TV show) as the ultimate dumbing-down of criticism. Ebert argued, among other things, that it made film criticism much more accessible and created more film enthusiasts who would go on to want more analysis.  [See Richard Corliss and Ebert debate this subject through published articles, collected in Ebert's book, Awake in the Dark.]

Ebert knew that the “right length” for a review depends on the medium, publisher, audience, topic and audience intent. He wrote reviews of various lengths: multi-page, column and “minute reviews.” Full-length reviews allowed him to cover worthy films and their related subjects in detail and with meaningful digression. Columns suited some publishers’ needs while still providing readers with useful context. Minute reviews covered the same films and more in four or five sentences, briefly addressing plot, cast and quality. Many films got coverage of each type.

Film criticism and wine criticism have many things in common. Both have transitioned from a predominating style that was long and writerly, appealing to a small, passionate audience, to a period dominated by experts writing brief, easily digestible reviews and then to today’s world of ratings without context, aggregated scores, one-line exhortations and the notion that anyone with five senses and access to the internet is a valid a critic. The film and wine industries have grown more savvy in their media relations. Newspapers and magazines are much less willing to pay for good content and, after a decade or so of vastly expanded coverage, are reducing it drastically or going out of business entirely. Critics in both fields like to write about other critics and the state of criticism.

One might think wine and film are very different to consumers. I’m not so sure. Both have casual consumers who just want a tasty beverage or diverting flick. Both have enthusiasts longing for something challenging, a memorable experience, a spark for conversation with friends. Either way, people want to know whether the product is two hours of pleasure or a waste of time and money. And the price of either a bottle of wine or a movie for four people can easily range from $3.50 to $80, not including popcorn.

A Virtual Interview with Roger Ebert on Wine Criticism

[Change the words “movie” and “film” to “wine” as appropriate. Footnotes indicate sources.]

Fred Swan: Do you feel badly when writing negative reviews about wine?

Roger Ebert: You have to realize you're not writing for the filmmakers, you're writing for the potential film audience. And I would much rather hurt somebody's feelings who made the picture than send somebody to see a movie and spend two hours of their life seeing a move that I don’t think is worth seeing1.” [However,] what you must do is take them [the movies] seriously, and consider them worthy of your attention. You cannot be a useful critic if you dismiss them or condescend to them... If you believe a movie is good or bad or wins its audiences dishonorably, that can be a splendid beginning for a review, but you must remember that the people making it and seeing it have given up part of their lives in the hope that it would be worth those months or hours.2

FS: How do you approach wines from a region, or intentionally made in a style, to which you’re not partial?

RE: “You must be open to artistry and craftsmanship even in a movie you disagree with... It is meaningless to prefer one genre over another. Yes, I “like” film noir more than Westerns, but that has nothing to do with any given noir or Western.2

FS: What are your thoughts on wine writing heavy in jargon?

RE: "If you cannot write about it so that anyone who buys the paper has a reasonable chance of understanding it, you don’t understand it yourself.2"

FS: There seems to be an endless supply of “best lists” for wine. You’ve written a lot of lists yourself. Are these lists fair to the wines, do they really mean anything?

RE: “I avoid “best” lists whenever possible, this is a duty I fulfill. Because ranking films is silly and pointless, but gathering a list of good ones is useful.2

FS: As a critic, you’re committed to your opinions. How do you react when you get the inevitable negative comments from people who hated a wine they bought on your recommendation?”

RE: “When people write me saying they hated a movie I recommended, I am not inclined to write back telling them why they’re wrong—because they’re not wrong. You can never be wrong about your own opinion.3

FS: Critics, some in particular, are sometimes criticized for the style of wines they seem to appreciate and for giving high scores to wines that many people feel are of an inappropriate style.

RE: “As a critic, I am at the service of my personal reaction. If I laughed, I have to say so. I can’t suppress that information and lecture the filmmakers on their taste.3

FS: The internet—with blogs, user reviewer sites, message boards, Twitter and Facebook—has led to a proliferation of “critics.” How can the average wine lover tell the difference between an authoritative critic and someone merely offering well-written opinion?

RE: “The genuine critic will write in such a way as to acknowledge that he had a subjective personal experience that he wants to share with you, and which reminded him of other films or other subjects. He will wear his knowledge lightly and never presume to speak for other than himself.3

FS: You’ve talked about reviews reflecting your personal experience. Many people think wine reviews should be objective.

RE: “I have no interest in being objective or in reflecting the public’s opinion... The only critics of any use or worth are those who express their own opinions, which the readers are then free to use or ignore.3

FS: There’s often a popular backlash against critics, a complaint that reviewers have rarified tastes and don’t give good scores to mass appeal products. And then there are the “studies” that show consumers often prefer inexpensive wines to high-priced bottles in blind tastings. Should critics make recommendations based on consumer preference?

RE: “Any person who believes a critic must reflect the views of the public has not thought much about the purpose of criticism.3

FS: But you made an obvious appeal to those consumers, creating a rating system which is a vast simplification and leads people to make yes/no decisions without context.

RE: “There is a gulf between people who go to the movies (the public) and people whose lives revolve around them (critics, movie buffs, academics, people in the business). For most people with seven bucks in their pocket and an evening free there is only one question... that is relevant: Will I have a good time?... Writing daily film criticism is a balancing act between the bottom line and the higher reaches.4

FS: What are your thoughts on the the multi-tier system of wine distribution and the degree to which it limits consumer access to a broad assortment of wine?

RE: “The most depressing statistic I know about patterns in American film exhibition [...is] that an average subtitled film will take 85 percent of its box office gross out of theaters in only eight American cities and will never play in most of the others4.

 

Sources: (Page numbers not available due to Kindle format. Some of the quote appear in more than one of his books.)

1 "Fresh Air" broadcast of an onstage interview with Terry Gross and Gene Siskel, 1996

2 Roger Ebert, Ebert's Bests (Chicago Shorts), The Ebert Publishing Company, 2012

3 Roger Ebert, Questions for The Movie Answer Man, Andrews McMeel Publishing, 1997

4 Roger Ebert, Awake in the Dark, The University of Chicago Press, 2006

 

Follow NorCalWine on Twitter for breaking wine news, information on events and more. Become a fan and join the NorCal Wine community on Facebook. Also check out our comprehensive Northern California winery listings. They are very useful for planning a tasting trip or just getting in touch with a winery.

This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2013 NorCal Wine. Photo of Roger Ebert by Monty Brinton. All rights reserved.

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
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.

premiere-cheese
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.

Flora-Nelle-Blue-Cheese
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.

carmen-policy-rick-jones
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.

frank-and-tom-farella
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.

craig-camp-jeff-keene
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
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.

cathy-corison
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.

steve-devitt
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.

snowden
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.

shafers-and-eddie-murray
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-mark-herold
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-malbec2
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!

cia-bread
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.

into-the-potellie-proctor
Ellie Proctor slides massive butternut squash agnolotti into a steaming cauldron.

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

The Auction

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


koerner-rombauer
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.


mark-eaton
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.


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


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


Sold
"Sold!" says Auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski.


mustard
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 NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2012 NorCal Wine. Photos by Fred Swan. All rights reserved.