Tuesday, September 27, 2016

There's No Place like Napa!

There’s something so special about being in Napa during harvest. The fork lifts are moving at full speed on the crush pads, lifting tons of freshly picked fruit in bins. The winemakers are gleaming with pride as everyone around is tasting the grapes and complimenting their perfect pick. Vineyard workers are glowing as they are witnessing the fruit of their hard labor, literally. The smell of fermentation sweeps over the valley as aficionados and novices alike gather to pay homage to the most wonderful time of the year- harvest.

The first winery visit this trip was at Truchard Vineyards in Carneros, where we were welcomed with open arms by three generations of Truchard family at their estate. Our journey there came full circle as we started with glass of beautiful Roussanne and ended gratefully with their unique Roussanne botrytis. Botrytis requires a certain growing condition of high humidity and moderate temperatures that allow for the growth of the mold, botrytis cinera. This “noble rot” is a rare and highly prized late harvest wine. We finished our lunch and were joined by vineyard founder, Tony Truchard on the crush pad as we tasted the perfectly ripe syrah they had just brought in that morning. Truchard Vineyards is the perfect example of a grower’s passion for farming and agriculture that goes on to make pure and humble wine.

The next morning we visited the winery of Cuvaison, whose quaint farmhouse-style guesthouse we’d been lucky enough to be accommodated in on this trip. There we overlooked our “backyard” for the weekend and admired their vineyard-driven wines. Their estate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is fueled by outstanding growing conditions as they combine sustainable methods with a perfect Carneros location, cooled by fog from the San Pablo Bay. Their wines are balanced and complex, boasting natural fruit elements with minimal manipulation.

Later we visited Frog’s Leap, where we shook the hands of their vineyard manager who has been tending to their vineyards for 25 years. He expressed to us the immense amount of labor that goes into the care of the vines. We thanked him, as the care of the vines shows brightly in the quality of their wines. Not only are Frog’s Leap wines perfect for opening upon release, but we learned firsthand by tasting their 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon that they are also extremely ageable and complex.

Our last appointment of the day took us on a windy mountain road as we carefully made our way to Sonoma. Here the elevation was high, and the views of rolling hillside vineyards were breathtaking. Before I go on, I must mention how absolutely partial I am to the Hanzell winery, as four years ago they received me for a harvest internship. I have admired their wines and the people that make them ever since! Winemakers Michael McNeill and Lynda Hanson greeted us with a tour of this historic fine wine producing property equipped with 46 acres and underground caves.

After our winery visit, Lynda Hanson invited us to see her home and browse her extensive farm filled with livestock and vegetables galore! Here we enthusiastically picked fresh vegetables off their vines and experienced farm to table quality at its finest. It was quite special to be reconnected to the people and place that gave a city girl from Miami a chance to learn about winemaking in Sonoma.

The highlight of our final day in Napa happened off of the Silverado Trail at ZD Winery. Here we had the opportunity to walk through the barrel rooms and taste through some of the 2014 and 2015 vintages. Though these wines had not completed their aging, it was evident that they were gleaming with potential. In the tank room, we tasted their freshly pressed Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Still going through fermentation, these samples showed us how much bright fruit their vineyards boasted. Our time here concluded with a very special tasting of their most unique and highly-acclaimed wine, Abacus. Abacus is a unique Cabernet using the solera system, blending 23 vintages of their Cabernet from 1992-2014. As a result, this wine combines the maturity and development with wines as old as 23 years alongside the bright youthfulness of some of their more recent vintages. This is truly the ultimate luxury blend!

As we concluded our journey through California’s wine country, we all agreed that we can’t wait for the release of the 2016 vintage. There is nothing like witnessing what our very own American soils are capable of. The California wine industry is booming and the wines are quite impressive. California is truly a unique playground for winemaking where there's a wine made for everyone and one for everyday of the week.

Until next time, Napa!