They say that when the stars are properly aligned, one can
experience a sense of magic.
This seems to be true in wine circles, too. Last week, two super stars were brought together on Pritchard Hill; the event was magical and the wines poured memorable.
The superstar winemakers were Tim Mondavi, the driving force behind Continuum, a new winery project atop Pritchard Hill, in the eastern hills of Napa Valley, and Cinzia Merli, proprietor of Le Macchiole, in the Bolgheri wine region of Tuscany.
Le Macchiole, which means, “the place where it was at the beginning,” is considered one of the top wine estates in the world.
Cinzia was in Napa Valley – her first visit here – to promote her wines and to get a personal tour of Tim’s new project. Napaman was the only journalist present.
With a small group of wine industry colleagues, we walked Tim’s highest vineyard, at 1600-feet elevation, and afterward, dusted rocky red volcanic soil off our shoes. We talked about the many things, which Tim and Cinzia have in common:
+ Their passion for Cabernet Franc
+ Their common Italian heritage
+ Their drive for wine perfection – they like their wines soft, silky, balanced and elegant.
There’s not a lot to see just yet on the crest of Pritchard Hill, where Tim Mondavi (with map) and Marcia Mondavi (listening to Tim explain the contours of the property to assembled guests) are plotting World Domination through Wine, relying on Cab Franc as their secret weapon.
Tim, his five children, and his sister Marcia, are all part of the Continuum story. They chose the name for their new winery project because it perfectly describes the family’s progression in Napa Valley – from wine-makers (grandfather), to wine-makers (father) to wine-makers (Tim) to wine-makers (his children have various roles at Continuum). You get the family picture?
Tim’s first wine under the Continuum label was a 2005 release, made mostly with fruit from the To Kalon Vineyard from the Robert Mondavi winery, where Tim was head wine-maker for several decades.
But now that Tim and his family have acquired two parcels on Pritchard Hill, bringing their holding to 64 plantable acres, they will rely more heavily on their own vines going forward to produce generously ripe fruit.
“The blend for Continuum will always be Cabernet Sauvignon (50 to 60 percent), Cabernet Franc (15 to 20 percent) and the balance Petite Verdot. We do not use any Merlot or Malbec in our blend,” notes Tim.
By contrast, the Macchiole cuvee called Paleo is always 100 percent Cabernet Franc. As a consequence, the essence of this grape is more pronounced in Cinzia’s wine than in Tim’s. But both wine-makers profess an undying love for Cab Franc, largely for its ability to make a structured, age-worthy wine resplendent with plush, silken tannins.
Tim’s love-affair with Cab Franc began in the late 1990s while he was making the wines at Tenuta Dell’Ornellaia, a Tuscan winery, in which his father, Robert, had bought an interest from Lodovico Antinori.
After s brief period, the Mondavi family bought all outstanding shares in the Tuscan winery, requiring Tim to head to Italy many more times. During this period, he says, he realized just how good a blending grape Cab Franc can be.
“The wineries in Bolgheri (the Tuscan region where Ornellaia and Macchiole are located) are famous on the world stage for their Cabernet Sauvignon, “ says Tim. “But having produced many vintages there, I began to realize that what they grow that is REALLY special is…Cabernet Franc.”
Tim continues: “I intend to inch up the percentage of Cab Franc in Continuum in years to come. Like Bolgheri, Napa Valley is known for its Cabernet Sauvignon, but I believe the soils and elevation of our vines at Continuum will permit us to make a profound wine relying on a core of Cab Franc.”
“Profound” is a good word choice. Many of Tim’s Pritchard Hill neighbors make profound wines, so one suspects, he may, too. His neighbors include Chappellet, Ovid, David Arthur, Colgin and Bryant Family. Not a dud among them.
Following a morning tour of the Continuum vineyards on Pritchard Hill, we returned to St. Helena where we had lunch on the patio at Martini House. Cinzia’s 2000 and 2005 Le Macchiole Paleo wines, and her dreamy 2005 Messorio (100% Merlot) were served. For taste comparison with the Paleo wines, we were served the 2006 Continuum.
All of these wines compelled me to write colorful tasting notes, in which the words “silk,” “silken,” and “silky” cropped up more times than I have used in a year of wine reviewing.
For readers wishing to try these wines, they can be found at a retail shops across America. Continuum generally retails for $140/bottle and Le Macchiole Paleo for $125.
Not cheap, but production is limited and demand is – like the elevation of Continuum’s vineyards – high.