(This is Part 1 of a 3-part, on-going story about this weekend’s Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Auction. Check back Friday night and Sunday for additional updates.)
Snow lovers have amassed in Vancouver, BC, for the Olympics, but no less enthusiastically, wine buyers have congregated here this weekend to cheer for their own favorite Gold medal favorite – Napa Valley wine.
More than 500 wholesalers, and retail and restaurant wine-buyers, are here to attend Premiere Napa Valley, a spirited annual trade event sponsored by Napa Valley Vintners.
While the highlight of the event is Saturday’s barrel auction of one-of-a-kind wines, for several days’ prior, guests are invited to a surfeit of parties, luncheons, buffets, dinners and barbeques, sponsored by appellation groups, or high-profile wineries.
Napaman has been invited to numerous functions, luncheons, and winery open houses. But with only one good arm at present (post-operative, rotator cuff surgery) napaman has had to be more selective than usual. Of the many Thursday events offered, I chose to attend one -- NG: The Next Generation in Wine. This informal, commercial group is composed of second- and third-generation winemakers, who are taking the reins from their successful families, aiming to keep California’s wine glut alive for at least another 25 years.
No fewer than 15 NG wineries assembled at the just-opened Farmstead Restaurant, in St. Helena to pour their newest releases. Farmstead is a stunning restaurant conceived by Ted and Laddie Hall of Longmeadow Ranch Winery, which also happens to be one of the wineries in the NG group. Farmstead opened a few nights ago.
Garrett Ahnfeldt of G Wine Cellars, made only 572 bottles of his 2006 Mt. Veeder Cabernet, which he poured at the Next Generation tasting. The wine is filled with loads of dark, ripe black currant and hints of chocolate.
Ryan Hill, whose family owns Hill Family Estate, is joined by Nicole Johnson at the Next Generation tasting; they made 365 cases of the 2007 Hill Family Estate Syrah, which Ryan says is produced from fruit grown “just behind the Walmart in American Canyon.” That’s some claim to fame! Even so, the wine is delicious.
Michael, the dad (or “Before Generation”) and James, the 29-year-old son (or “Next Generation”) Stewart, producers of Stewart Cellars. My favorite wine of the event, the 2006 Stewart Cabernet boasts fruit from three local vineyards: Stagecoach, State Lane and Crystal Springs Vineyards. The wine retails for $62 but tastes like it costs $100. This is a luscious, supple, balanced, elegant wine. I underlined “sensational” three times in my notebook. Paul Hobbs is the consulting winemaker – his efforts show.
A general observation
I thought the comments of a French-schooled winemaker, who was present at the NG event, were relevant; I commented that many of the wines I tasted were lackluster, austere, lacked fruit or elegance.
The French-trained winemaker said: “I could have predicted it. The barometer is falling and there is a storm front moving in. It’s a known thing in winemaking circles in France that wines show poorly when a storm is moving in – the barometric pressure drop has a negative effect on wine.”
Call it poppycock if you like, but Frenchmen who believe in this weather effect happen to make some of the planet’s best wines. So who are we to deny that it might be true?