One of the valley’s highly sought, hard-to-get trade tickets is for the annual spring Taste of Oakville event, which brings together growers, winemakers, vineyard owners and the folks they’re all trying to reach – restaurant wine buyers, sommeliers, and retail wine merchants.
Napaman snagged a ticket and has the following commentary to share.
If the 2006 and 2007 mostly Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines poured today are any indication of things to come, the general wine-drinking public is in store for some mighty pleasurable drinking.
There wasn’t a dud among the 71 wines, poured by the 41 Oakville wineries on hand.
As I exited the event, held this year at the Robert Mondavi Winery, several colleagues approached, asking which were the standout wines, a typical reaction at this kind of tasting.
In truth, I no longer try to compare wines at this type of event; after tasting a few dozen wines, the only ones that stick out from the pack are aberrant wines, where the alcohol, or extraction, or oak, is so pronounced that the wine sticks out from the genuinely pretty, balanced, elegant wines.
Panelists who lead the morning MasterClass on “the commitment of ownership; From left to right, Paul Roberts, Estate Director, Bond, Ren Harris, owner Paradigm, Michael Weis, wine director, Groth, and Tom Garrett, winemaker, Detert Family Vineyards. The bowls in the foreground, filled with each winery’s respective soil, showed how soil composition changes across the appellation.
Oakville, at the epicenter of Napa Valley, is one of 15 valley sub-appellations. Oakville is a small-ish subsection but it carries a large and important historical mantle – it is where Robert Mondavi built his winery, shared his vision and created Napa Valley’s earliest and best wines, and on which the reputation of the entire valley was predicated.
At the morning MasterClass, led by four of the appellation’s highly recognized wine producers (see photo with caption, above), we learned that global warming is here, it is hot and it has been scientifically recorded.
“Between 1960 and 2010 – that’s only 50 years – the average night time temperature in Oakville in the month of April, which used to be considered a cool month, has been documented by university scientists to have jumped 5.3 degrees Fahrenheit,” Ren Harris, of Paradigm, told the assembled group.
Them’s a lot of degrees over such a short period of time, in case you needed someone to interpret what Ren said.
Several participants expressed concern about the higher degree of alcohol, which we’re seeing in many California wines today, due to higher levels of ripeness.
Paul Roberts, of Bond, answered this one: “I don’t want to appear as an ‘alcohol apologist’ but drinkers want freshness, brightness and minerality in their wine and when you make a wine with these characteristics in Napa Valley, you inherently get higher levels of alcohol.”
“Listen,” he continued, “when you look at some of the great old-world wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, there is so much complexity and minerality that the higher levels of alcohol – sometimes in the 16.6 range – are hidden. We don’t hear wine drinkers or wine writers railing against these wines; why do they single out California, or new world, wines for their sometimes elevated levels?”
“Our job is to make the best wine we can from the grapes we nurture and source; it is not to make a lower alcohol wine at the expense of diminished flavor, freshness, or minerality.”
Amen. I’m not gonna argue with this guy.
After the MasterClass, guests were joined by about 450 members of the wine trade in the Robert Mondavi barrel room. Way too many people for such a confined, narrow, angular space. That’s Bill Harlan, of Harlan Estate, in the foreground, and a multitude of glass-carrying, wine-seeking, pushing and shoving industry revelers in the background.
After the morning MasterClass, and after a sensational luncheon in Mondavi’s Vintage Room, guests re-assembled in the winery’s barrel room to taste through the wines poured by 41 wineries.
Brothers John and Tom Garrett, respectively responsible for marketing/sales and for winemaking at their family’s Detert Family Vineyards. I’m surprised the brothers fit into this small space – these guys define TALL… in fact, when their feet are planted on the ground in Oakville, their cropped heads belong in another appellation with the hillside attributes of a cooler climate.
If you’re interested in learning more about the wines of Oakville, log onto www.oakvillewnegrowers.com