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Friday, 25 January 2013 18:36

December 14, 2012 Wine Pick of the Week

The Vineyard House logo Picmonkey

 

2008 The Vineyard House

 

Cabernet Sauvignon

 

Producer: The Vineyard House

Appellation: St. Helena (Napa)

Alcohol: ?

Suggested Retail: $200

“Though this wine is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon (85%), the balance of its composition is from Cabernet Franc (6%), Merlot (6%) and Petit Verdot (3%).

“The Vineyard House Cabernet is the creation of Jeremy Nickel, son of the late Gil Nickel of Far Niente, Dolce and Nickel & Nickel renown. While $200 might seem a shocking price for such a recent entry to Napa's cult wine derby, The Vineyard House isn't overpriced by the standards of that club, nor of first-growth Bordeaux.

“This wine is voluptuous. Deep and rich aromas of Cabernet fill the nose. There's a whisper of pepper and brown spice here. Traditional Cabernet flavors reminiscent of cassis and blackberry predominate with a some herbal notes in background. The lush finish seems just a little bit sweet—no doubt more due to the 50% new oak than any residual sugar. If your habit is to spend two hundred bucks on a bottle of wine, this is a worthy candidate for your money. Though the 2008 Vinyeard House did taste wonderful in December of 2012, it really should be cellared for a few years so to approach its potential.”

Food affinity: It demands something special. Maybe a lamb dish cooked very slowly so that it's flavor is fully developed and is a match for the power of The Vineyard House.

(Editor's note: These observations from a very special tasting of Inglenook wines first appeared in our electronic pages in 2002. They remain relevant today as Francis Ford Coppola, a man with an appreciation for history, has continued to acquire Napa Valley vineyards that supplied grapes to this icon of California wine. In 2011 he bought back the Inglenook trademark so that he could use it for the highest quality line in his winery operation. Readers can learn about the resurrection of the fabled Inglenook brand at Historic Inglenook Estate to Release First Wine with Classic Label)

 

By Dan Clarke

Inglenook 1941 Cab MEDThe legendary 1941 

For all the mystique about older wines, not many of us really have much first-hand experience with them. Not even wine writers.

In the modern world most wines are purchased shortly after they are released. The red wines of Bodeaux and their American counterparts (comprised mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot) go on sale about three years after their grapes were crushed. Those of us who write about wine spend an awful lot of time tasting, analyzing and pontificating about these new vintages. Often we predict which ones will age well, though we may not have extensive experience with their previous editions. It is expected of us.

So while we spend most of our time tasting new wine, we love to sample older vintages. Doing so validates (or refutes) our predictions. The exercise usually involves wines five or ten years old, at times somewhat older.

Last Friday I was privileged to experience vinous history. The Niebaum-Coppola Estate occupies the property that once was home to Inglenook. Francis Ford Coppola didn’t have to inherit the mantle of greatness of the legendary Napa Valley property (interim corporate entities squandered that opportunity in the 1960s and 70s), but he chose to do so. He believes that the glory that was Inglenook’s is the heritage he continues in his Rubicon wines. Since 1974 he has been purchasing segments of the original historic Niebaum Estate, home of Inglenook wines, and after extensive restoration, winemaking returned to the original chateau with his 2002 crush for Rubicon.

John Daniel Jr. was the name associated with the glamour years of Inglenook—the decades of the 30s, 40s and 50s. He was known as a man who never stinted in the pursuit of quality. He made what must have been a difficult decision to sell the winery in 1964. Things were never the same. After a very few years the emphasis went to lower prices points and larger production. Today the name Inglenook still appears, but only on cheap jug wines.

About 70 of us participated in the Inglenook tasting and the Rubicon dinner that followed. Our host was there, of course, as were his wife Eleanor and son Roman. Others from Niebaum-Coppola tasted with us. There was a clear link to the past in the presence of Robin Lail and her husband Jon. Robin is the daughter of John Daniel and continues the legacy in her own way with the John Daniel Cuvée from Lail Vineyards. Some television people were there and I recognized fellow wine writers Dan Berger, George Starke and Alan Goldfarb, among others. We were part of a fortunate group.

The tasting included seven Cabernet Sauvignons spanning four decades. We began with the youngest wine, the last one made on John Daniel’s watch, a 1963. We concluded with the first Inglenook wine to celebrate the repeal of the Volstead Act, the 1933 vintage. Master Sommelier Larry Stone supervised the uncorking and decanting of the wines. Because of the size of our group, not all of us had samples from the same bottles, of course. Variation from bottle to bottle could mean different tasting experiences. My observations seemed to be more-or-less similar to several of my colleagues. Quantification of the experience wasn’t the point, though. You don’t count beans when you’re experiencing history.

I would have loved it if every friend who really appreciates wine could have shared the table with us at last Friday’s tasting. Since that wasn’t possible I’ll provide the harvest notes we were given for each vintage (as taken from the writings of Charles Sullivan, Stephen Brook, Michael Broadbent and James Laube), as well as my own thoughts:

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, C-3,

Napa Valley 1963, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “A very wet rainy season was followed by lots of frost and a cool summer. September was cool and foggy. The early October rain hit with 50 percent of the crop unharvested. There was a race to get grapes in, and pickers were scarce. Last vintage under John Daniel family ownership. The Napa Valley Wine Library was formed. A record year for California wine production.”

 

This wine is nearly 40 years old. Thinking of it as John Daniel’s last wine brings a little sadness, which is amplified by realizing that the grapes were crushed the month before Jack Kennedy was assassinated. I wonder if I have ever tasted this wine and the 1958 and 1959 vintages that will come next. It’s certainly possible, but that would have been a long time ago. When the fraternity party invitation read B.Y.O.B., I tended to drink Almaden Mountain Burgundy, not a bad wine and, at $1.25 affordable for a college boy. But it was not Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, J-6,

Napa Valley, 1959, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “A dry year with a scorching summer. St. Helena hit 111 degrees on July 10th. The vintage started on August 28th and was rapid and fairly orderly. Hot weather cut crop, but yields were satisfactory. A huge September 17th rain frightened growers, but excellent weather followed. Very hot in Napa, but some memorable cabernets. Napa wine production was 5,752,000 gallons with an average grower price of $67.38. Vineyardists earned $201 income per bearing acre.”

 

I’m relieved to find that this wine is still vibrant. If not youthful, it certainly isn’t over the top. It was a great nose, with minty, menthol/eucalyptus aromas. This is a wine that makes you sit up and take notice.

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Cask, F-10,

Napa Valley, 1958, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “Vintage was early and orderly. Warm weather lasted into November. An extremely good vintage for Cabernet Sauvignon. The number of wineries declined from 38 to 30 since 1951. Prices went back up, with national wine consumption rising steadily.”

 

Less minty than the ’59, but fine Cabernet aroma. This wine is wonderfully balanced and has a long finish. An elegant wine. (Might I have had it before? Maybe in the early ‘60s on a special date at Restaurant Antoinina or while looking for sophistication on trips to San Francisco as a college student).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1943, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “Winemakers of the era considered 1943 only ‘good.’ Vineyardists left monumental numbers of buds on their vines, making 1943 the largest vintage here since 1888. In 1943 the wine list of New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel contained twenty-eight table wines from Napa producers. A decision was made by founding fathers (Martini, Tchelistcheff, Daniel, Abruzzini, Stelling, Stralla, Forni, the Mondavis and Brother John) to meet regularly and discuss matters important to Napa wine, be they technical, financial, cultural or gastronomic. Martini was the first president and Daniel the first vice president. They were most concerned about government price controls on grape prices. Later, in 1983, the group became a formal trade organization, the Napa Valley Vintner’s Association.”

 

The 1943 is a little dimmer than the ’58, but still remarkably good. It smells and taste like an old Bordeaux. (This vintage is a year older than I am--and maybe in better shape?).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1941, 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “The 1941 vintage was almost featureless, except that Napa producers made several great wines . . . the Inglenook Cabernets . . . were fifty-year wines. Some great wine, notably Inglenook Cask. Heavy spring rain, ten cold days, bloom delayed. Very warm summer. Dry autumn, late October harvest. Napa wine production was 5,288,000 gallons with an average price per ton of $24.50.”

 

The wine still has good color and composition, but not a lot of nose. It’s still an elegant wine, though, with a very long finish. (For years I’ve heard about the California vintage of 1941, but hadn’t the opportunity to taste it until now. What a treat! It would have been wonderful to track this wine all through its history, maybe tasting a bottle every year or two. I wonder if anyone has been able to do that? No matter. I have experienced this 61-year-old wonder this evening).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1934, 375 ml and 750 ml

 

Harvest Notes “The vintage . . . was of good quality . . . Good quality. Independent vineyardists organized to form the first cooperative winery. Grape prices collapsed from 1933 euphoric heights.”

 

These last two wines are in very short supply tonight. Vintages poured prior to this provided a small glass for each taster. Each glass of the 1934 and the next wine must be shared by two tasters. Color is very dark, dense. The first whiff and the nose seems unusual. The aroma reminds me of knockwurst, a word I’ve never used in describing wine. The first sip reveals a taste much better than the odor might have hinted. Later sniffs reveal some floral odors—maybe a little bit like violets. It gets nicer as it goes along. Not a long finish, but what ’34 does? (At harvest time my father was running cross country during his senior year at San Mateo High School).

 

 

Inglenook Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

Napa Valley, 1933, 375 ml

 

Harvest Notes “The Napa Valley crop was very short and 5,000,000 gallons of wine were produced. The weather for harvesting grapes was ideal—reported in mid October. First harvest after prohibition.”

 

All of the 1933 tastes and some of the 1934 have been poured from ½ bottles. Accepted wisdom is that the larger the bottle, the slower and more gracefully the wine will age, but these bottles were what was available. Would the wines have tasted different/better if they had come from larger bottles? The point is moot, of course, but I can’t imagine wines this old tasting any better or more youthful. This wine is still remarkably young in appearance. There seems to be a little subtle spice in the background—not a characteristic normally attributed to this variety, but I find it pleasant. It finishes nicely and very long. (My mother was in junior high school in Medford, Oregon at harvest time. No doubt her father was pleased about the end of Prohibition, though it didn’t cramp his style too much according to most family recollections).

 

Editor's note: Links to the websites of hundreds of lodging and dining options in the Napa Valley and the rest of the North Coast can be found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

 

Friday, 20 April 2012 13:58

"Maestro" Honored by Wine Industry

(Editor's note: This article originally appear in 2002, when the author was privileged to attend a dinner honoring California's greatest winemaker.)

 

by Dan Clarke

 

André Tchelistcheff monument photo EVEN SMALLER Tchelistcheff monument now at BV. Photo by Creative Common.André Tchelistcheff may have been the most significant figure in the history of American wine.

The Russian born and French trained winemaker immigrated to the United States in 1938, beginning a lifelong association with Beaulieu Vineyard (BV). Though he died eight years ago at age 92, friends and colleagues said his presence was still felt at a tribute held in his honor Monday evening, the 5th of August at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, California. Dubbed “the Maestro” by the late Beaulieu executive Legh Knowles, Tchelistcheff served continuously as BV’s winemaker from 1938 to 1973. After some years consulting for other American wineries he returned to conclude his career at Beaulieu Vineyard where he served as mentor to Joel Aiken, now vice president of winemaking for the firm.

Aiken and André’s widow, Dorothy, provided one of the celebration’s many highlights when they unveiled a bronze statue of the legendary winemaker. The likeness will be on display for a year-and-a-half at the culinary school before it is moved a few miles southward to its permanent home at Beaulieu Vineyard in Rutherford. It was created by noted sculptor William Behrends, whose spot-on bronze of Willie Mays concluding his swing greets baseball fans arriving at the San Francisco Giants’ Pac Bell Park.

Following the statue’s unveiling, 125 guests ascended the stairs to partake in a spectacular Barrel Room dinner and enjoy music provided by the Napa Valley Symphony and performers from the Russian National Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera company.

Though Beaulieu is probably best known for its Cabernet Sauvignon wines, in particular the Georges de Latour Private Reserve, the winery has also made wonderful Pinot Noirs and that variety may have been André Tchelistcheff’s favorite. The occasion was chosen as an appropriate time for the debut of the 2000 Maestro Pinot Noir, which was one of eight wines served during the evening.

Andre SMALLAndre draws red wine sample from barrel.

As master of ceromonies for the evening, Joel Aiken introduced a parade of luminaries who spoke of their own memories of the beloved André Tchelistcheff. John DeLuca of the California Wine Institute recalled cementing an early friendship with him, in part because of his State Department background when he had served in the Soviet Union in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. Congressman Mike Thompson remembered the high regard his mother had for André during the years she worked as his secretary at BV.

Several of California’s best winemakers from more recent generations including Marco Capelli, Michael Martini, Allison Green Doran, Jill Davis Metzger and Rob Davis, spoke warmly of the nurturing presence André Tchelistcheff had on their careers. Two said that, had it not been for his influence, they wouldn’t have continued their fledging careers as winemakers.

About halfway through the evening a colleague across the dinner table from me commented, “it really doesn’t get any better than this.” At that moment I think he was referring to the food and the wine, but the remark would have been fair comment about any and all aspects of the celebration. It was a very special time. Nothing less would have been appropriate.

 

 

 

A Tribute to André Tchelistcheff

 

Monday, August 5, 2002

 

Culinary Institute of America at Greystone

St. Helena, California

 

 

Smoked Salmon on Buttered Brioche Planks

with Lemon Tarragon Mayonnaise

Prawns Wrapped with Prosciutto

Dried Black Olive and Caramelized Onion Pizettas

Beaulieu Vineyard 1992 Sparkling Brut Reserve

Beaulieu Vineyard 2001 Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

Maryland Crab and Scallop Mousse

Served with Cucumber Ribbons, Melon Cream

and Sweet Basil Oil

Beaulieu Vineyard 2000 Reserve Chardonnay

 

 

Mahogany Glazed Breast of Muscovy Duck

served with a Pinot Noir Reduction Sauce,

Gargantuan White Beans, Rosemary and Olive Oil

Beaulieu Vineyard 1992 and 2000 Maestro Pinot Noir

 

 

Roast Rack of Lamb with Mint Demi Glace

served with a Fine Ratatouille, Mint and Basil

Beaulieu Vineyard 1970 Georges de Latour

Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon

Beaulieu Vineyard 1994 Clone 6 Cabernet Sauvignon

 

 

Poached Apricots and Apricot Mousse

in an Almond Tuille Basket served with Caramel Sauce

Muscat de Beaulieu

 

 

Menu designed by

Chef Elaine Bell

 

 

Editor's Note: A link to the website of Beaulieu Vineyard, as well as links to all the other Napa Valley wineries, will be found in Taste California Travel's Resource Directory. Also in the Directory as links to hundreds of lodging and dining options in the North Coast region.

Friday, 20 April 2012 13:54

Harvest '90

(Editor’s note: The following essay appeared in the November 1990 edition of the California Wine Press and has been rerun in California Wine and Food. In some ways the world has changed since then—wages have risen and the price of top-quality wines has, too--but the hand picking of winegrapes remains much the same.)

 

By Dan Clarke

 

They start to gather in the darkness. It’s still a little chilly and most are wearing light jackets or wool plaid overshirts. Later they will peel these off and work in tee-shirts.

Bancroft20Ranch July09 PPT Friday SMAll 18 MayMerlot vines on rolling hills of Bancroft Vineyard. Photo by Chuck O'Rear. Bancroft Vineyard is on the top of Howell Mountain a few miles to the east of St. Helena in the heart of the Napa Valley. Here at 1800 feet elevation it’s usually cooler in the morning than on the valley floor.

Simon, Ruben and Ignacio are among the first out of the bunkhouse. A few minutes later Leopoldo—“Polo”—joins them. These men live at the vineyard pretty much year ‘round. They have families in Mexico they haven’t seen since they came up in January to begin the pruning. Within a week after harvest is completed they will be on the way back to El Llano, their home in Michoacan. It’s a difficult life and they work hard for their six to eight dollars an hour wages. At home they might make that for a whole day—when they could find work.

Headlights coming up the drive announce the arrival of more pickers. Most of them are from Mexico, but are living in the wine country now. Two crews will be working today with about 10 pickers each. Gringos don’t pick grapes. Oh, they can and sometimes do just for the experience or to augment the Mexicans’ work, but the fact is, they’re not very good at it. There will be others working today, men and women without Latin surnames who will drive tractors, help pickers dump bins of grapes into the gondolas, and remove “MOG” (material other than grapes).

Everybody pretty much knows what the group is going to do and what his role in the day’s activities will be, but there is an air of anticipation; an excitement and maybe a little tension. The feeling could be likened to the feeling shortly before kickoff of a football game or backstage just before the curtain goes up.

Joaquin Villanueva, the foreman, confers with vineyard manager Jon Seibel and then speaks to the pickers in Spanish. There is the sound of machinery everywhere. Two Ford pickup trucks leave the staging area, taking the pickers out to the vineyard. Four Kubota diesel tractors leave, too, pulling empty blue gondolas on the low trailers behind them.

Most farm work is done for wages, but this is different. Harvest means piece work and the chance to earn $100—maybe $150 a day. Each person shares evenly in the money his crew will earn today. The first half hour or so, picking is done in only a half-light and care must be taken not to include any clusters of “second crop”—grapes that begin their growth after the majority do. These may look mature, but they’re not. Their characteristic shine or slight luminescence can’t easily be picked out until the sun gets over the pine trees adjacent the vineyard. Now and for the next couple of hours the packers are literally running. They scurry from vine to vine, looping around each other until their trays are filled, then run to the gondola which usually precedes them down the row about twenty to thirty yards ahead. Later, fatigue will slow them a bit, but now they run toward the gondola, usually dumping their bins themselves if they are working in the same row as the tractor. If they’re in a row adjacent, they’ll hand the bins to helpers who attend the tractor and gondola—under the vines or over them. The helpers this day are tall Anglos who can usually take the tray over the vines more easily than they can bend to the level where the Mexicans are to pick the tray up. Occasionally, Arriba!  is heard and a picker sends his bin flying over the vines and right into the goldola. We retrieve the empty bin and send it back at him. This throwing of the bin may be thought to conserve time and, when it’s done accurately, probably does. There’s a macho element to it, though, and I can’t deny that for men who weigh maybe 130 pounds to press 40 to 50 pounds of grapes overhad then fling them over the vines and directly into the gondola is pretty impressive athletically. As the day warms, this practice wanes as does the running.

BER Vyd Picker Bancroft PPT SMALL Friday 18 MayPicking is hard work, but the pay is good.

Picking fast and picking cleanly is imperative, but is not easy to do. Leaves are sometimes cut along with grape clusters and must be minimized before the load goes to the winery. The tall helpers stoop over the gondolas, working furiously to remove leaves and anything else that’s not grapes. Each gondola holds about two tons and as one fills, it must leave the vineyard row and be replaced immediately by another tractor with empty gondola. Filling each gondola takes about 45 minutes and care must be taken to periodically level the load and gently pack down the grapes, otherwise the gondola will overflow without acquiring its required two tons.

Whether picking or packing, handling ripe grapes gets the hands sticky. Loaders and packers will rinse off occasionally in water from the orange cylinder kept on or near each tractor. Pickers will use the same water source for drinking but don’t seem to have time to wash off. When loaded, the tractor and gondola will be driven back to the area in front of the bunkhouse and shop where Javier will weigh the grapes and load them onto a large flatbed trailer. Later, this trailer will be towed down eight miles of steep and windy road to Beringer.

Nature, good viticultural practices and maybe a bit of luck along the way have combined to produce exceptional red wine grapes from this vineyard. Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc from another section at Bancroft are picked for Beringer’s Private Reserve, but this Merlot is regarded as something really special. At the end of the year Beringer will release its first-ever Merlot, designated as “Bancroft Ranch.” The price is projected to be $27 a bottle on release for the 1987 vintage. Who knows how much the Merlot grapes picked today will be worth when they are available in bottle in three years? Perhaps this is a question only writers ponder. (Editor’s note: The Beringer Winery currently sells Bancroft Ranch Merlot at $90.)

Around noon people begin to wonder if we are close to finishing. Today, Beringer Winemaster Ed Sbragia says he wants 24 tons. The pickers are tired, but they’d rather continue deep into the afternoon and are disappointed to find that the winery can only accommodate the 12 gondolas of grapes today.

Disappointment is tempered by the exhilaration of knowing that relaxation is just a few minutes away as some ride in from the vineyard clinging to the last full gondolas, others standing in the back of a stake-bed pickup. A few minutes to rinse their picking bins and themselves and then quickly to the iced tub of sodas and Budweiser.

About seven hours ago I thought the atmosphere resembled that preceding an athletic contest and now, sitting under a tree and savoring the second beer, I feel like I used to when peeling off tape in a locker room and looking forward to a shower.

Fifty yards to the north and out in the sun is the big trailer with 12 gondolas of our grapes. Better to stay away from them now as the bees are attracted to their sweet stickiness. It’s nice to relax and gaze at them. They’re a very tangible record of our labors today. In an hour they’ll be gone and in two hours they’ll begin to be dumped into a stemmer/crusher at Beringer and its stainless steel augur will continue the work of helping fruit reach its highest expression.

And tomorrow before dawn we’ll begin again.

 

Editor's note: Links to websites of all the Napa Valley wineries, as well as hundreds of lodging and dining options in the North Coast, are found at Taste California Travel's Resource Directory.

 

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