Daniel Fischl didn’t find working in laboratories particularly appealing, and whilst completing a PhD in Plant Molecular Genetics at UC Davis (California) he was introduced to viticulture and was seduced with what lay outside. It also helped that the viticulture and winemaking students seemed to have more fun. Fast forward many years of experience consulting as a viticulturist and agricultural scientist, he and his winemaker wife Michelle started the Linnaea Vineyards project with a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. As he got work consulting in vineyards around the world he and Michelle discovered more terroirs and made more wines, across a number of continents and expressions.
In my recent exploits attempting to gain employment back home in Melbourne I trialled at the now 18-year-old Punch Lane Wine Bar & Restaurant. The venue is a staple in the city centre, having been an early proponent of the now famous lane way culture here. Whilst here I met with James Dossan, a certified sommelier originally hailing from Sydney, who is managing this venue. James runs a monthly tasting group for friends who are in the industry, which includes sommeliers and wholesalers alike. Each of them has is or will study wine and thus the tastings are designed to improve everyone’s skills in analysis. A theme is chosen and each member brings a bottle to be tasted blind. Continue reading →
For the fifth year in a row, Margaret River producer Voyager Estate hosted a masterclass in Melbourne and other Australian cities to benchmark new releases of some of their wines. This was my second time at this event; one of my first entries on this blog spoke about the first time back in September of 2011, just before I left for my trip. The exercise is designed to show sommeliers, buyers and media that Voyager is very confident about the quality of their wine against exceptional examples from around the world. Showing even more hubris, they do this against their three key wines; chardonnay, shiraz and a cabernet/merlot blend. That’s serious chutzpah.
Although still part of the Napa AVA, Los Carneros is a very different beast. It is closer to San Pablo Bay so has more coastal breezes, and the fog is pushed into the Napa Valley from here. So although it is a lot cooler, there are more sunshine hours for a much more even ripening. There are two major varieties here, pinot noir and chardonnay. Countless wineries in the Napa Valley source fruit of these varieties. In fact every chardonnay I tried came from Carneros. The region feeds into the Sonoma Valley, and thus Carneros actually has feet in both Napa and Sonoma County. Hyde de Villaine is a partnership between Larry Hyde who planted his famous vineyard back in 1979 in Carneros, and Aubert de Villaine who married Larry’s first cousin Pamela, and is the winemaker at Domaine de la Romanee Conti. Their goal is to find a truly iconic and unique expression of California, and the winemaker since 2002, Stephane Vivier, is succeeding at this in spades. The winery itself is located in Napa town, but the vineyard is in Carneros. It is difficult not to compare the wines to their French counterparts, but in style they reflect their origins significantly.
My final day in the Napa Valley started with a visit to Shafer Vineyards back in the Stags Leap District. Shafer dates back to 1972, around the same time that Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars were established and before the Napa Boom post-1976 Paris Tasting. You most definitely can’t say that John Shafer was jumping on the bandwagon. He left a career in the textbook publishing industry to establish a vineyard to grow grapes, and took his time to re-establish the site before producing his first vintage in 1978. From the beginning the wines gained much attention, and they have been producing their flagship Cabernet from the same vineyard for over 25 years.
Bright and early on my second day in the Napa Valley I drove up into the Spring Mountains, hoping that the weather would improve, as my first day had been rainy and gloomy. I had corresponded with JJ McCarthy from Cain Vineyard and Winery before I left, and arranged to visit at 8:30am, so I got a really great view from a lot higher up. The Cain vineyard is at least 650m above sea level, whereas the Napa Valley floor is only about 200m, so elevation is clearly on their side. The soils on Spring Mountain are also a lot tougher, so the vines have to work harder to find water and nutrients to thrive. One of the first things I noticed were fewer and smaller bunches of fruit than in the valley floor. Tasting the fruit was thrilling, as it is the first time I can remember actually tasting terroir in grapes, and the cabernet sauvignon tasted like wine!
Interesting wine fact; California produces about 30% more wine than all of Australia. The Napa Valley is without doubt the most famous region in California. However, less than 5% of California’s production comes from the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. And yet the Napa Valley is the second most visited place in California, after Disneyland, which shows how important wine tourism is here. As previously mentioned I began contacting wineries in California before I left Australia, and those I contacted in Napa were by the far the most responsive. It was nice to have a few more appointments to fall back on, but as I was relatively unfamiliar with most wine from the Napa I didn’t know what to expect. Driving up the 29 Highway towards my first appointment you realise how important the wine business is here, with extensive and dense plantings constantly and a winery every 100m or so. No wonder they call this the Vegas of wine!
The Vincast - a Wine Podcast with The Intrepid Wino
Wine - Wine People - Wine Culture
A podcast about wine, wine culture and wine people. Every week a different guest from the wine industry joins host The Intrepid Wino (aka James Scarcebrook) for a casual chat about the world of wine.
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All content on this website, including text, images, audio and video, remains the sole property of the author unless otherwise acknowledged and appropriately credited. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of content without express and written permission from the author is strictly prohibited. Content may be used for reproduction provided that full and clear credit is given to James Scarcebrook and/or The Intrepid Wino with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.