Napa

Region Profile: Howell Mountain

Regional Spotlight: Howell Mountain

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 28th, 2013

Howell Mountain Vines

Howell Mountain Vines

Just east of downtown Napa, the small area of Coombsville was recently designated as Napa Valley’s 16th subregional AVA. Each of Napa’s subregions is distinct, showcasing a unique climate and combination of soils, perfectly reflected in the wines. At the same time, Napa’s patchwork of AVAs provides a window into the valley’s diversity, belying the misconception that the region is homogenous.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Napa Valley’s first subregional AVAs. The first to be designated entirely within Napa Valley was Howell Mountain. With its unique attributes, it it’s no surprise that the mountain was the first to be distinguished from other appellations. Altitude is what makes Howell Mountain so distinctive – grapes must be grown above 1400 feet in elevation to be eligible for its AVA status. This altitude lies above the morning fog layer that covers the valley floor, allowing for more sunshine during the day. This also allows for cooler average temperatures, often up to ten degrees lower than down the slopes, which preserves vital acidity. (more…)

Finding Silver Linings in Napa’s 2011 Playbook

Finding Silver Linings in Napa’s 2011 Playbook

Post by Chuck Hayward | March 5th, 2013

Tim Mondovi gets interviewed about the 2011 vintage

Tim Mondavi gets interviewed about the 2011 vintage

Each February, The Napa Valley Vintners Association hosts the Premiere Napa Valley Auction, which has quickly turned into a “must attend” event for the wine industry. Intended as a fund raiser for the marketing and educational efforts of the Vintners Association, the week’s activities provide an array of events, connecting the entire wine trade with the wineries of Napa Valley. The highlight for most of us in the trade is the opportunity to taste barrel samples of the wines up for auction.

The lead-up to the weekend auction is complemented with educational seminars on Napa’s soils and subregions for wine industry professionals from across the globe. Even more important is the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers held at Meadowood during the same week. The conclave brings aspiring and professional wine writers together to talk about the nuances of writing about the grape. You’ll often find yourself rubbing elbows with guest lecturers at the barrel tastings following the symposium. This year saw Decanter’s Guy Woodward and Steven Spurrier walking through the barrel room of the old Christian Brothers Winery. (more…)

Winery Profile: Iron Horse Vineyards

Winery Profile: Iron Horse Vineyards

Post by Chuck Hayward | December 27th, 2012

Iron Horse

Entrance to Iron Horse Vineyards

In preparing JJ Buckley’s Champagne Report, we wrestled with the decision to keep the focus on wines from that famous region, or open it up and include other sparklers, especially those from California. In the end, we decided to restrain ourselves, but not without some measure of protest from long-time friend Joy Sterling, proprietor of one of California’s iconic producers of sparkling wines, Iron Horse Vineyards. So as I wrapped up work on our latest report, I took the opportunity to dig deeper into our local fizz market in order to gain some perspective.

Sparkling wine has a long tradition in California, with Korbel having the distinction of being the first winery to produce bubbly back in the 1880s. And like the wineries that produced still wine in the pre-Prohibition heyday, the state was also blessed with many sparkling wine producers. But the arrival and aftermath of Prohibition along with a federal tax scheme that appraises sparkling wine at three times the rate of still wine left few domestic producers making bubbly between 1930 and 1970.    (more…)

From Cubicle to Crush Pad

From Cubicle to Crush Pad

Post by Chuck Hayward | September 19th, 2012

If you read enough catalogs from wine retailers and journalists, it’s likely you’ve seen articles about their visits to wineries as they explore wine regions across the globe. And while certainly an industry perk, these visits really are to the advantage of both the participant and the consumer. It’s important for the trade to get a better understanding of the wines they sell and it’s always good for the reader to enjoy a visit, even if it is only vicariously.

But it’s one thing to visit and taste. It’s altogether a different thing to take time off to actually make wine. And that’s what a few members of JJ Buckley’s wine staff are planning to do in the upcoming weeks. Not for the faint of heart, this means long days of physical labor, dragging hoses and picking at grapes. Early mornings, groggy and tired from hard work, combined with the after-effects of long nights spent tasting wine and unwinding with co-workers. Any romance about making wine disappears as bees and snakes lurk in picking bins in a cellar that reeks of smelly yeast and fermenting grapes.

But trust me – I can’t think of any place I’d rather be. (more…)

2011 Napa Vintage Preview with a Glance Back at California Futures

2011 Napa Vintage Preview with a Glance Back at California Futures

Post by Chuck Hayward | July 24th, 2012

California Cabernet Society’s Annual Barrel Tasting

The annual Bordeaux futures campaign attracts unparalleled attention, and there are many who feel the hoopla that surrounds it is undeserved. But it cannot be denied that en primeur focuses the attention of critics and merchants across the globe on the qualities of the vintage at hand. Interestingly, the lack of a futures program for California wines means they collectively escape the spotlight that Bordeaux wines enjoy (or rather endure, in the case of the 2011s). Instead, information about the latest vintage of California wines tends to come out bit by bit from those few critics who actually have access to winemakers and their cellars. However, it wasn’t always that way…

ANCIENT HISTORY

As the market for California cabernet became more serious in the mid-1980s, many wineries began to emulate the way Bordeaux presented new vintages to the press and the market. Recognizing that consumers were becoming increasingly familiar with the en primeur system for Bordeaux, and at the same time taking advantage of Robert Parker’s increasing influence in the California cabernet segment of the wine industry, MacArthur Beverages, a Washington D.C. retailer, held the first ever California futures tasting for their clients in 1985. Over the next few years, Parker attended the event as well and published his assessments of the unfinished wines while also offering practical advice to consumers interested in purchasing domestic wine futures. (more…)