In lieu of our regularly scheduled programming, I thought this week I would write about our two-day excursion to the Napa Valley, offered in conjunction with UNLV’s Vine to Wine class.
We left Las Vegas bright and early on Thursday morning, so that by the time we arrived in Sacramento it was just after 9 a.m. and we had the full day ahead of us. We boarded our spacious bus and headed southwest to Napa Valley, arriving early enough to get lunch at Oakville Grocer, a gourmet sandwich and cheese shop where we could picnic out on the back patio. At the risk of getting carried away and making this entire blog post about the weather, I’ll simply say that August in Napa is delightful – easily the best I’ve felt all year.
One thing we had learned from class is that the most elegant, expressive wines come from vines grown on hills. To put it in terms we Las Vegans can relate to, planting grapes on a flat, valley surface is akin to letting them go hog-wild at the buffet. Nutrients are easy to come by, making for grapes that are fat and happy but that also may be one dimensional and less complex. Grape vines planted up in the foothills are required to dig deeper into the ground for nutrients and struggle to find food and water. While not as much fun as gorging on the fertile soil like their valley counterparts, this hardiness shapes their character and makes them all the more balanced and unique tasting when they end up in your glass.
Our first stop was at David Arthur Vineyards, located high on the famed Pritchard Hill on the eastern side of Napa Valley. The vineyard was situated at an altitude of 1,200 feet, which is an ideal growing climate for their signature varietal: Cabernet Sauvignon. After being welcomed with a taste of refreshing Chardonnay, we followed the winemaker, Nile Zacherle, out to the vineyards to inspect some of the beautiful mountain fruit ourselves. The technical expertise displayed by Nile was second to none, and you could tell that extreme care was taken to yield the highest-quality fruit. We tasted the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages of their Cab to demonstrate the how weather and climate can influence flavor, even when the varietal is the same. We were lucky enough to sample their signature “Elevation 1147” wine, a truly premium product made completely on the estate. And perhaps best of all, the very friendly proprietor, David (Arthur) Long, stopped into our tasting to say hi, and we all felt like we were basically related to him by the end of our chat.
With that, we were off to Caymus Vineyards, a family-owned winery located in Rutherford. However, don’t let the phrase “family-owned” fool you; This place had impressive scale, producing around 65,000 cases per year. In addition to the Caymus signature line, which is known for its incredible “big Napa cab” style, they produce several other brands such as Meiomi, Belle Glos, Mer Soleil and, perhaps the best recognized, Conundrum. Our group got a behind-the-scenes tour of the winery, where we saw how the grapes were harvested and aged. Jenny Wagner, the daughter of Caymus’ proprietor Chuck Wagner, was kind enough to join us for a bit, even letting us sneak a sample from the tank of her new line of Sauvignon Blanc that will be bottled this month. Unlike a New Zealand-style sauvignon with its high acidity and vegetative notes, it tasted wonderfully balanced and even had a bit of an oak presence, which we all enjoyed. It was fun to watch Jenny work to carve out a name for herself in the Wagner family tradition, and I can’t wait to pick up a bottle in early 2014 when it’s released under the Emmolo brand.
With two great winery experiences under our belt, we relaxed and recharged at The Kitchen Door in downtown Napa for dinner. We enjoyed a family-style meal and, of course, the bottles we purchased from the wineries that day added to the experience.
Click here to read more about day two of our Napa trip.