Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spotlight on The Napa Valley

Finding ideal sites for making wine in California is not as easy as many believe. The Pacific coastline can be too cold for ripening grapes and the flat inland expanses can be blisteringly hot. In between the two, however, are the “baby bear” locations, those “just right” valleys with optimal soil aspects, temperatures and cooling marine breezes and fogs.

At the top of the list of California winemaking hotspots is the Napa Valley, which stretches across a tiny valley less than 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. At its narrowest point, Napa Valley is only one mile wide and in length, the entire valley is only 33 miles (in comparison, the Central Valley extends 300 miles from the San Joaquin Valley up to the Sacramento Valley). In fact, Napa only accounts for 4% of all California grape production, but ask the average citizen in Missouri or New York, and they’d likely guess otherwise.

What Napa Valley lacks in size and production, it makes up for in uncompromising quality and diversity. The fact that a series of volcanic eruptions millions of years ago left the valley with almost three dozen different soil series, belonging to eight of the world’s twelve major soil classifications, only buoys the valley’s reputation. It’s a geologic potpourri that, combined with the dozens of microclimates within the valley, has resulted in the valley’s division into 14 different sub-appellations, stretching from Carneros in the South to Diamond and Howell Mountains in the north. For the majority of Napa Valley, classic Bordeaux grapes – Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, & Petit Verdot – thrive. Carneros in the south, with its cool marine winds and shallow clay soils, is a hotbed for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Temperatures rise as you move north, and the areas around Calistoga (which is awaiting AVA approval) and even St. Helena, are prime breeding grounds for juicy, jammy Zinfandel.

The limitless possibilities for winemaking have drawn iconic winemaking and winegrowing pioneers from Robert Mondavi, Joe Heitz and Baron Phillip Rothschild to current stars like Philippe Melka, David Abreu, and Aaron Pott to this goldmine region. The wines they help create are some of the most polished and complex in the country.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Annual Burgundy Adventure

There is not a single buying trip that I enjoy more than the one to Burgundy. The place breathes wine history and is home to some of the most storied vineyards on the planet. And it’s remarkably - and refreshingly - unpretentious to boot. In glaring contrast to the moneyed interests that dominate Bordeaux, the Burgundians are multi-generational farmers who know their individual plots of land down to single vines (it’s almost scary how in tune the best growers are with their vines). The dirt roads that meander through the Route des Grands Crus and the ancient catacomb cellars beneath the village streets are as authentic as it gets, and the very essence of the romantic side of the wine business.

Before I get into my love letter to the ’09 vintage, I need to tell you about our tasting headquarters for the annual Burgundy adventure. Our home base is supposed to be kept a secret, but the people running this place need to be supported: Castel de Tres Girard. It’s the old village winery co-op of Morey-St.-Denis lovingly turned into an utterly charming hotel and restaurant. It combines an historic stone building with modern amenities and cuisine, and your room will overlook the village and vineyards. Yes, Bounty Hunter has a wine locker in the foyer. No, we didn’t get a discount for saying nice things about them.

On to the wine…
2009 is the most profound vintage of young red Burgundy that I have ever experienced. Tasting from barrel is a black art, but I have enough merit badges to know the difference between “bad,” “decent,” “maybe” and “oh(!) s$%!(!) this is good.” My tasting notes for 2009 samples involved phrases like “I want to bathe in this” and “Excellent choice for the last meal of a condemned man.” I came out of several cellars literally shaking my head in stunned silence.

There is heartbreak to be had with Burgundy for reasons that cannot be adequately enumerated here, but there is also a magic in the glass that exists nowhere else. When they get it right, everyone else is fighting for second place. When I had my first “’09 moment,” I asked my importer liaison (and palate of 25+ years of Burgundian experience) whether or not I was really tasting what I thought I was tasting. He was in agreement that he had never seen such completeness and potential in barrel samples.

As you can imagine, we basically bought whatever was offered to us from this glorious vintage. I normally wait until I get home to review my tasting notes before making any decisions, but there’s no way I was going to let some German buyer come in two days later and pilfer the goods. Yes, the boss is likely to strangle me when the bills come due, but I’m gambling my reputation as a buyer and unapologetic Pinot freak that the mainstream press is going to lose their minds over 2009 (I know I did). The first batch of releases will start landing on our shores next month, and I highly recommend you talk to your Wine Scout about what’s on the water. It will be a feeding frenzy once they land.

--Rhett Gadke, Wine Director

Monday, October 18, 2010

Appreciating Appellations

When I arrived in Napa Valley in 1994, I thought I had a fairly broad knowledge of wine. What I didn’t know is that it could evolve and expand so quickly. For instance, when I showed up there were 69 different AVAs (American Viticulture Area) in California –– and most produced completely different styles of wine. I’m not just talking about varietals here - one region often produced a distinctly different wine from the neighboring area. Fast forward not even a quarter of a century later to today, the Wine Institute lists 107 AVAs in our great state, and several hundred nationwide. And, it seems like they’re adding more and more each year.

I’ve travelled and drank through many AVAs in my time – I bet you have too. For me it’s not just a viticulture area, but rather a precise geographic location with specific attributes that alter or define the wine from that region – or it should. After all, technically it’s a legal term that is required on all wines produced in America. However, its true meaning today is becoming harder and harder to understand. There was a time when I could taste through a roomful of Cabernets from Napa and tell you which ones were Oakville and which ones were Rutherford with ease. It’s not the terroir that’s changed, it’s just that within each sub-appellation (i.e. Oakville) we’re starting to see and taste the differences down to the microclimate and vineyard level. This is starting to feel like a lot of “inside baseball” that only wine geeks can keep track of.
For instance, the 2007 Screaming Eagle Cabernet (east side) is a lot different from Janzen’s 2007 Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet (west side) and the 2006 Tamber Bey Oakville Cabernet (south) is worlds apart from Nickel and Nickel’s 2006 “John C. Sullenger Vineyard” Cabernet (north). Wines in the northern part of Oakville are more similar to Rutherford – those in the south are more similar to Yountville. Perhaps this situation calls for sub-appellations within sub-appellations. While geologists and viticulturists would probably agree, they are probably the only people who would care, and the results would leave all of us thoroughly confused and bored. While I am still amazed at how people can appreciate and understand theses differences, and I look forward to what the next 20 years studies and research, I’m not losing sleep over it. Sometimes it feels like the more you know, the less you really know…ya’ know? My motto – if I like it, I drink it. If not, I pour it out.

That works for me.

--Mark Steven Pope, Founder & CEO

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Today was a good day

I talked to a number of my favorite customers and shared with them the good news: their Justice series and Phelps Insignia are on the loose and they can expect delivery of their cases next week. Everyone wants to put the Valley’s best wines sourced by their wine scout in their cellar. Fall is the perfect time to stock up on the goods, and weather is great for shipping. Excitement is already is in the air for the 2010 holiday season - or as some of us call it, the "eating and partying" season. Our customers aren’t the only ones that have it good, though.

It is nearing the end of a long day at work and around 4:30 I hear the sound of over one dozen bottles getting opened. We know that our wine buyers are hard at work tasting hundreds of wines per week and making important decisions. When the tempo cools down a bit, I slip in to the tasting lab and play catch up.

‘This oaked Chard is nice, but the Carneros one is better.'

‘Pinots in this price point are driving the market. I wish more of them tasted this good.'

‘This is one of the best $50 cabs I’ve ever tasted…’

There’s no less than 25 wines on the table from some our favorite producers. Today’s standouts: Waypoint ‘Donum Estate’ Chardonnay, Vineyard 7&8 Estate Cabernet, and Pursuit 'George III' Cabernet. Did someone say there was O’Shaughnessy open? No, that’s tomorrow. Research - it's a dirty job but SOMEONE has to do it.

Ram, Nicolas and I grab the Waypoint Chardonnay and Pursuit 'GIII' and head across the street to the wine bar for some ribs and slaw and share today’s bounty with the rib slingers. Everyone in the wine bar is going crazy over the Pursuit Cabs right now. We rehash the day’s events and talk about the funniest things that happened. One customer bought 10 cases of Streamside Chardonnay because his wife and in laws LOVE the stuff and Bounty Hunter’s biggest Diamond Creek fan bought something besides Diamond Creek for the first time - ever. We learned that he was interested in trying some nice Pinots.

When its time to head our separate ways Nicolas reminds the group that we’ve got dinner at Norman Rose tomorrow and we’re watching the big game. In downtown Napa, life is good.

--Ryan Crosbie, Wine Scout

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cork vs. Screw Cap

Cork vs. Screw cap? We didn't know how hot a topic this was until we posted this question on our Facebook page and received an explosion of responses. What surprised us even more was the approval of screw caps altogether. There was support not only for the snappy wines meant to be consumed young, but for some of the big boys designed to be put down for a few years. As ritualistic and romantic as being served a wine with a cork top, there is nothing worse than the displeasure of having a corked (TCA) wine. TCA stands for 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, a compound that is responsible for tainting the wine and usually can be detected by giving off an aroma of a moldy newspaper.

The worst type of TCA is when the odor is almost undetectable but the flavors of the wine are still severely distorted. This leads many consumers to thinking that there is nothing wrong with the wine except that it is just plain bad. At Bounty Hunter Rare Wine Co. we have seen many changes in the wine industry and welcome new and exciting ideas such as screw caps. Don't worry, we still love wines with corks, just not corked wines.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Are Celebrations Up In Smoke?

This is the first year, in what seems like a long time, when baseball fever has swept across the Bay area and into wine country. Let’s be honest, in the past five years there has been nothing but disappointment from all sports around here aside from a San Jose Sharks playoff run that fell way short and the “underdog” defeat of Takeru Kobayashi at the International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest by the Bay area’s own Joey Chestnut. Well, this year we get to celebrate! Our beloved SF Giants have just won the N.L. West and they are headed for the playoffs! Whoohoo! Time to bust out the Champagne, crack open your favorite Single Malt Scotch and light up a big fat cigar…uh, wait just a moment.

It seems there is yet another movement to spoil our fun. Just over a week ago, the Cincinnati Reds clinched their division and as with baseball tradition, they broke out in a mildly debaucherous celebration including Champagne showers and a round of Cigars. Well since the boys we’re inside the clubhouse at the time, some folks at home got their panties in a bunch and actually filed a formal complaint with the heath department and now the incident is “under investigation.” At what point did we as a society decide that this was wrong? We’re talking about a group of men that work seven days or more consecutively in an extremely high pressure situations with an infinite amount of critics amplifying any wrong move they make for a six month stretch and when they finally make it to the postseason (something they’ve dreamed about since they were kids and the thing they work so hard for all year) they let loose for night, in their own clubhouse mind you, and are criticized for smoking in an enclosed work environment. Look, I am in no way a fan of lighting up indoors, especially in mixed company, but this is absolutely absurd. You can read more about the incident at yahoo sports.

Well all I can say is, I have several bottles of 2001 S. Anderson Blanc de Noir, a bottle of 1985 Glenrothes Single Malt and a box of Graycliff PG - Robusto cigars in the humidor for my own celebrations (with some luck, maybe even the World Series). Although, my wife might launch formal complaint and send me outside with the stogie…it just might be worth it. Go Giants!!!

--Stefan Matulich, Sales Director

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Harvest Is In The Air

This morning, while driving the 30 miles from my home in the Sonoma Valley to my office here in downtown Napa, I was once again reminded of how special this time of year is for those of us lucky enough to live in wine country. For me personally, one of the perks of my job is having the loveliest commute known to man. My route takes me through the back roads and byways of both Sonoma and Napa counties, with most of my route being lined with vineyards, mountain and valley views, and quaint local roadside businesses. My house is just over the ridge from Fisher Vineyards, and about 10 minutes into my drive, I pass under the brow of the hilltop where winemaker Michael McNeil is making Burgundian magic from Sonoma County Chardonnay grapes. Deer, raptors, wild turkeys and the occasional coyote are my usual early morning driving distractions. Driving through the heart of the Carneros region (Spanish for “ram”) I regularly can check on the progress of the vines that eventually produce both the Broken Spur and Pursuit Pinot Noirs and the Pursuit Chardonnay.

But this time of year, the most seductive attention getter is the smell of active fermentation early in the morning, when it is so still the wisps of ground fog still lie in pockets around the “tanks” (irrigation ponds) in the middle of the vineyards and along the marshes surrounding the Napa River basin. Smells like a cross between baking fresh bread and making strawberry jam at the same time. With the sun just barely peeking over Mt. St Helena, there is a lot of traffic for 6 A.M. – farm workers heading to the vineyards they’ve been assigned to begin the long day carefully cutting the clusters from the vines, placing them in 40 pound boxes that are then dumped into large plastic or wood bins to head for their appointed destiny at someone’s crush pad.

While this has been touted locally as “the summer that never was,” the last few days of 100+ heat have helped many of the vineyards catch up on their sugar production, enough so to make a crush pad manager’s life similar to an air traffic controller at O’Hare. The whites are mostly finished up now, and a few early ripening reds are being harvested. The big boys (Cabs, Petit Verdot, Zins – the usual suspects) are still a few weeks out.

This means, I’ve got about a month of heavenly scents to accompany my early morning commute left…

--Craig House, CFO/COO