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Petaluma Gap – A windy AVA on hold 

harvest at McEvoy Azaya Ranch, courtesy of Doug Cover

Sonoma’s proposed Petaluma Gap AVA – known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah – is all but approved but, due to slow-downs under the Trump administration, its final authorisation is currently on hold for an unknown period of time. The proposed AVA has gone through every stage of public commentary and consideration required by the TTB, and has thus fulfilled the requirements to become an official American Viticultural Area under federal law. However, the final step – the official endorsement signature from the Office of the Treasury – is unavailable thanks to several empty appointments in that office.

Within the US government, the president appoints top positions of major departments and federal offices. As a result, it is normal to see some delay in rulemaking during the transition from one presidential administration to another as new administrators are nominated and approved. The Trump administration, however, has had a higher rate of delay than typical as Trump fired an unusually high proportion of federal officials immediately upon taking office, came in with an unusually low number of appointments already in place, and the appointment of new administrators has been slowed by the current presidency’s numerous distractions such as the ongoing special investigations.

While the top position of the Office of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Treasury, has been confirmed, the second level, Deputy of the Treasury, has no nominee. The TTB falls specifically within the Treasury Office of Tax Policy. There, the President also appoints the top position, and while an official was nominated for the..

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes, head on over to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: https://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/petaluma-gap-a-windy-ava-on-hold

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Post Edit: This article will be available Tuesday, January 24, 2017, rather than Monday, January 23. Sorry for the confusion!

This autumn I was able to spend time with Antoine Donnedieu de Vabres, general manager of the Eisele Vineyard, previously known as the Araujo Estate, in Napa Valley. Together we walked the site, and discussed what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking ownership of the property from the Araujo family in 2013. We were also able to taste the current-release 2013 vintage Cabernets, the first made by the new team, alongside previous vintages of Araujo, and take a look at their new Sauvignon Blanc programme.

In the summer of 2013 the Araujo family sold their famed Calistoga estate to French business mogul François Pinault, who also, through his holding company Artemis Domaines, owns Château Latour, a property on Bordeaux’s left bank, Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The 160-acre (65-ha) property included 36 acres of vines, historically known as the Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu was made general manager with Hélène Mingot as winemaker. Steve Matthiasson, who began working with the vineyard under the Araujo family, stayed on as viticulturist. At the same time, previous vineyard foreman Victor Hernandez, who has been with the estate for years, was promoted to vineyard manager, working with Mingot and Matthiasson. Most of the vineyard crew, who have each been with the property for over a decade, also remained the same.

In 2016, Artemis Domaines decided to change the name back to its original, Eisele Vineyard, named for the family that established Cabernet Sauvignon on the property at the end of the 1960s. As a result, all wines from the estate bottled from 2016 onwards will be called Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu’s explanation is that the vineyard name emphasises the site as the focus and source of quality for the wines, rather than any particular owner. It is also a way of celebrating the history of the site, which in turn emphasises their long-term vision for the property.

The rest of the article gets into the details of what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking over the Eisele Vineyard, what their primary goals are for the wines, what made they decide to buy the estate, and how the wines from the new team compare to the previous Araujo wines. 

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/eisele-vineyard-pinaults-california-outpost

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View from Howell Mountain

Elaine’s review last week of Cabernets with the general Napa Valley appellation stirred up some strong reactions, including on our members’ forum. She addresses some of the issues raised by the first of her two articles on Napa Cabernets in this introduction to the second one, a report on a total of 90 Cabernets with one of the many Napa Valley sub-appellations described below. A report on Napa Merlots will follow. Elaine’s picture was taken on Howell Mountain.

The over-arching region and AVA of Napa Valley includes 16 sub-appellations ranging in their combination of growing conditions – elevation, soil types, drainage, mesoclimate – to create unique subzones that offer their own stylistic range and expression.

Producers within Napa Valley can chose to label their wines with the Napa Valley appellation as long as 85% or more of the fruit going into their wine is from the region. Labelling requirements for the sub-AVAs of Napa Valley are similar. For a wine to be labelled with one of the 16 sub-appellations the wine must be made predominantly from fruit grown in that subzone. Additionally, any of the sub-AVAs fully within Napa County must include reference to Napa on the label. For example, a wine from the Rutherford AVA has to be labelled with both Rutherford and Napa Valley. The two exceptions are Carneros, which stretches across both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and Wild Horse Valley, which includes land in Solano as well as Napa County. (See the online World Atlas of Wine map of Napa Valleyfor many of the sub-AVAs.)

Many of the most delicious wines of the region come from producers focused intently on specific subzones who label their wine with their relevant sub-appellation. In many cases, the growing conditions of a specific sub-AVA are expressed in the bottle.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-subappellations-heartening

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

From the Mayacamas looking into Napa Valley

In the first of two major reports on current releases of Napa Valley appellation Cabernets, her first for JancisRobinson.com, Elaine Chukan Brown reviews 57 wines, but finds frustratingly few to get excited about. A report on Cabernets labelled with one of Napa Valley’s 16 sub-appellations will follow. Elaine’s picture looking east over fog in the Napa Valley was taken from 1,800 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains.

With its dry Mediterranean climate, Napa Valley offers ideal growing conditions for vines and, with good farming, the potential for abundant flavour with resolved tannins and plenty of natural acidity. Even so, economic pressures from land prices and labour shortages currently dominate the region, making Napa Valley Cabernet one of the most expensive wines in the world to farm. So, while vintners in the region benefit from propitious weather and overall growing conditions, they need to produce wines at high prices in order to afford production costs.

The result, unfortunately, means the average price for a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet is substantial. Retail prices per bottle are generally well over $100, easily reaching upwards of $200 and more. Exceptions occasionally appear from producers who have owned their property for decades. Among Cabernets carrying the all-encompassing Napa Valley appellation, Stony Hill Cabernet at $60 is one of the most affordable quality examples, with lovely purity throughout. The Galerie Plein Air at $50 was another nice surprise offering the firm structure and ageing potential of the 2013 vintage with varietal character married to judicious oak presence. (Other examples can also be found in wines labelled with one of the 16 Napa Valley sub-appellations to be described in my next instalment).

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-cabernets-depressing

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

Coombsville 

Looking southwest from Farella Vineyard in Coombsville

Coombsville just south east of the town of Napa (see this map) became an official appellation in 2011 and since then has received steadily increasing attention. Even so, this subzone of Napa Valley is still one of the sleepier, less developed parts of the valley. Being well off the main arteries of Highway 29 and Silverado Trail means that Coombsville continues to be somewhere primarily for those in-the-know. Its relatively low-key status is consistent with its winemaking history.

Contemporary vineyards in the subzone reach back to the mid 1960s and the planting of the Haynes Vineyard. While the winery Ancien now farms the property and makes wine there as well, the site has also been a fruit source for wineries such as Failla and Enfield Wine Co who seek its cooler-climate Syrah and older-vine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Ancien has been able to preserve some of the Burgundian varieties planted at the site’s inception. The rise at the centre of Haynes offers a central perspective on the region. Just up the hill stands the warmer Caldwell Vineyard, planted just over 10 years later when Farella Park Vineyard was planted just north east of Haynes. Around the corner, Tulocay winery was also founded in the mid 1970s.

Nearby, well-known Meteor Vineyard was established in the late 1990s. Such sites helped establish the insider view of Coombsville as a source for good-quality grapes. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that vineyard-designated wines from Coombsville sites began appearing occasionally. Producers as well known as Paul Hobbs, Phelps Insignia, Vineyard 29, Quintessa, Pahlmeyer, Far Niente and Dunn, to name just a few, have all relied on fruit from the subzone to bring a unique blending component to their wines. This is thanks to a combination of soils and unique microclimate.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes from the region. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/coombsville-napas-southeastern-extremity

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Paso Robles: Wine versus Water

Paso Robles Eastside Vineyard

While El Niño this year brought ample rains to northern California, overall rainfall was less than originally predicted (see Alder’s recent report) and southern California saw far fewer winter storms. Of wine regions in the state, hardest hit by lack of rain has been Paso Robles. Paso’s challenges with weather are not insignificant. It has become one of the best-known wine regions of the Central Coast, as well as a leader in California’s Rhône movement. Most famously, the Perrin family of Château du Beaucastel has affirmed the value of Paso Robles by investing with the Haas family in the Tablas Creek project. The work Tablas Creek has done to import Rhône varieties and clones to their site in Paso’s Adelaida district has been of benefit to Rhône producers throughout the United States.

During California’s winter rainy season this year, northern storms failed to reach as far south as Paso Robles, and the few warmer storms from the south did not reach over the mountains separating Paso’s county of San Luis Obispo from its southern neighbor Santa Barbara County (see the brown hilltops in this picture of an East Paso vineyard). The Central Coast region received so little rain this winter, reservoirs are only 30% full. The reservoirs are primarily for the townships of San Luis Obispo such as Paso Robles, Templeton and Atascadero. Land within the county but outside town centres has to depend for water on residential and commercial wells in the Paso Robles Groundwater Basin.

Lack of rainfall these last several years has failed to replenish the Basin’s water level. Water issues in the area, however, are only partially due to the recent California drought. There has been a sizeable increase in overall water use from a significant rise in county residences as well as from the expansion of irrigated agriculture. This surge in demand for water has led to wells throughout the county being severely depleted. In the most affected areas, wells are down as much as 80 to 100 ft (24-30 m) from their original levels. As a result, small home-ranch owners (generally single-dwelling one-acre properties) face the possibility of losing homes they can no longer keep hydrated. Many have resorted to trucking in water. Even so, water use in the region continues to be unregulated although it is one of the very few in the state where well use is unmonitored and uncontrolled.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/paso-robles-wine-v-water

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Mondavi Retrospective

The Robert Mondavi 1966 Cabernet Unfiltered

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery on the Oakville bench of Napa Valley. To celebrate, the winery put together a two-day event for 25 journalists from throughout North America, offering us the opportunity to taste 24 vintages of Mondavi’s flagship Cabernet Reserve, as well as spending time with many of the key winemakers and viticulturists of the winery’s history.

It is difficult to think of any other Napa Valley Cabernet of which such a historic vertical would be possible. Wineries with a longer history such as Beaulieu and Inglenook have nothing like the continuity evident at Mondavi. There have been subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes of direction in winemaking here but in essence the team and intentions have remained the same, and the ownership has changed only once when in 2004 the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to the giant Constellation. Its founder died four years later at the age of 94 (see Jancis’s appreciation of Robert Mondavi).

When Mondavi started his eponymous winery in 1966 the goal was to show that California could make wines to compete with the very best in the world. A mere 10 years later two of Mondavi’s original winemakers – Warren Winiarski, who helped start the wine programme at Mondavi, and Mike Grgich, who soon took over – would go on to win the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris in red and white categories respectively that did so much to establish the region’s reputation for world-class wines.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mondavi-retrospective-a-napa-history-lesson

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.