The Kiwi Collection site Wow Travel recently published a really cool article about a day in the life of Meteor Vineyard. Link to it here, and full content listed below.
Not Your Average - Patsy Barich, December 2010
Wine & Dining
Browse organic produce at Oxford Public Market
Sommelier Jason Alexander’s inside look at Wine Country.
As the morning sun’s first rays touch the fruit-laden vineyards of world-renowned Napa Valley, wine sommelier and Meteor Vineyard Manager Jason Alexander steers his car into the parking lot of the Oxbow Public Market to grab his daily cup of joe from Ritual Coffee Roasters. Napa’s Oxbow Market, patterned after San Francisco’s famed Ferry Building food hall, is home to half a dozen restaurants and dozens of specialty food and wine retailers including an outpost of the Hog Island Oyster Company, the just-opened C’a Momi Winery and Enoteca and the heralded Fatted Calf charcuterie.
Meteor Vineyard is located in Coombsville, a lesser-known grape growing region at the southeast end of Napa. It is on the cusp of discovery.
Arriving at the Meteor Vineyard office a short drive away, Jason checks for any early calls and then takes a morning walk through vineyard to taste where the grapes are in their ripening process on the different blocks. He then meets with Dawnine Dyer, Meteor Vineyard’s winemaker, to get an update on Harvest. Dyer is revered in the winemaking community based on her expert vineyard knowledge and veteran experience with many Napa Valley Wineries, including Robert Mondavi, Domaine Chandon and the eponymous Dyer Vineyard.
Meteor Vineyard is located in Coombsville, a lesser-known grape growing region at the southeast end of Napa Valley. It is on the cusp of discovery. Sitting on a plateau under the imposing Mount George, Coombsville has a microclimate that features a unique combination of cool air, consistent temperatures, varied elevations and well-drained, mineral-rich soils.
The glowing sunsets of Meteor Vineyard
Around 10:30 a.m. Jason joins a group of fellow sommeliers at Redd in Yountville to participate in a weekly blind tasting. The group usually focuses on a specific grape or style/year of wine for these events. Today they are exploring the subtle vineyard differences of Puligny-Montrachet.
His extensive wine background includes assembling and managing multi-million dollar rare and sought-after wine collections.
Initially pursuing poetry but soon drawn to the world of fine wines, Jason studied alongside some of the most noted sommeliers in the US and went on to earn a reputation as an internationally recognized, award-winning sommelier with a legacy of wine director positions at prestigious San FranciscoBay Area restaurants, including Gary Danko in San Francisco and Cyrus in Healdsburg, California.
Azzurro Pizzeria E Enoteca
Jason and a sommelier friend escape for an early lunch at Azzurro Pizzeria E Enoteca, a thin crust Southern Italian pizza place beloved by locals and tourists, if they discover it. It’s casual, inexpensive and sophisticated all at once, with great pizzas, bruschette, antipasti and manciata (“handful” of just-baked dough with a salad on top, to fold and eat sandwich-style); owner Michael Gyetvan was well-trained by Northern California chefs Bradley Ogden of One Market/The Lark Creek Inn, and Michael Chiarello of Tra Vigne and the NapaStyle empire.
Take a bite out of this pizza pie. Photo credit: Laura Norcia Vitale
Jason heads back to Meteor Vineyard for an early afternoon meeting with vineyard owners Barry Schuler (technology and education pioneer and former CEO of America Online), Tracy Schuler and the Meteor Vineyard team to review the developing schedule for the release of a new vintage and a new Cabernet Sauvignon called Perseid. “With multiple years of work in the vineyard, we finally feel like we understand its nuances and unique nature. The 2007 Perseid is a perfect example of that, where all of the elements of the vineyard and vintage came together to produce a wine singularly Meteor Vineyard,” Jason says.
Relax at Milliken Creek Inn and Spa
When asked by visitors for a local lodging recommendation, Jason suggests the Milliken Creek Inn & Spa, hidden away on the Napa River yet adjacent to downtown Napa, with its many recently opened destination restaurants such as Morimoto Napa (the latest from Iron Chef/Iron Chef America’s Masahara Morimoto) and Tyler Florence’s Rotisserie & Wine, along with intriguing shops, wine bars and activities. Jason likes the combination of five-star luxury accommodations combined with its lush grounds, intimate ambiance and a full-service spa.
As evening approaches, Jason returns to downtown Napa to speak with Chef Ken Frank of La Toque, confirming arrangements for a wine buyers’ tasting and dinner Jason is organizing which will feature Meteor’s latest release, Perseid. The landmark Wine Country restaurant recently re-opened in a new location, adjacent to the Oxbow Public Market where Jason started his day. La Toque offers a constantly-evolving menu that highlights each season’s finest ingredients, which are supplied by a network of local farms and purveyors. “With its award-winning cellar and focus on creating dishes that harmonize with great wines, this is one of my favorite places to host a tasting with people in the wine business,” says Jason.
Oxbow Public Market in Napa
As the stars rise in the sky over Napa Valley, Jason bids his restaurant guests farewell and begins the drive home to San Francisco, past Marin and over the Golden Gate Bridge. He marvels at his day, which despite long hours satisfies his passion for bringing great wines into the world and helping others enjoy and share it.
Jason Alexander’s Favorite Napa Spots:
Oxbow Public Market
Azzurro Pizzeria E Enoteca
Milliken Creek Inn and Spa
It’s entirely possible to go through life eating nothing but the most familiar foods, reading books by the customary best-selling authors or listening to a stock set of composers – so begins last weeks The Pour column in The New York Times. Wine critic Eric Asimov goes on to profile a dozen obscure grapes that are the foundation of some great wines and illustrate the diversity the world of wine has to offer. It’s a great article and I encourage you to check it out.
In a similar vein, while Burgundy, Champagne and Tuscany have the fame; there are many “undiscovered” wine regions that produce some of the world’s most exceptional wines. Here are five phenomenal wine regions you may not know but should – including Meteor’s own Coombsville.
Ribeira Sacra – Some of the steeply pitched vineyards in the region of eastern Galicia have been planted for nearly 2,00 years, and yet it is only in the last five years that their renown has grown beyond the boundaries of Spain. The wines are based on the Mencia grape and offer a delicate spiciness and minerality that pairs with a broad range of food. Like the Mosel in Germany of its nearby neighbor Duoro Valley, the sheer grandeur of the area makes a trip a must.
Tokaji – Yes, many wine lovers are familiar with the unctuous botrityzed wines of Tokaji, yet one of the most exciting developments since the fall of communism has been the production of DRY wines from the native grapes of the area. Specifically keep your eyes open for dry furmint – medium bodied, with tart, slightly under ripe pit fruit character; these are awesome wines for seafood dishes and warm summer afternoons.
Santorini – While many revel in images of Santorini as a sun splashed vacation destination, few are aware that some of the most interesting white wines in Europe are produced on the volcanic rich soils of the island. The grape Assyrtiko is the primary planting here producing crisp white wines with powerful minerality and purity.
Lipari Islands – Malvasia delle Lipari has been produced on the Lipari Islands off the coast of Sicily at least since 100 B.C. (though there is potentially evidence of the wines on coins dating back to 4th and 5th centuries B.C.). Though dry wines are produced, the magic here comes from the sweet wines of the Island. Simultaneously unctuous and fresh, these wines are dripping with aromatics of fresh cut flowers, honey and ripe pit fruit. Stunning.
Coombsville – While it my seem obvious I’d include Coombsville in this line up, it deserves to be here because the wines and wineries of the area are distinctive and distinctly different from the experience you get in more recognized appellations like Oakville or Rutherford. What makes the wines special? In a word, balance – the wines couple dark fruit and textural richness with vibrant acidities and fine-grained tannins. The red wines tend to be very dark in color with flavors of blackberries, black plums, mulberries, and dried herbs and black olives.
As Meteor’s streak the skies, the viewing points are many. This weekend look for us in 3 cities at once; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii and Seattle, Washington.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
We are excited to partner with Ackerman Family Vineyard for this years Jackson Hole Wine Auction.
Highlights from lot #30, “A Tale of Two Vineyards: Undiscovered Coombsville”, include a 4 nights stay for 2 people beginning on a Thursday and Friday evening at Ackerman Vineyard and proceeding to Meteor Vineyard’s vineyard guesthouse for Saturday and Sunday.
When you arrive on Thursday afternoon, you will be welcomed into the private carriage house nestled in the midst of Ackerman’s 16 acre organic vineyard; the true essence of simple, yet sophisticated Napa Valley. Once settled in, a delicious dinner for two awaits you at a local restaurant of your choice (Cole’s Chop House and Ubuntu are just two recommendations). On Friday, the day is yours to explore the numerous wineries in the valley, with Lauren Ackerman acting as your winery concierge.
Friday evening, Bob and Lauren Ackerman will join you for dinner at the Chef’s Table at La Toque Restaurant, where Chef Ken Frank will work his culinary magic on a special menu selected by your hosts. Accompanying this delectable meal will be a variety of the Ackerman’s favorite wines, including, of course, a vintage (or two or three) of their own Ackerman Family wines!
Saturday morning, make the short, one-mile commute to Meteor Vineyard. Spend the next two days among lush vines, enjoy a farm fresh breakfast, massages and wine and cheese pairings featuring local cheeses and charcuterie. One evening, join Barry Schuler (former CEO of AOL Time Warner and culinary wizard) for a spectacular dinner featuring his culinary creations from the property. Meteor Vineyard wines will be flowing and a few raids on the cellar are inevitable!
Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
It’s tough to imagine a more beautiful place for a wine and food festival than the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. Now in it’s 28th year, the Kapalua Wine and Food Festival features top sommeliers from around the U.S., exquisite wines from around the world and some of the most exciting chefs from the Hawaiian islands. Winemakers Bill and Dawnine Dyer will be on hand throughout the weekend so make sure you stop by to say hello!
The “hot ticket” in Seattle this weekend is the 5th annual Triple Sip wine and music festival hosted by the team at Wild Ginger. 47 of the top wineries from around the world will be featured alongside the spectacular food of Wild Ginger chef Nathan Uy and music by Man or Astro-man?.
Yes South Florida is known for the glitz and glam (and incredible Art Deco architecture) of South Beach, the posh houses and sophistication of Palm Beach and the tranquil beauty of Naples and the Gulf Coast, but it should also be recognized as a destination for a incredibly sophisticated food and wine scene (I am sure the cocktail scene is just as innovative – will have to save that for a personal trip).
In Miami’s South Beach, the beach was the furthest thing from peoples minds last week, with temperatures holding in the mid 60’s during the day and dipping in to the 40’s in the evenings. Couple that with a constant stiff breeze (wind chill in Florida?????) and people are indoors drinking and eating ( a few brave soles braved the beach, huddled among blankets and sweaters, eyes tearing against the whip of Atlantic winds and staring blankly at a distant warm and tropical place).
Much has been written about the influx of money to update many of the classic hotels of South Beach; the Fontaineblue went through close to a 1 billion dollar refurbishment, the Delano is sparkling and reaching back to a romantic period past, the Betsy pulsing with the energy of B Bar and BLT Steak. Each hotel also understood that sophisticated travelers are looking for more than just ocean views, spa service and high thread count sheets; dining is now an integral and essential part of every renovation.
The Fontaineblue houses three of the of the best restaurants in Miami; Alfred Portale’s Gotham Steak serves up classic range of steaks and seafood along with a great wine list (The French Laundry’s lead sommelier Dennis Kelley’s sister in law runs the cocktail program),Scott Conant’s Scarpetta takes Italian dining in Miami to a completely different level, and Hakkasan, London’s Michelin starred Chinese food restaurant, makes a splash with innovative and perfectly executed Chinese cuisine.
At the Delano, The Blue Door, Claude Troigros fuses the cuisine of his french roots (yes, that Troisgros family) with influences derived from his year cooking in Brazil. For something less formal, Plat Blue is the perfect place to relax for the evening taking in the famous Delano scene.
Though easy destinations, these restaurants are only the beginning of the culinary tour. Emeril’s South Beach outpost continues to turn out Emeril’s classics (the night I was there was Emeril’s South Beach Food and Wine VIP event and the place was PACKED). Steak houses, ok – hip steakhouses, remain a staple with Red, The Steakhouse, Meat Market, and Prime One Twelve serving perfectly cooked steaks, eclectic wine lists and slightly over the top cocktails. One little side note, and you will not find Meteor Vineyard here, but my favorite lunch place is the tiny, outdoor seating only sandwich place Le Sandwicherie on 14th Street. One of the best sandwich shops in the U.S.
When you are exhausted of the painfully cool scene in South Beach, its time to head to what may be the most exciting restaurants in the city (and slightly north). Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink has garnered tremendous acclaim, all of it justified. This small “neighborhood” restaurant in the Design District turns out some of the most compelling and authentic food I have tasted anywhere. Perfect ingredients prepared with precision and honesty. It didn’t hurt that they were pouring Krug by the glass (for $28 – incredible!) as well as Diamond Creek. Former S.F. sommelier Matt Turner has escalated the wine list at Michael Minna’s Aventura outpost of Bourbon Steak to a work of art with the worlds greatest producers represented on page after page (look for Meteor Vineyard soon). The stunning beauty of the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key only adds to the allure of Azul. Sommelier Cynthia Betancourt oversees a diverse and cutting edge wine list. The champagne bottles chilling along the center of the bar suggest (loudly) the best way to start the meal (and end it).
The recent New York Times article on Palm Beach ( 36 hours in Palm Beach, Fl ) did a decent job capturing the vibe of the tony seaside enclave (and the continued introspection of its residents post Madoff), but missed the breadth of options on the dining scene. The Breakers dominates the northern end of Palm Beach Island, historically and in presence. The dining scene alone makes this a must stop. Not one but TWO Master Sommeliers (Virginia Philip and Juan Gomez) oversee a massive wine program that form the foundation for everything from L’Esaclier to the Seafood Bar. Cafe L’Europe remains one of the most loved restaurants in Palm Beach (beware the video on the home page of the website – it doesn’t do justice to the elegant sophistication to say nothing of the epic wine program) and Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel added an element of cool to the downtown dining scene.
I suppose all of this befits an area know as South New York City. There are far worse places to while away the winter…
There have been some heated exchanges recently between sommeliers in San Francisco and winemakers from the surrounding regions. Although nearly every chef in San Francisco embraces the concept of buying local products, wine buyers have shown little such interest, creating wine lists that are largely based on imported wines from both classic and emerging regions from the far corners of the globe while ignoring the innovations of myriad winemakers in California. A recent blog post from New York Times wine and spirits writer Eric Asimov ignited debate, with San Francisco Chronicle’s Jon Bonne following on his heals with an article of his own.
As a longtime sommelier and lover of wine from around the world who now manages a small winery in Napa Valley, I was approached repeatedly about weighing in – but thought it best to let the dust settle. Recent rains have settled that.
My first true wine trip took place nearly 15 years ago when I boarded a plane to Malpensa in November and made my way to the town of Alba. Anyone who has spent time in Alba in November knows that the streets are perfumed with the beguiling musk of white truffles. The streets are full of revelers and seekers, those who make the yearly pilgrimage to this famed northwestern region of Italy to secure and consume one of the worlds most beguiling products.
Aside from white truffles, the other defining product is wine. From the famed nebbiolo based wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, to the more approachable dolcetto and barbera (and cortese), the bars and restaurants of Alba, and Nieve and every other town in the region, are full of locals and visitors alike enjoying the fruits of the nearby land. Order a plate of tajarin with butter and white truffle along with a pristine bottle of 1978 Barbaresco (ok, there are probably very few left in the cellars) and you are in heaven.
For many who travel to the worlds great wine growing regions, one of primary reasons for the trip is to taste the wines of the area. When I am traveling around the Willamette Valley, I am not likely to order a bottle of Angelus. If there is Coche-Dury on the menu at a reasonable price, I may HAVE to buy it, otherwise I, and most everyone else traveling in the region, is going to order pinot gris, chardonnay or pinot noir grown in the surrounding vineyards. Wine lists are full of the new as well as the established, the iconic and the eccentric. This is as true in Champagne as it is Bordeaux, in Rioja as it is in Mendoza.
Lovers of wine in all of these regions (simply living in a famed wine region doesn’t immediately qualify you as a true lover of wine) seek out compelling examples from around the world and well chosen restaurant lists highlight the local while looking outside the immediate evirons for compelling expressions of far flung varieties. THERE IS GREAT WINE MADE IN NEARLY EVERY WINE GROWING REGION IN THE WORLD. As a lover of fine wine you would be doing yourself and your customers a disservice NOT finding the best examples. Coercing the Burgundians to pull the cork on a bottle of Bordeaux is no small feat, and yet if you are truly compelled by the potential for myriad expressions of grapes, you seek them out, ask around. At Cyrus, in the heart of the Sonoma wine country, I was DEDICATED to finding the best examples of wines from throughout the region while paying homage to the greats from around the world. The local wine lovers asked after Burgundy and Piedmont, the visitors after Ceritas and Copain.
So why the allegations that the Bay Area, long home to one of the worlds most progressive and locally sourced food scenes, takes a dim view of its winemaking neighbors to the north and south?
The reasons raised are predictable, if more complex than understandable by a cursory glance.
Buyers are accused of romanticizing the foreign, of coercing their customers into trying wines that fit their preferences and not those of their guests, of simply being too busy or lazy to fully understand the wines and winemakers that work diligently in their own backyards. There is an aura of eccentricity for the sake of eccentricity, with Gruner Veltliner posing as the poster child for a whole era of copycat consumption where suddenly every restaurant in the larger Bay Area was pouring it by the glass (I include myself in this criticism, at Gary Danko I had 2 full pages of Gruner Veltliner…).
Winemakers, also predictably, are accused of making wines that taste the same whether pinot noir or cabernet, of slanting production methods towards the palate of reviewer, or worse, of planting grapes in places that should have remained apple orchards or grazing land. Most damning is the accusation that the local wines simply don’t go with food – all of the ripe rich fruit and wood morphing into some indistinguishable reduction of sweetness and cooking spice.
There is truth to all of these accusations; however, to delve so superficially into the debate is ludicrous. Are there overripe wines that declare themselves the primary point of the meal? Yes. Are buyers wary of preparing lists that are identical to the restaurant down the street? Absolutely. But if we in the Bay Area are devoted to the idea of localization, then buyers need to work harder finding the unheralded gems and innovative winemakers and winemakers need to continue to evolve their approach beyond one that is purely score based and more soul based.
Wines like Lioco are embracing old school methods of non intervention (including un-oaked chardonnays) and seeking out compelling sites that produce wines of balance and individuality. Parr selections is picking fruit early to preserve freshness and balance and demonstrating that wines from California and Oregon can have a sense of place. There is Peay and Corison, Dyer and Melville, Hirsch and Von Strasser – there is Meteor making distinctive site specific wines with structure, balance and elegance that rival (and often transcend) any of the worlds greatest wines!
Asimov and Bonne are right to question and buyers are not wrong to question, but to make grandious statements about an entire industry and declare yourself a supporter of “local” agriculture is hypocritical at best and naive and lazy at worst.
An article in the recent New Yorker about Johnathon Gold (”the high-low priest of the L.A. food scene…”) explored Gold’s exhaustive quest to eat through the endless array of restaurants in Los Angeles (he covers over 20k miles per year JUST dining in L.A. and environs). Many commentators note L.A. as one of the adventurous places to eat in the U.S.
The wine scene has been slower to develop. While mammoth wine programs like the former Grand Award winning Sona excel(ed) at comprehensive programs delving deep into the classic wine growing regions, others have looked broad and far for the most exciting producers from any number of regions from around the world.
Restaurants like Palate in Glendale fuse a passion for artisanal food with wines ranging from classics like Coche-Dury to biodynamic producers from the Loire Valley and Languedoc Roussillon. Caroline Styn’s Lucques and AOC have long sought out interesting wines from around the world – I remember several years ago enjoying Domaine Vacheron’s delicious Bell-Dame and marveling at the potential for Pinot Noir in the Loire (in ripe vintages). For Italian wines, everyone flocks to Mozza and Osteria Mozza.
For the most exciting wines from Napa, restaurants like CUT, The Polo Lounge, Spago, Boa and Melisse stand at the forefront – constantly surveying the horizon for wines that transcend the status quo.
And don’t forget that many of the most interesting wine programs in Southern California are the regions innovative retailers. Savvy consumers are tied into some of the most interesting wine shops in the U.S.; HK at Red Carpet Wines, Gary Fishman at Wally’s, Michael Brick at Hi Times and Alan Chen at Wine Connections.
One of the most incredible things to watch over the last decade has been the growth of wine knowledge and consumption across the globe. It doesn’t matter if you are in Hong Kong, Moscow or Hawaii – people around the world are compelled by the worlds greatest wines.
In fact, Hawaii was one of the first places in the world to actively embrace the inaugural release of Meteor Vineyards. Warren Shon, one of the most savvy people in the wine trade the world over, has carefully culled some of the finest cabernets from Napa Valley (and Pinot Noir, Riesling, Gruner-Veltliner, grower Champagne et al.) to introduce to wine lists and retail shops throughout the islands.
On Maui, a thriving food and wine scene exists on both the West and South shores. On the West coast, the ever popular Lahaina Grill continues to offer one of the most interesting wine lists in Hawaii and the Kapalua Resort and it’s enclave of excellent restaurants continues to offer compelling food and wine destinations at the Pineapple Grill, Sansei and Merriman’s. The South shore is home to the ultra deluxe Four Season’s resort and Wolfgang Puck’s Spago and the incredibly excellent Duo. The other place that never disappoints is Capische! in the newly refurbished Hotel Wailea (one of the great deals in all of Hawaii).
Oahu, home to the bulk of permanent residents, has long been known for it’s cuisine and the wine programs have followed pace. From the original Roy’s in Waikiki to Alan Wong’s eponymous destination, from the ultra deluxe Halekulani to the adventurous retailers like Tamuro’s and HASR – the food and wine scene is HOT. Check out the wine bar Amuse in the Honolulu Design Center for some incredible wines by the glass!