The recent announcement by Robert Parker Jr. that he was relinquishing his long term tenure as the California critic for the Wine Advocate met with a barrage of commentary. Alder Yarrow of Vinography called it “ The End of an Era“,The New York Times critic Eric Asimov, in his always carefully considered way, opined on the matter, as did W. Blake Gray, Jon Bonne and myriad others. Chat rooms have hundreds of comments ranging from the outlandish and accusatory to an iron clad defense of Parker influence on the overall quality of wine produced around the world.
Indisputable is the fact that Antonio Galloni will bring a different perspective, let alone palate, to the job. Will his work in Italy and now the Cote d’Or inform his reviews? This is the widespread question. From the acid, tannin and perfumed aromatics of Burgundy to the structured wines of Barolo and Barbaresco to the mineral driven wines of Champagne and Friuli – you have to imagine so.
Considering the style of our wines at Meteor Vineyard, we have been greatly pleased by the scores and written commentary posted by RP on our wines. In fact, in a certain twisted logic, the 92-95+ range represents a tremendous compliment. As a longtime sommelier we often joke(d) among ourselves that wines that receive 100 points from the Wine Advocate share a monumental intensity and richness that borders on caricature. Shed several point and some of the baby fat and you start to find a mother lode of wines with more balance and elegance, typicity and terroir.
Perhaps the new “perfect scores” from California will be less about caricature and more about site and balance. Only time will tell. In the meantime, while winery owners and winemakers scratch their heads about the direction to take their wines, some of which are already in barrel or bottle – we know that we are doing just what we have always done; producing balanced, structured wines of place, that capture the temperate climate of Coombsville, the unique soil structure of Meteor Vineyard and a combined winemaking legacy of a combined 70 years…
In the meantime, I think Alder’s phrase is apt. Whether or not you agree with his palate, Robert Parker has been one of the most important figures in the history of the wine business. Criticism, be it about Picasso or Bach, the Met’s performance of Wagner’s Ring Cycle or Malcom Gladwell’s most recent musings are always the perspective of the critic. You need not agree with Michiko Kakutani’s review of “Freedom” or Tony Judt’s view of European history post WWII. Part of the intrigue about criticism is the debate itself. Nowhere is this more true than in the world of wine.
Where else would you find a “think tank” about wine than Napa Valley (ok, perhaps Silicon Valley)? Paul Mabray is one of the few people whose whole existence is dedicated to exploring, envisioning and articulating the convergence of wine and technology. Who better to talk about that convergence with than Meteor Vineyard’s own internet historian and pioneer Barry Schuler? Stealing the kung foo term from Paul because I love it (yes the misspell is intentional).
The recent Battle of the Chefs event at the CIA saw competition between two of Napa Valley’s best chefs. Though both “contestants” walked away with a winning dish in the final judgment, I walked away reminded how easily and intuitively wine country chefs work with wine. And I mean this in both senses of the word, both by integrating wine into the dishes themselves and (perhaps most importantly)by preparing dishes that are transformed, highlighted and benefit from a glass (or 4) of wine.
The following recipe from Micheal Chiarello represents a nearly perfect pairing with the elegant style of cabernet sauvignon produced at Meteor Vineyard.
Michael Chiarello for Battle of the Chefs
Grilled Lamb Loin, cabernet potato gnocchi, mustard greens, cabernet smoke and lamb jus
1 boneless lamb loin (reserve bones and trimmed meat for sauce)
1 quart mustard greens (washed and trimmed)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
2 pints cabernet potato gnocchi
1 pint cabernet wine
1 pint veal stock (reduced by half)
Cabernet vines for burning
Poly Science smoking gun
Small bundle thyme
1 bay leaf
Grey salt and freshly ground black pepper
Start by making sure your grill is very hot. While the grill is heating roast off your bones and any meat from trimming the lamb loin, then deglaze this pan with cabarnet wine. Add your thyme and bay leaf and reduce the wine till almost all the liquid has been cooked off and the pan is almost dry. Add your veal stock and cook until the sauce has a nice consistency and enough lamb flavor in it. Strain through a very fine mesh colander. Rub your lamb loin with EVOO and season with salt and pepper. Place on a hot part of the grill, watch out for flair ups that may burn the lamb, and let cook 1 minute before turning 90 degrees to create a crossed marking on the grill. Cook 1 minute more and flip the lamb over and repeat these steps on the other side. After the lamb has cooked for 4-5 minutes pull it off the grill and let it rest for 3 minutes. While the lamb is resting drop your potato gnocchi into boiling salted water until hot all the way through. Add some EVOO to a medium sized hot sauté pan, add garlic and cook until the garlic is lightly golden but not burned, add the mustard greens and season with salt and pepper. The greens should start to sweat , if they are too hot and begin to caramelize add a teaspoon of your hot water to the pan to help them steam. Once your greens and gnocchi are cooked you can slice your lamb, against the grain and in even sized slices. On one side of the plate arrange your gnocchi in a circle and on the other side place your sliced lamb. Place your mustard greens amongst the gnocchi and spread them artfully in the center of the plate as well. Spoon some of your lamb jus around the lamb and the gnocchi. Load the smoking gun with cabernet vines, light them and turn the smoker on, place a cabernet glass over the lamb and begin to pump smoke under the glass and place it down quickly to trap the smoke inside the glass.
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
Patrick Comiskey’s Los Angeles Times article “What Sommelier Will Bring to Holiday Parties” has me thinking about the sheer volume of holiday wine banter that is pitched around during this time of year. This is no criticism of Patrick, in fact, looking at it through the eyes of sommeliers offers some great suggestions. Sommeliers want to drink great wine EVERYDAY and the holidays are no different.
My underlying mantra is “great wine and great food always go together”. Simple. Are Muscadet and oysters going to be a more seamless match than Chateauneuf du Pape and oysters? Yes. But geeking out about it and pontificating to family members who already secretly whisper about your inability to speak of anything other than the ridiculous notion of the term “Super-Tuscan” is only validating your sense of personal superiority while eroding the confidence of your friends and family. Matt Kramer, the long outspoken critic at the Oregonian and Wine Spectator recently posted an article titled “Divorcing Wine and Food” that looks at the historical notions of “pairing” versus the real (or imagined) boundaries that separate Burgundy from Bordeaux, Barolo from Barbaresco, Napa from Sonoma.
That said, there are a couple of wines I seek during the holidays;
1. German Riesling – For a nation devoted to soft drinks and corn syrup in every manufactured product, the natural sugar found in Qmp riesling from the Mosel and Rheingau holds immediate interest. This is not your aunts Liebrfraumlich or uncle Bill’s Blue Nun – these are wines of nearly impossible balance between searing acidity and a touch of residual sugar. “Fruity”, as the marketing peeps have spun it.
2. Champagne – Let’s get this out of the way first thing – Champagne comes from the REGION CHAMPAGNE. The notion of Korbel still putting the term Champagne of their labels keeps me up at night. The sheer volume of interesting grower producers whose wines find their way to the States makes shopping for these wines a joy. Stick to bottles labeled Terry Theise Selections or Becky Wasserman Selections and you are in for a treat.
3. Pinot Noir – Sonoma Coast, New Zealand, Burgundy, Alsace; the grape is planted and producing exquisite wines the world over. Is there severe overplanting as myriad growers have jumped on the bandwagon of consumer interest to convert their alfalfa field in Wisconsin to Pinot Noir – yes; however, there are so many incredible wines to be found that you will quickly be overwhelmed by the cases arriving in your cellar. Check out Cobb, Hirsh, Peay and Lioco from California; de Montille, Frederic Mugnier and Domaine Dujac from Burgundy; August Kessler from the Rheignau.
4. Spain – Ok, it’s broad and encompasses an entire country, but the Spaniards spent all of their leveraged credit somewhere and one of those places was in viticulture. From the classic regions of Ribera de Duero, Rioja and Priorat (can we call Priorat classic now?) to the EXPLOSION of interest in Toro and Somantono – there are incredible, accessible and fruit driven wines to be found throughout the country that are perfect for the melange of holiday spices and flavors.
5. Napa Valley – The caricature of Napa Valley wines as monolithic and predictable is being challenged. Long time winemakers like Bill and Dawnine Dyer, Cathy Corison and Heidi Peterson Barrett (note that 3/4 of them are women and this does not include Mia Klein, Celia Welsch, Rosemary Cakebread et al.) are continuing to focus on elegance over power, site over style. In a word; refinement ( check my recent article on refinement here).
In celebration of the 2010 harvest and the release of our 2007 Meteor Vineyard Perseid we recently invited a small group of Coombsville neighbors and Meteor Vineyard fans for an afternoon of delicious food from Melissa Hernandez (Check this cool article about her and Michael Pollan in the New York Times), Meteor Vineyard wines and a selection of some of the best wines from the Coombsville area.
Wine writer Marcy Gordon captures it perfectly in this recent post. Check it!
On a clear night in late August you’re likely to see one of nature’s most exciting astral spectacles: the Perseid’s Meteor Shower. An average of 10 meteors per minute dart across the horizon creating an amazing lightshow. There is no better time to make a wish. The single wish we have always held at Meteor Vineyard is to produce some of the most singular Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley.
The tremendous success of our first two vintages was a fulfillment of that wish. Yet, despite finding our wines offered in some of the most prestigious restaurants in the country and in the personal wine collections of passionate oenophiles around the world, we were driven by a new wish – to allow more people to taste the wines from our unique corner of Napa Valley.
With our 2006 vintage, we embarked on a “stealth” project to produce a wine that lived up to the quality standards of Meteor Vineyard at a more approachable price point. With our 2007 vintage release, we are excited to offer you our Meteor Vineyard “Perseid” Cabernet Sauvignon. How did we do it?
The Magnificent 2007 Vintage
Working with an estate vineyard requires an intimate understanding of the land. With each harvest our knowledge of the Meteor Vineyard has grown. We are more in tune to the vineyard’s potential and closer to the ultimate “blending in the vineyard” than in our earliest years when only half of the wine we made ended up in the bottle. In this, our third vintage, we believe we have achieved a balance that expresses the full depth and breadth of Meteor Vineyard.
Much has been written about the 2007 vintage in Napa Valley. Many have heralded the 2007 vintage as a triumph of nature and the vintage of the decade. The praise is well warranted with Cabernet Sauvignon from throughout the valley producing wines of power and intensity, with ripe fruit and fine-grained tannins. This was certainly true at Meteor Vineyard. Unlike 2006’s challenging weather and endless sorting, the ideal growing conditions allowed nearly every berry to reach perfection.
In 2007, warm spring temperatures led to early bud break with very little rainfall. The summer remained mild with few of the heat spikes typically seen and dry conditions leading to small berries of intense fruit. After a brief interlude of cool the second week of October, Indian summer prevailed, affording us plenty of time to consider the optimal moment for harvest. What crossed the sorting table was as close to perfection as Cabernet Sauvignon gets. Our first glimpse of the wines post fermentation confirmed this. We knew we had something special.
We began tasting through the barrels in early fall. It was immediately clear that the Special Family Reserve would focus exclusively on our heritage planting of clone 7 on Saint George rootstock. Four barrels stood above the rest and were set aside for the Special Family Reserve (we will release this in spring 2011).
Simultaneously the economy was in steady decline and it became clear that recovery would be slow. For us, this was a strategic alignment of the moon and stars. It validated our instincts. The timeliness of creating quality wine at an accessible price point became evident and we are now proud to introduce Meteor Vineyard Perseid.
2007 Meteor Vineyard Perseid Cabernet Sauvignon
Perseid: \ˈpər-sē-əd\ 1: The Perseids are our most impressive meteor shower named for the constellation Perseus from which it appears to radiate. 2: Distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon that marries the elements of Meteor Vineyard’s clonally diverse plantings in one singularly expressive wine.
Our 2007 Perseid is deeply colored with a vibrant hue leading towards ruby red violet rim. On the nose, aromas of plum, fresh blackberries and black cherry compote mingle with sandalwood, sweet tobacco and bittersweet chocolate. The palate is rich and supple with firm assertive tannins and a complex mineral driven finish. The wine was aged in 65% new French oak for 22 months.
3-packs Meteor Vineyard Perseid Cabernet Sauvignon $375 each
Wines may be purchased online by clicking here, by phone at 707.258.2900 or via email at email@example.com. We anticipate shipping these wines the second week of November 2010.
If you would like to order more wine please let us know. If quantities allow we will do our best to fulfill your order!
Happy Stargazing from the Meteor Vineyard Team!
Barry and Tracy Schuler, Dawnine and Bill Dyer, Mike Wolf and Jason Alexander
Three things come to the forefront in a vintage like 2010 – experience, patience and the incredible importance of that elusive term terroir.
The classic “indian summer” conditions swept in the first weeks of October to provide PERFECT conditions to finish up the growing season. Mike Wolf crew swept into the vineyard at 230am on October 14 and started to harvest.
The cool temperatures in the early months of the growing season were a major topic of conversation. You couldn’t walk past winemaker or vineyard manager without stopping for a few minutes of careful consideration about when, exactly, we had seen an early season so cool (1999 seemed to pop up often as a reference). Bloggers and critics immediately went to work denigrating the vintage as a whole, rarely recognizing that months of potential summer heat lay ahead.
At Meteor Vineyard we had bud break on March 19 and had 50% bloom by June 3. Not unusual, particularly as we are a slightly more temperate climate than other areas of the valley. Post bloom the cool conditions continued. This was really true throughout the state of California – even Los Angeles experienced one of the coolest summers on record! Verasion began in early August in pockets of the vineyard but progressed slowly, with only 50% complete in the middle of the month.
I started spotting Mike Wolf’s truck in the vineyard several times a day and would catch glimpses of him scratching his head as he strolled the rows. Elsewhere in the valley, rumors of extreme green harvesting began circulating. Vineyard managers narrowed their range of options to two; extreme harvesting, often to one cluster per shoot – and pulling the leaves from around the clusters to ensure maximum sun exposure, or diligent and considered green harvesting which recognized that many more degree days lay ahead.
Anyone who has spent any time in nature understands that the logic of the natural world, while identifiable on a molecular level, is unstable and downright confusing on the macro level. How many times have you scratched your head in wonder while weather.com or your local weather person proclaims a likely rainless day as the showers pour down? While Mike can’t predict the rain (though he can exhaustively gather and analyze data on pressure systems, moisture levels, etc.) his experience and patience were tantamount to pushing us into September with healthy fruit, perfect clusters and room for introspection.
As should have been predicted, the thermometer crept up into triple digits several times over the week in September and into October. Those who pulled leaves were left with substantial sunburn (I have heard rumors of upwards of 50% of peoples crop destroyed by sun). We largely missed all of the damaging effects from these high degree days and the temperate nature of Coombsville and the unique situation of Meteor Vineyard once again proved fortuitous. There will be tremendous variation in the 2010 Cabernet based wines from Napa Valley. What to look for? Sites tempered by elevation or breeze, winemakers and vineyard managers with experience, and owners dedicated to producing only the best in every vintage, particularly the challenging ones.
A quick recap of phenology;
March 19 Budbreak
June 3 50% Bloom
August 16 50% Verasion
Anticipated harvest? Second week of October?
3 things come to the forefront in a vintage like 2010 – experience, patience and perseverence. In a meeting with Mike Wolf yesterday he displayed and comforted with all 3.
Anyone who has spent any time in nature understands that the logic of the natural world, while identifiable on a molecular level, is unstable and downright confusing on the macro level. How many times have you scratched your head in wonder while weather.com or your local weather person proclaims a likely rainless day as the showers pour down? While Mike can’t predict the rain (though he can exhaustively gather and analyze data on pressure systems, moisture levels, etc.) his experience and patience were tantamount to where we are now in the vintage cycle.
A quick recap of phenology;
March 19 Budbreak
June 3 50% Bloom
August 16 50% Verasion
Anticipated harvest? Second week of October?
Every time I taste wines from the 2007 vintage in Napa I am wowed.
I taught an introduction to wine class at the San Francisco Wine Center last night. Though the content was aimed at fundamentals, the wines were anything but basic, including 2007 Chablis Grand Cru Clos from Brocard, 2006 Ermitage L’Ermite from Chapoutier and a just released bottle of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford. What struck me, and the entire group (some of who had little business being in an introduction to wine class at all but came simply to taste the wines) was the absolute deliciousness of the 2007 Cabernet.
It is no secret that 2007 was an incredible vintage throughout Napa Valley, in fact, it is one of those vintages where making a bad wine indicated a winemaker or viticulturalists need to return to school, or accounting, or some other profession where they can’t fail to capture natures gift of a near perfect vintage. What I liked best about the wine we tasted last night, and THE defining character I find in the top wines, is balance. Yes, there are some over the top fruit bombs reminiscent of a certain vintage in the late 90’s whose wines have become a caricature of full bodied “over the top” wines from Napa Valley, but on the whole the wines retain a symmetry between ripe fruit character, firm but silky tannins and a fresh acidity that remains the essential component for graceful agability in wines from any region.
Working with an estate vineyard forces an intimate understanding of the land. With each harvest our knowledge of the Meteor Vineyards’ potential and how to best work in and around it has grown exponentially. Now into our third vintage, we believe we have found the perfect expression of Meteor Vineyard.
In 2007, warm spring temperatures led to early bud break with very little rainfall. The summer remained mild with few of the heat spikes typical seen and dry conditions leading to small berries of intense fruit. After a brief interlude of cool the second week of October, Indian summer prevailed, affording us plenty of time to consider the optimal moment for harvest. What crossed the sorting table was as close to perfection as Cabernet Sauvignon gets. Our first glimpse of the wines post fermentation confirmed this. We knew we had something special.
Like the Perseid meteor shower that that paints the northern hemisphere sky for a short time every August, Meteor Vineyard Perseid, the new bottling from Meteor Vineyard, will be visible October 14, 2010. Don’t miss it – pictures can’t do it justice.