Blending from a single vineyard is a very different exercise from blending fruit from throughout a region.
Many fine wine regions are based on blending; Champagne is synonymous with blends (though far more grower champagne bottlings focusing on one estate), Port is often pulled from multiple vineyards from throughout the Duoro, and many wines from California are labeled under larger AVA’s to allow for a particular style to be created. In many cases this style is intended to provide wine lovers with wines that are similar in style from year to year. Fruit from cooler areas is added for brightness and acidity, warmer regions for base notes and mid palate breadth. In Napa Valley, people will also pull in mountain fruit for tannins and structure.
Working solely with an individual site, you are faced an individual interpretation of a vintage. The models here are many as well, with Burgundy remaining the most recognized with clearly defined vineyards delineated since the middle ages. Each vineyards’ minute changes in soil type and exposition manifests in subtle, and sometimes profound differences. (Of course, human influence has a role here as well with a melange of clones and winemaking techniques creating variations within the variations).
The Meteor Vineyard sits atop a knoll at 500 ft elevation. Soils are a fairly uniform blend of volcanic ash, rounded river stone and sedimentary soils. There is a slight “rolling” aspect to the contour, but for the most part the knoll faces west and southwest. The greatest variation lies in the 3 clones planted, each with fairly unique characteristics. This is where the “blending” comes in.
We describe 2008 as the year of fire and ice, with fires peppering the hillsides in the summer and frost affecting bud break.
Clone 337 is always the most delicate of the clones we pull from the vineyard. Historically, the wines are dominated by red rather than black fruit with a distinct floral component and sandalwood. Everyone agreed that the 337 from 2008 was the best “stand alone” 337 that we have harvested to date. More red hued than in 2007, the wine displayed compelling high tones reminiscent of past vintages, with more weight in the mid palate, and a long, vibrant finish.
What clone 4 holds back aromatically, it compounds and compacts into structure. A range of black and red fruits, with firm tannins and focus. Perhaps lacking completeness alone, the wine adds depth and rounds out the 337, and somehow tempers the brooding nature of clone 7.
Clone 7 remains the most precocious of the clones. Muscular and brooding, filled with black fruit and spice, chocolate and coffee bean. Even at this nascent stage, the tannins are powerful, yet rounded, the finish long and firm. Once again the stand out.
The thing that compels me about these wines is their unique melding of new and old world styles. The temperate climate and volcanic soils clearly impart a restraint and elegance, while the California (and Napa Valley) sunshine imparts a fruit character that is unmistakably California. 2008 is clearly more restrained than the previous vintages, yet unique and substantive – another unique example of the character of Meteor Vineyard.
What will the final blend be? That remains to be seen.
Linda Viviani excels at providing her clients access to some of the most exciting wineries in Northern California. In this video she speaks with Tracy Schuler about finding the property that is now Meteor Vineyard and the elements that make it such a unique and compelling place.
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.
Fall in the wine country is always serene. The grapes are in the winery, the leaves are slowly changing color and the sunlight feels more refracted and diffuse. The manic nature of harvest feels long ago, and the vines move incrementally toward a period of winter slumber. I was taking a quick respite this afternoon while talking to a buyer in Las Vegas and had to stop and marvel at the pristine natural beauty.
Despite early forecasts for rain into the weekend, Sunday arrived with perfect fall conditions.
Thomas MacNaughton, of San Francisco’s Flour and Water, prepared a melange of delicious food including Flour and Water’s incredible house cured salumi, roasted pumpkin soup with smoked duck and pistachio, roasted beet and persimmon salad with curly cress and roasted squash and pancetta salad with pheasant and wild arugula.
The wood fired pizza oven was burning, and Barry and Tom had a friendly battle over pizza crusts (Barry’s starter is developed with wild yeasts from the vineyard).
The food was delicious, and the wines (of course) were spectacular. Dawnine pulled barrel samples of the 2007 (yes, it is everything it is touted to be), both of the 2006 wines that were released several weeks ago were flowing, and a few of the final bottles from 2005 were pulled from the cellar to demonstrate the evolution of the vineyard. We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.
History – A Quick Synopsis
The release of our inaugural vintage in the fall of 2008 marked the culmination of decades of dreams and experience.
For Meteor Vineyard owner Barry Schuler, it marked the culmination of a dream hatched over 35 years ago when Barry, a student with a growing passion for wine, first visited Napa Valley. After roaming the valley and tasting, he was struck with the burning desire to someday live in Napa, grow grapes and make a wine that could take its place among the worlds greats.
Simultaneously, Bill and Dawnine Dyer were launching their careers in winemaking and the history of Napa Valley was being written daily as it emerged as a truly world class wine growing region. Their paths would include some of the most successful wineries in the valley and an exhaustive understanding of the microclimates and potential of Cabernet Sauvignon from many areas of Napa Valley.
Three decades later their paths converged on a small knoll in a unique corner of Napa Valley that was immediately recognized as home to some of the most distinct fruit in the region. Meteor Vineyard was born.
Meteor Vineyard – A Rare Coming of Age
When Barry and his wife Tracy purchased the property that is now Meteor Vineyard in 1998, the comments that it was a “natural” vineyard site resounded. Noted viticulturist Mike Wolf planted the 22 acre vineyard to 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, recognizing that the quick draining soils of white volcanic ash and river stone and the temperate growing season of the Coombsville area would serve as the perfect foundation for world class Cabernet Sauvignon.
The 2006 harvest was far more challenging than the 2005. An uneven bloom set during spring led to a veritable autumnal “fruit cocktail” – green berries and raisins interspersed with perfect, concentrated berries. The result? – careful sorting in the field and even more diligence on the sorting table. Thank goodness we are a boutique operation; hand sorting is intensive and exhausting work! The grapes that passed the gauntlet were as perfect as Cabernet Sauvignon gets.
The palette of clones in the vineyard offered an array of character when it came time to blend. The dark brooding fruit and chocolate tones from clone 7, the structure and intensity from Clone 4 and the bright effusive fruit of 337 resulted in a wine of precocious aromatics, penetrating depth. This, coupled with what is quickly becoming our trademark mouthfeel, show the evolution of a vineyard that is truly coming of age.
Harvest always forces winemakers (and wine lovers) into a game of comparisons. The singular character of a vintage is dependent on an incalculable array of variables; from sunlight hours to rainfall, from the gradations of temperature to the frequency and intensity of wind, from the decisions to green harvest to the agonizing judgment of sending in the crew to pull the fruit from the vine.
The 2009 vintage was incredibly even until the freakish storm that swept in mid-October. But that was nothing compared to the disparate conditions of 2008. Barry refers to it as the year of Fire and Ice.
While harvest is already in swing around Napa Valley for Pinot and white grapes. We are weeks away, particularly in our temperate hilltop at Meteor Vineyard. But time to check in and get a baseline on the physical maturity, brix and a little taste of the berries.
Clusters are plentiful but looking a bit light on berries.
For those not familiar with premium Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, we grow the grape, or berries in viticulture “speak” to be small and highly concentrated in flavor.
We pay particular attention to the seeds and the “jacket” of fruit around it. a mature berry will have a brown seed and no jellied fruit clinging to it. we are weeks away right now as you can see.
And finally a quick take on sugar content or brix. Here is where my handy pocket refractometer is great for a quick read, although our various winemakers and viticulturists will do it the more traditional way. 22.1 ripe for Bordeaux and waiting 10 years to drink, but not even close for Napa’s finest.
Prior to Meteor Vineyard gaining renown for our own label, excitement was building among winemakers and proprietors throughout the valley. In this video we speak those whose passion for the fruit is close to our own. Winemaker and viticulturalists Andy Erickson, Annie Favia, Philippe Melka, Jon Priest, Franci Ashton, Dawnine Dyer and Mike Wolf talk about the unique nature of the fruit from the vineyard; while Fritz Hatton and Robin Lail talk about what compels them about the site and what it adds to their wines.