Celestial Napa: Up and Down Napa Valley with Meteor Vineyard
The Sun Valley Wine Auction is one of our favorite events of the year. A stunningly beautiful setting, exquisite food, stunning wines from around the world and passionate eonophiles. If you have not already purchased tickets, there are still a few available. Even if you are unable to attend, keep your eyes on the Meteor Vineyard auction lot “Celestial Napa: Up and Down Napa Valley with Meteor Vineyard.”
After a restful night at the Meteor Vineyard guesthouse, you will start your day with Meteor winemaker/partners Bill and Dawnine Dyer on beautiful Diamond Mountain. Bill and Dawnine will lead you on a barrel tasting of the yet to be bottled Meteor vintages, and then host you for an exquisite picnic high above the valley on Diamond Mountain.
As you start your journey south down the valley, Meteor Vineyard General Manager and Sommelier Jason Alexander will lead you on a viticultural tour of some of Napa’s legendary vineyards, exploring the characteristics and unique attributes that define the multiple AVA’s of the Valley, culminating with a tour of the exquisite Meteor Vineyard and a tasting of Meteor’s inaugural and current releases.
Finally, you will delve into “Culinary Napa”, enjoying a progressive dinner exploring menu highlights at several of Napa’s new and exciting restaurants. Some big time chefs are opening new restaurants downtown as we auction this!
Note: Transportation not included. Time to be mutually agreed upon. Summer months recommended. Expires July 2011.
This lot is for 2 couples (or four people) and includes;
2 nights accommodation at Meteor Vineyard
6 bottles of wine per couple as described below
Tour, Tasting and Barrel Tasting of Meteor Vineyard
Winemaker Lunch on Diamond Mountain
“Dine around Napa” with Meteor Vineyard Host
A Personalized Napa Valley vineyard tour with Sommelier Jason Alexander
Wines from Meteor Vineyard
2 3 packs of 2005 Meteor Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Inaugural release Selection 750 ml (3 pack contains 2 bottles 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 bottle Special Family Reserve)
2 3 packs 2006 Meteor Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Selection (3 pack contains 2 bottles Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and 1 bottle Special Family Reserve)
In winemaking we measure our experience not in years, but in the number of vintages. Between Bill & I, throwing in the odd harvest in the Southern Hemisphere and Europe, we count over 80 collective harvests.
In that time we have seen a number of advances and developments, from the vineyard to the winery. Parsing apart what makes truly great wine is to ponder the evolution of these changes, what separates true advances in winemaking & grape growing from trend and fad.
Over the years perception has shifted broadly. Sugar levels at harvest have risen and sunk, only to rise again. The use of oak barrels has carried cries of superiority from France to Hungary to the United States, with ever increasing prices and ever less expensive alternatives like oak chips finding their way into event he least expensive mass market brands. Even how we define and describe varietal character has ranged widely during our time; indeed, many would argue that our perception of quality itself has shifted, with particular wine styles scored highly in the wine press (converting to sales) while other styles are largely left out of the media discussion and left lonely on wine store shelves.
In the 70s growers were rewarded, more directly than today, for high sugars… the higher the better. In the 80s, with the near “death by late harvesting” of Zinfandel (and a growing anti alcohol lobby), we looked to Europe and contemplated the role of wine as food. Then in the fast paced 90s, high sugar again became a major part of the fine wine equation, and, at least in Cabernet, we developed a pathological fear of any plant based character that was green or tannic.
Throughout this time, a profound amount of research emerged from places like UC Davis and the University of Bordeaux. We gained a better understanding of even ripeness in the vineyard and the powerful impact of green seed & stem tannins. Vineyard managers began mapping vineyard sites and matching clones to contour, rootstock to soil type – in addition to developing advanced trellising techniques aimed at tempering the effect of warm climates and maximizing the sun exposure of more marginal regions. Here is Napa, as phylloxera continued its “lousy” march through Napa Valley’s vineyards, many growers took the positive approach and adopted these advances with a fervor.
What starts in the vineyard plays out in our choices of winery equipment. A melange of new “advanced” and cutting edge equipment entered the winery; from destemmers to presses, from multi sized temperatured controlled stainless steel tanks to the now de-rigour sorting tables enabling the hand sorting of fruit.
Yet, with all of these advances, it remains an open question whether or not we have done ourselves any favors with the squeaky clean, virus free plant material and sophisticated winery tools. The great debate about ripeness, and the variation of styles from the 40’s until today, has never reconciled into a cohesive definition of perfect wines. If anything, the “advances” have led to increased debate. Traditionalists, extolling the virtues of the great 28 vintage in Bordeaux, the legendary wines of Inglenook from the 40s and 50s, decry the uniformity of the wines from the great vintages (and here I am thinking about 2000 in Bordeaux and 1997 in Napa Valley). Modernists assert the preference of market driven wines for accesability, for plush tannins and fruit driven styles. The modern wine press, whose scores drive the bulk of the high end wine market, side on the latter.
Yet, in the world of fine and rare wine, are we not all trying to achieve a form of perfection? Whose perfection?
If we prune and farm for even ripeness, identifying the moment of optimal ripeness is a matter of much debate. For some it comes as the seeds begin to harden and brown, for others it is not until the grapes raisin on the vine. Berkeley chef, Paul Bertolli, devotes a chapter in his book Cooking by Hand on ripeness and his philosophical approach appeals to me … in it he says such things as “… the state of ripeness may amount to only minutes, hours or days in the garden (it’s a little longer for grapes). Or a few years in a years in a human life, yielding to the winding down of function, decay, and eventual dissolution.” “…intensity is the hallmark of ripeness, the culmination of growth and experience. But ripeness is not simply the reward for waiting nor is it necessarily guaranteed. The precondition of ripeness is maturity, which in turn can only come about through the right kind of development along the way. Ripeness, then is one of the naturally fortunate outcomes of life.”(p 30)
How do you decide what is right? If you believe in terroir, than it is situational and there will be a “best practice” for each vineyard. But there is the collective aspect as well… how else do you explain Amarone or Champagne, where technique has been raised to prominence over fruit. Do Napa Valley Cabernets now fall into that category where technique (oak levels, jammy, almost sweet fruit) has become an important identifier for wines?
For us at Meteor Vineyard, the final blending of 2008 will unfold this month. The fruit in barrel is the careful amalgamation of best practices from every era. On the modern, is the carefully selected clones and rootstocks planted by Mike Wolf. Purposeful trellising maximizing the long temperate growing season of the Meteor Vineyard hillside, diligent work in the vineyard throughout the cycle farming for uniform ripeness while recognizing the unique nature of each clone, each block, each row – and ultimately each vine. From there we, as wine makers, are largely shepherds, a practice as old as organized community – flagging harvest at a moment when the natural acids of Coombsville meld with the rich fruit characters of Cabernet Sauvignon and the natural tannin structure of the grape. No excessive extraction, diligent use of new barrels (around 50%) and 18 to 20 months in barrel to round out the wines.
Perhaps that is the wisdom of 80 harvests and the ease of working with a perfect site. The great wines have always come from the land, we, as viticulturalists and winemakers are simply here to help them along.
“Vibrant, violet-hued, intense color, blackberry, voluptuous, upfront, ripe fruit aromas & flavors, focused, precise, classic, balance and structure” – just some of the characteristics that we and others report finding in Meteor Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.
Well-drained soils impart depth and minerality to a wine. During the critical maturation period warm, even temperatures allow for leisurely ripening that softens tannins and produces lush, bright fruit. Both of those aspects of a great site are amply evident at Meteor Vineyard.
The vineyard possesses another, celestial quality that is uniquely Meteor, something we recognize every time we ferment grapes. It shows up in the wine’s dense but clear violet-edged color, and a trademark Meteor aroma of red cherries and blackberries.
The three clones planted on the vineyard make our 100% Meteor Vineyard Cabernet more complex to create, challenging us to find that precise balance between the three vineyard expressions. There is always a discovery.
Winemaking Philosophy of Meteor Vineyards
We believe that in the perfect viticultural situations – when the right grapes are planted in the right place – that the best wine that can be made is the one that allows the vineyard to speak clearly and forcefully. The winemaking will therefore be simple and non- interventional, like cooking with the finest fresh ingredients and just allowing the ingredients to shine.
That said, our approach is to employ the best of traditional and modern winemaking techniques in teasing out every last ounce of plush fruit and tannin from the grapes. The fruit is harvested when it’s perfectly ripe, generally in late October. Sorting out defective fruit, raisins and sunburned berries is done in the field, and again at the winery toensure that we’re working with beautiful, perfectly clean grapes. These are lightly crushed and then cold soaked for several days prior to fermentation, allowing the extraction of flavors and colors before the alcohol from fermentation changes the nature of the extraction. As the fermentation heats up, pump-overs, the mixing of the fermentor that submerges the “cap” for optimal extraction, is increased from two to three and than reduced as the fermentation slows.
Draining and pressing is based on tasting and our palate for the quality and quantity of the tannins. Only the free run juice is used for Meteor Vineyard wines. The wines go to barrel before malo lactic fermentation, which occurs in the barrel. We use barrels from several coopers: Alain Fouquet, Tarrensaud and D & J are current favorites. The first racking is done after the finish of malolactic and subsequent rackings are performed based on the evolution of the wine. Every stage of growing grapes and making wine contains its own challenges, surprises and rewards. The final blend of Meteor Vineyard wine highlights the strengths of each of the three clones of Cabernet Sauvignon in the vineyard. When we agree that we’ve hit on an expression of the best representation of the Meteor Vineyard, we know that our job is well done, and that the wine has grown into something that others can also enjoy.
We racked the last of the 2009 vintage off ML today… have been racking since Tuesday and everything looks great. Particularly excited about the clone 7 and the Petite Verdot. The Petite Verdot is more of a stand alone wine than most I’ve tasted, with some of the racy, floral top notes of Petite Verdot but with great delicacy and length. Once again, the balance of clones offers and array of aromatics and textures, with the bright berry fruit of the 337 adding the telltale “high tones”. Balances are good. Tannins already controlled. Mike and his team did all the real work in the vineyard. Looking at oak, we’re liking the addition of more Tarrensaud, especially for the 337, but still are partial to the Alain Fouquet barrels. The before and after the rain discussion is a non starter…the only grapes that remained into the rain were Clone 4, and the fruit is close to perfect.
As we prepare for the 2009 harvest, a flashback to 2006…
Each year, as harvest approaches, we winemakers find ourselves looking for comparisons with previous growing seasons. No two are ever exactly alike- that’s part of the compelling nature of winemaking (and wine drinking!), but over the past 30 years I’ve come to expect to find some resonance or a pattern of behavior, or lessons learned from a particularly treacherous season. So, as the unfinished story of the 2009 at Meteor unfolds and we wait for the nextl installment, I look back at the finished story of the soon to be released 2006 vintage.
2006 was cool and wet through April; May was variable with cool temperatures in the second half of the month delaying the finish of bloom and setting up a situation for variable ripeness. Several heat spikes in June and one protracted heat wave in July took their toll on the vines and left us thinking about a premature harvest, but August and September returned to below average temperatures and a protracted waiting began. A little rain in October, followed by a final, blessed week with temperatures over 80, brought us to a successful harvest on Oct 28. Not a year for the faint of heart! At every twist and turn, we anticipated alternate outcomes… then the unexpected happened! I really can’t find the vintage to compare to 2006, but am glad to have lived and learned from it. Already, the press has written about the vintage… and I would agree with challenging and maybe even variable, but challenging vintages in the hands of skilled viticulturists and winemakers can be astonishing successes ( my favorite quote of the year- “2006 was not a year when the wines made themselves!”). Mike kept the vineyard going thru the heat and made repeated passes thru the vineyard during the growing season. His diligence in the vineyard reduced the challenges in the winery, but there again, sorting was the name of the game and the grapes that made it to the fermenter were in pristine condition. Blending is the second half of the story.
2006 was a year where intimate knowledge of the vineyard (and Mike, who planted the vineyard knows it better than anyone), access to a sorting table and selective blending all paid off and we are really excited that with our second release, we are offering even more intensity of character and depth of flavor than the acclaimed 2005 vintage. 2007 and 2008 confirm that this level of quality is indeed sustainable from Meteor Vineyard… and 2009? So far so good!
2009 Harvest Summary
The 2009 harvest ended on Saturday October 17 as we scurried to bring in the last block of Cab before rain hit again on Monday. What had been a near perfect growing season turned ugly when over 3 inches of rain fell in one day- not in itself a bad thing, but what followed was several days with humidity over 70%- perfect conditions for botrytis and mold.
At Meteor we had 3/4 of the fruit in before this weather event and made the decision to leave the last block, clone 4 in the vineyard for that last little ripening that turns beast to beauty. Clone 4 always benefits from a little extra “hang time” to smooth it’s rather aggressive tannins and under normal circumstances, a little rain is a non issue.
The balance of the vineyard was picked on Oct 10, a full week earlier, when rain threatened to bring our leisurely late summer to an abrupt close. We started to see complete evolution of flavor and ripe tannin around Oct 5th, but with gently temperatures and little sugar accumulation felt no sense of urgency and squeezed every last bit of flavor from the season. And with rain predicted for the 12th, we pulled the trigger on the clone 7 and 337. Picked at night, the cool fruit was delivered to the waiting destemmer in pristine conditions.
Our partially tamed beast (clone 4) weathered the storm well, but we chose not to tempt fate by leaving it thru a 2nd storm and brought it in. All the blocks are fermenting separately and bring unique elements to the blending… this year we have a tremendous palate to work with.
The final Meteor harvest news is the addition of just under a ton of Petit Verdot. 0.5 acres was eked out of the property and planted in 2004*. Until now the young vineyard has been, well, a young vineyard with all it’s unruly characteristics. This year the Meteor team made the decision to bring it into our fold and it looks beautiful. At this time we’re not sure exactly how we’re going to use it, but in thinking about our 2 wines, it’s potential to be the perfect spice is compelling.
Overall season characteristics at Meteor
1. even bloom
2. long, slow season
3. high pHs (universal in Napa this year)
4. majority picked before the major weather event
Just checked the vineyard after three cloudy days with some fairly significant rain on Sunday.
Less than 24 hrs later, a gentle breeze is drying off the clusters and we’re back on track for ripening. We’re not used to summer rains in Napa and tend to freak out a little, but mostly it just washes the dust off and makes the air smell nice. Even so, we’ll be a little more vigilant about botrytis, but for now things look great.
I’m not pulling the trigger just yet, but really liked what I saw this morning- especially blk 1, clone 7. Berries softening, even some dimpling, good tannin resolution in skins, color extracting easily, great fruit and brn seeds. The dimpling seems to be comparatively free of raisin characters. blk1, clone 4 still has some hard, green tannin in the skins- not uncharacteristically, and 337 is somewhere in between. Only see positive in waiting thru this cool week and into next, but I think we could see some action by the end of next week.
Blk1, clone 7- 24.7 B, 3.74
Blk 1, clone 4- 23.4 B, 3.58 pH
Blk 3, clone 337- 24.0 B, 3.64 pH