I recently spent five days in Napa with my beautiful wife Felucca. It was a multi-purpose trip, part pleasure, part work. Ok let’s be honest even the “work” part was pleasurable! The “work” part of the trip focused on three specific estates, Kuleto, Joseph Phelps, and Duckhorn, and over the next few newsletters I will review each visit.
However, if I were forced to sum the trip up with one word it would be “RAIN”. Northern California was plagued with some torrential down pours over this past week. We only had one day of palatable weather, the others, rainy & cold, comparable to Cleveland’s days of grey (winter). For the most part, the floor level vineyards were flooded, and the mountain vineyards were soaked. My initial thoughts were this is going to be a very challenging vintage, and in speaking with winemakers some of them agreed. We will just have to wait and see, so enough of the somewhat negatives.
First stop…Kuleto Estate (www.kuletoestate.com), never heard of it, precisely the reason of the visit. Kuleto is a beautiful Tuscan estate on Sage Canyon Road, east of the Silverado trail. It was founded by restaurateur Pat Kuleto in 1992. The property itself is a massive 850+ acres and overlooks the entire town of Rutherford. There are 82 individual vineyard blocks growing chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and few other varietals.
Our tour guide was Giovani Verdejo, the Cellarmaster. He is David Lattin’s (winemaker) right hand man. Gio & David construct some of the best wines coming out of Napa, in my opinion comparable to, if not better than some of the region’s top estates. Our tour started with a glass of rose (from cabernet franc grapes) as we made our way to the barrel room. As we casually hovered around the barrels of beautifully aging juice Gio spoke about David’s and his philosophy as winemakers. To summarize, they simply allow the fruit to stand on its’ own and their interference is kept to a minimum. Gio could see our anxiety building so he suggested we taste right out of the barrel, and who are we to question such expertise, so we graciously accepted his offer! Our first wine was the 2009 estate Syrah. This wine was loaded with aromas of coffee, ripe blackberries, dark cherries, and a beautiful floral component. The Syrah was absolutely stunning and scheduled for bottling in two weeks. The single vineyard 2007 India Ink Cabernet Sauvignon was our next sampling, the highlight of the day it was full of ripe dark fruits, toasted coconut, and vanilla crème brulee. This wine was so impressive, I begged Gio for another glass. I couldn’t get enough of this wine.
Our barrel sampling lasted for approximately an hour. We drank as Gio explained each and every wine with a passion only a winemaker could have. The wines were as beautiful as the estate itself, perhaps having a bit of an edge. I thought to myself if the remaining visits were at the level of this visit, we were going to be in trouble because it is going to be difficult to leave!
I strongly urge those of you who want a boutique wine in your collection to seek these wines out, otherwise you will be on the outside of the bottle looking in…