Chris and Will Go Stateside!
It's seems a lifetime ago, don't they always, but our trip to California was a real eye opener. Our vacation, tied up with a little business, took us on a road trip. Up through Napa Valley across to Sonoma County and then back down to San Fransisco, or 'SF' as the cool kids call it.
Wine from the US is notoriously expensive, and with the Dollar being as strong as it is, 1.28 to the pound, we were going to have to close our eyes and just hand over the cash. Not to mention the tipping culture over there... wow!
We stock a small range of US wine currently so our main reason for visiting the wine country was a) we hit the jackpot in the New Year BA sales for the flights, they were cheap, and b) what a great opportunity to bring back a first hand experience like this to you, our loyal customer. If we manage to source any wine en route then bonus.
We set off to Napa. Chris hired a reasonably sized 28ft RV sporting a tv, kitchen, lounge, stand up shower, walk in bathroom and three double beds... perfect for negotiating those vineyard lanes...?
Basing ourselves in Calistoga in the Northern part of the Napa Valley we were well placed to travel between meeting to meeting or tasting to tasting, fairly easily - visiting a number of existing wineries we already list; Peter Franus, Inglenook and a couple of new additions, Trefethen and Paradux. These wineries are located in various appellations within the Napa Valley and it was great to experience how the climate and the landscape changed as you moved around the valley floor.
Peter Franus Wines - Napa Valley
Sitting on a bench, in the sunshine, with a winemaker passionately guiding you through samples of the wine they produce is not really work, but it is for us. Our first meeting introduced us to Tim, winemaker at Peter Franus Wines. We have very much loved these wines for a number of years now and they have a firm following back in Jersey. Tim took us through the range, big reds in bottle and stonking showstoppers in barrel. We were lucky even to be taken up to the Brandlin Vineyard owned by Peter Franus where he grows his incredible single vineyard Zinfandel. Bush vines form the landscape here at an altitude of 1200ft. Producing powerfully deep but characterful reds, without the overbearing fruit sweetness that other Zinfandel develops further down the hill in the valley basin. The Peter Franus 'Brandlin' Zinfandel still comes with a price tag up at around £40.00, but it could be more... in terms of quality to price ratio this wine represents rare value for money coming out of Napa in comparison to other estates. After handing us a bottle of PF Merlot, somewhat of a celebrity Merlot among friends, Tim dropped us at Inglenook in the district of Rutherford.
Inglenook Wine Estate - Napa Valley
Traditional with Napa premium wines, this place has heritage. Owned by Francis Ford Coppola there is definitely star character written on the walls here. The wines were stand up but came with crazy prices. We enjoyed a short tasting here with their white blend Blancaneaux (Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier) being the stand out for both money and quality, also a point of difference to the power house Cabernets that are so famous here in Rutherford.
Across the road was Rutherford Grill. A place anyone visiting the Valley should visit. Food and ambiance was fantastic, a smart American diner flex. Plus you could BYO and not even have to pay for corkage. Bargain when the food alone sets you back 50 quid a head at lunch...
Trefethen Family Vineyards, Napa Valley
The next day saw another stand out winery, Trefethen Family Vineyards based out of the Oak Knoll district of Napa. Here we were met by Joe Cusimano the Vice President of Sales. Joe showed us the ropes and sat us down to a comprehensive tasting. Amazing wines, so much so that we placed an order there and then. With the estate sitting in the cooler part of the Napa Valley they were able to produce wines showing more direction and precision. The Chardonnay and if you believe it a Riesling were superb. The reds outstanding, I had been a little underwhelmed by the Napa Cabernets over the last two days, so when Malbec was presented I was very keen to get stuck in. Outstanding, we didn't know what to expect but it didn't disappoint. From single variety Malbec to some exciting Napa blends showcasing the Malbec, we tasted through them all.
We will be running a limited release allocation on the wines we selected from this tasting in the next couple of weeks! Stock is expected to be with us in about 6 weeks!
Bear Republic Brewing, Healdsburg, Sonoma
Following Napa we popped over the hill towards the coast to Healdsberg, a town based in the Northern part of Sonoma. Here our minds moved from wine to beer, namely Bear Republic. Bear Republic is a fantastic success story for the west coast craft beer scene. We came across Bear Republic three years ago when we were promptly told we couldn't get hold of any due to a drought in California... short in supply the demand mindset kicked in and as soon as that export ban was lifted we filled our shelves so now having an opportunity to visit the brewery excited us hugely. Arriving at the brew pub, a pub at their brewery, we were looked after like brewkings. A guided tour, tasting beer and food was laid on. A real treat that left us wanting to get hold of more of their range. Watch this space...
Cannonball Wines, Sonoma County
The following day saw us turn south and start the short hop down to SF. We just had time for one more stop, Cannonball Wines. A more commercial outlook on wine production however allowing the end product a look in when we pop them on the shelves here in Jersey. Dennis Hill the owner and winemaker gave us a guided tour of the winery and bottling line. Followed by the vineyards, including an in depth tutorage of grafting, vineyard and soil management and even how to leaf pluck. These wines, stylistic to the local region were more accessible to the wallet and still performed very well on the taste test. We look forward to re visiting the range.
Following a hectic yet invaluable 4 days spent in Napa and Sonoma we headed back down to SF for some more 'market research' but that's another story altogether.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who showed such great American and Wine Industry hospitality, we had a blast but more importantly returned with a wealth of first hand knowledge to pass on to our customers and market place here in little Jersey.
We also send our thoughts and best wishes out to the people affected by the fires that affected the area in October this year.
- Will Berresford