Napa Valley: Articles on California's Napa Valley Wine Region

Top 25 Most Awesome Tasting Rooms in California

Wine tasting is not merely the act of drinking wine, it is the total experience and that includes the physical space you are standing in when sampling Sauvignon Blanc or pondering Petit Verdot.

The Three Legged Winemaker - An Interview with Napa Valley Legend Mike Grgich

Mike Grgich and Brad PrescottI recently had the great privilege of spending an afternoon with legendary Napa Valley winemaker Mike Grgich. Over a long lunch and more than a few bottles of his finest wines, we discussed his career and its influence on Napa winemaking as well as his myriad accomplishments, winning both the 1976 Judgment of Paris and the Great Chicago Showdown to name but a few. I had never met Mike in person before and did not know what to expect. What I found was a man with deep pride in his accomplishments but one who is equally grateful to all those who helped and influenced him along the way. I also discovered a man who is the living embodiment of the American dream, having fled communism to find success in Paradise, California. It's safe to say that my long lunch with Mike was the most enjoyable and interesting day of the six years I have spent running IntoWine. I interviewed Mike via email in 2007. The interview below is round two, where I get to ask my wish list of questions. Thankfully, Mike obliged.  

Top 75 California Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking (a non-dump bucket list if you will!)

In my last article, I listed the Top 75 French Wines to Try Before You Quit Drinking.  In this article I look at the “non-dump bucket” list for wines from California.  This proved to be a different task.  First, very few wineries have a long track record of making great wine.  Secondly, while California is diverse, it does not have the diversity of climates and terroir and grape varietals of France.  Still, it does produce some of the best wines in the world and any wine lover should make it a point to try as many of them as they can.  Here is my list:

1. Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon – It’s hard to pick the first wine.  This one is a great wine in every vintage and has been for a long time.  Expensive but still possible to afford and made in large enough quantities to be found in grocery stores.  Every lover of Cabernet should try this once.

Q&A with Amelia Ceja, Owner of Ceja Vineyards, Sonoma

In 1999, Amelia Ceja co-founded Ceja Vineyards located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. Amelia was named president which made her the first Latina Woman Vintner in California. The Ceja family paved the way not only for Latinos but also for many minority families in the wine industry. Today they produce about 10,000 cases of wine which is distributed throughout the U.S. and hey farm over 100 acres of prime vineyard land. Additionally they have successfully used social media and Amelia has created over 100 video blogs about pairing wine and Mexican food.

Napa Valley Chardonnay: Foods to Pair With, and Meals that Call for, Napa Chardonnay

Chardonnay—a chameleon of a grape. There are an especially large number of choices to be made in terms of winemaking when it comes to Chardonnay. It can be still or sparkling. It can be aged in oak or un-oaked, filtered or unfiltered, subject to malolactic fermentation or not. Even the type of oak used, or the decision to keep the wine in contact with dead yeast cells during the winemaking process affects the style of the final product. These factors (not to mention the concept of terroir) result in endless Chardonnay styles that can range from Burgundy’s crisp, austere, mineral-driven wines to Australia’s tropical fruit-packed, viscous style.

Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Foods to Pair and Meals That Call for Napa Cabernet

Napa Valley Cabernet—the wine that proved to the world it was possible to make world-class wine someplace other than France. When Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars’ 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon beat famous French Bordeaux such as Château Mouton Rothschild and Château Haut-Brion, among others, in a blind tasting conducted by French wine experts at the now famous 1976 Paris Tasting, the world took notice. Now Napa Valley Cabernets are served everywhere, and producers like Heitz Cellars and Ridge Vineyards are familiar names on restaurant wine lists.

Q&A with Bernard Portet, Winemaker at Heritance

Mentored by his father, a technical director at Château Lafite, Bernard Portet grew up tasting each wine vintage. Born in Cognac, his family has owned vineyard property in France since the late 1600s.  A firm believer that making wine is all about a specific place, Portet’s journey led him to the United States, Australia, Morocco, South Africa and South America. Due to the similarities of several of his favorite wine regions in France, it was California’s Napa Valley that inspired him. With a clear vision of the potential of the Napa Valley, in 1971 he co-founded Clos du Val. He pioneered several Napa Valley regions and developed a keen focus upon the Stags Leap region. Portet remained at Clos du Val for more than 35 years. His latest wine label, Heritance launched in 2011.

Q&A with Peter Mondavi, Jr., Winemaker at Charles Krug Winery

The name Mondavi is synonymous with wine, there is no denying that. Peter Mondavi, Jr., son of Peter Mondavi, Sr. and nephew of Robert Mondavi, heads the Charles Krug- Peter Mondavi Family Napa Valley Winery. Part of the Mondavi vision, and one that he believes only a successful family-owned and operated business can make, is the investment of $25.6 million made to replant the 850 acres of their Napa Valley vineyard land, renewing the winery’s focus on Cabernet Sauvignon and other red Bordeaux varietals and converting to sustainable farming methods. In 2010 the winery received the California Governor’s Historic Preservation Award for the restoration of the winery’s historic structures.

What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career, and was there ever a thought about leaving the family business for something else?

My original intent was to pursue some form of engineering, thus the BS in Mechanical Engineering. But my experience working in virtually every aspect of the winery during my summer vacations since I was 8 years old was too strong of a draw. There are way too many draws and positive aspects to living and working in the Napa Valley and in the agricultural business of winemaking.

Q&A with Chef William S. Bloxsom-Carter: Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director for the Playboy Mansion West

Chef William S. Bloxsom-Carter has worked as the Executive Chef, and Food and Beverage Director for the Playboy Mansion West for over two and half decades. A frequent wine judge he constantly looks for wines to pair with his foods for the multitude of foods he presents to guest at the Mansion; this can mean an intimate dinner party of 12, or upwards of 1,200 people. Complementing his responsibilities for Playboy Enterprises, Chef Carter has prepared winery dinners in Sonoma County, Napa Valley, Paso Robles and the Santa Ynez Valley as well as special events for high-profile clients throughout the United States, focusing on the importance of food and wine pairings and extraordinary hospitality service. Additionally, Chef Carter is a recurring featured guest on numerous radio shows syndicated nationwide describing and promoting California wines and foods.

You routinely plan food from appetizers to entrees for up to thousands of guests at the Playboy Mansion. With so many people, is it ever difficult to pair wines with the diverse variety of foods you prepare?

When I’m evaluating and selecting wines for events, I take copious notes based on flavor profile, nose, finish, integration/body, visual clarity and any perceptible flaws. Depending on the demographic for an event dictates the food and wine selections. Like with food, seasonality also plays an important role when selecting wines. At the Playboy Mansion, I have the liberty to create and select food and wine based on many variables. Some may look at it as a challenge; I look at it as a way to offer every guest an impeccable hospitality experience based on the bounties of the harvest.

Wines to Go Buy This Week: Truchard Pinot Noir and MR Mvemve Raats de Compostella

Wines to Go Buy This Week: A Carneros Pinot Noir by Truchard and a South African Bordeaux Style Red by the (barely pronounceable) MR Mvemve Raats.

As frequent IntoWine readers know, in November we are launching our own wine club, The IntoWineClub, in partnership with the California Wine Club (more info on the club here if you are interested). While there are a lot of moving parts, how it works is that the folks at California Wine Club ship me wine samples that are being considered for future club shipments and then I provide feedback and such about the wines that will be included in those shipments. Recently I received my first batch of samples and, let me tell you, I am thrilled about the quality of the wines. I simply can not wait for our club to launch in November. With this in mind, I give you this week's installment of "Wines to Go Buy This Week":

Truchard LabelTruchard Pinot Noir 2006 - Was going to wait to recommend this until our IntoWineClub launch the first week of November but I'm gonna let the cat out of the bag early. This Truchard Pinot Noir is one of the wines being considered and I could not be more pleased to share the news that this wine is going to be in the inaugural IntoWineClub shipment. So what about the wine itself? For me a tell-tale sign of a good wine is that it is delicious and easy to drink from the first sip to the very last and always leaves you wanting more. The Truchard Pinot Noir passes that test with flying colors. From the Carneros region of Napa, Truchard Pinot Noir is an ideal wine for anyone curious about discovering Northern California Pinot Noir. It's also reasonably priced at approx $35 retail. "Reasonable" is relative of course as some might say $35 for a wine is outrageously expensive. For a quality Carneros Pinot though, this is priced more than fairly as you can certainly pay much more than this for a similar wine. As for the IntoWineClub, you can sign up here if you are interested.  

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