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

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.  

Q&A with Bo Barrett, Winemaker of Napa’s Chateau Montelena

James P. "Bo" Barrett has been the Winemaker at Chateau Montelena Winery since 1982. Bo’s career in the wine industry began in 1972, right after he graduated from high school, when his family purchased Chateau Montelena. He spent the first summer pulling star thistle in the old vineyard and picking up rocks in preparation for replanting. In 1976 Bo transferred to Fresno State University, where he was an honors student in Viticulture and Enology. 1976 was a crucial year, one that would forever change the perception of American wine when a Chateau Montelena Chardonnay bested French White Burgundies in a blind tasting, known as the Judgment of Paris. As 1981 drew to a close, Chateau Montelena’s original winemaker left to pursue other opportunities and Bo was offered the job by his father, the winery’s Managing General Partner. The rest is, as they say, history.

Certainly the “Judgment at Paris” where the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay surprised everyone and took top honors, has become a seminal event in American wine history. But at the time, was the whole experience even relevant to you and your family?

It was extremely important as soon as it came out in Time Magazine, The LA Times, etc. The hand crafted Napa Valley wines were only being recognized on the West Coast and it was tough to get the other U.S. markets like New York, Boston, and Chicago to take us seriously, and even tougher to sell wines there; no matter how good they were. You have to remember that the center of American winemaking at that time was Modesto! That Napa won both the red and white wines at the Paris Tasting was catalytic to the formation of Napa today. So hell yes it was relevant!

Q&A with David Duncan: CEO, Silver Oak Cellars

Raymond Twomey Duncan first came to the Napa Valley in the late 1960s and within a year began purchasing land in the Napa and Alexander Valleys. Along with the late Justin Meyer, they founded Silver Oak Cellars in 1972 with a single goal: create the best Cabernet Sauvignon. After selecting Daniel Baron to succeed him as winemaker in 1994, Justin Meyer sold his share of Silver Oak to the Duncan family in 2001. Today, the Duncan family leads Silver Oak forward, maintaining the vision established by Ray and Justin more than 35 years ago. David Duncan serves as the winery’s President and CEO, overseeing production and operations. Today Silver Oak is regarded as one of the top Cabernet Sauvignon producers in the Napa Valley, earning legions of fans and a near cult-like status. 

Silver Oak makes only one wine, Cabernet Sauvignon, and you are known for this. When the idea first started with your dad, was there any concern that you would not be able to make a name for yourself with just a single wine?

It is hard to appreciate from today’s “cab is king” mentality but we really stepped out and took a big risk with our singular focus on just one wine. I don’t think we were too worried about making “a name,” just making great wine.

Wines to Go Buy This Week: Chateau Bonnet White Bordeaux and Clark-Claudon Cabernet Sauvignon

Wines to Go Buy This Week: A Crisp Summer White Blend by Chateau Bonnet and a Complex Napa Cabernet by Clark-Claudon Vineyards

Labor Day weekend is here and people across the US are gathering to toast the end of summer. As Labor Day marks the tipping point between hot summer nights and cool autumn evenings, my wine recommendations this week will focus on both a cool, refreshing summer sauvignon blanc to savor on these last days of summer and a full bodied Napa cabernet for those upcoming autumn evenings by the fireplace. So as we say farewell to summer 2011, here are two wines to go buy this week:

Chateau Bonnet LabelChateau Bonnett Entre-Deux-Mers Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Muscadelle Andre Lurton, 2010 - Now say that 5 times fast! A quick lesson for those of you who are unfamiliar with French wine: The French label their wines slightly different than we do in the US as they emphasize the place more so than the grape varietal or the producer. In this case, the vineyards and winery are located at Chateau Bonnet, the region is the Entre-Deux-Mers appellation of Bordeaux, the grapes are a blend of sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle, and the producer is André Lurton, whose family has presided over the vineyards for over 100 years. White Bordeaux is almost always a blend of primarily semillon and sauvignon blanc, with a few other varietals permitted. So why do I like this wine? It's light, crisp, low in alcohol (12%) and at approx $15 a bottle, a fantastic way to introduce yourself to a white bordeaux without breaking the bank. This wine is ideal for a warm end-of-summer picnic that calls for a cool refreshing beverage.

Q&A with Janet Myers, Director of Winemaking at Franciscan Estate

As a graduate from UC Davis with a Master’s in Enology, Janet Myers spent time in Italy working at the Santa Cristina Estate in Chianti. She also enjoyed stints in Australia's Margaret River region and at big Napa Cabernet producers like Beaulieu Vineyard, Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, and Louis Martini. She came to Franciscan Estate in August of 2003 as associate winemaker, and was promoted to director of winemaking in August 2005. Known for Chardonnays and Cabernets, Myers continues a legacy of dependable, rich wines which have helped shape the allure of the Napa Valley.

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