Page 1 of 1

Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 12:32 pm
by Pat Burton
A colleague and friend of mine offered a Chemistry of Wine course at our small liberal arts college in Indiana this semester. This course included an ‘immersive learning experience’ in which they traveled to Napa and Sonoma for a week. I have been lucky to sit in on the class and to attend the trip. Below are some brief notes of our visit to California wine country.

Our first stop in Napa was Progeny, which is owned by an alum and trustee of the college. Paul and Betty (the owners) met us at the winery. They asked both their vineyard manager (Alan) and winemaker (Sean) to join us. They each spent about an hour with us discussing the approaches taken in the vineyard and in the cellar to make Progeny Wines. Following these very interesting discussions, Paul and Betty kindly asked the chef (John) at Progeny to provide us with a ‘food and wine tasting experience’ in the tasting room. The food and wines were amazing, especially with the view looking out over the vineyard on top of the mountain. I’d especially like to thank Blanca for helping throughout the planning and actual visit at Progeny.

We then shifted gears by visiting with Carol and Steve at Lagier-Meredith. Steve and Carol were tremendous hosts. Steve described their wine making philosophy while Carol spoke to us at length regarding her work on grape parentage. Of course, we also tasted four of their outstanding wines while sitting on their porch. I’m a fan of their Syrah in particular, but enjoyed all of the wines.

We decided to get out of Napa for a day and headed up to Healdsburg. Ryan Zepaltas met us at Copain where he had prepared an interactive tasting experience including comparative tastings of pinot noir clones and fermentation styles. Since we were running early, we then did some barrel tastings in the cellar before sitting down to a catered lunch at Copain while tasting several finished wines. On a side note, I’ve always loved Ryan’s wines, having been buying them since Ryan was working at Siduri and making wines under his own label. Ryan’s wines are world-class, especially his Chardonnays.

Since we were in Healdsburg, we also stopped at Papapietro Perry. Ben Papapietro met us at the tasting room and spent over an hour with us discussing his wines as we tasted them in the cellar. Ben makes some really impressive pinot noirs and it was a real treat to taste them with him.

Directly across the road was a winery named Kokomo. Since the owner is from Kokomo, Indiana (about an hour’s drive from our college), we also tasted there. The staff were amazingly hospitable to our group of eight and the tasting was quite interesting.

Since the course focused on the chemistry of wine, we thought a visit to ETS was in order. Rich DeScenzo was kind enough to host us for the morning, giving us a guided tour and lecture largely on the microorganisms that both make and spoil wine. We also met with Eric Herve, who did much of the work pioneering the ability to test corks for TCA contamination prior to use.

After lunch at Gotts, another alum of the college (Stephen Pavy) met us at Joseph Phelps where he had worked for a number of years. We were lucky enough to do the Insignia Blending Experience, which was quite interesting. During the tasting, two generations of Phelps (Bill and Will) stopped in to chat. I have not followed the Joseph Phelps wines and it was very interesting to taste them at the winery. I loved the Insignia and Backus in particular.

As the rains descended into the valley, we started our morning at Matthiasson. Unfortunately, Jill and Steve were out of town (though we met them this summer when planning our trip) but Jack and Audra greeted us and gave us a tour of the winery, discussed wine-making, and gave us a quick pass through the vineyard. As expected, the wines were fantastic and I was delighted that our students purchased a number of bottles following the tasting. While I was impressed by all the wines, the 2018 Linda Vista Chardonnay and 2016 Napa Valley Cabernet were standouts for me.

We then switched gears and headed to Alpha Omega. Jean was unable to join us, but helped us set up a tasting with Ian Stout, who ran us through the outstanding wines made at AO. The highlights for me included the 2014 Stagecoach and 2016 (I think) ERA.

We ended our day with a stop at Pine Ridge. Colleen Fitzgerald, the assistant winemaker, greeted us upon our arrival and took us into the cave to taste wines aging in barrels from different coopers. After a tour of the cave and winery, we then tasted in the tasting room. I’ve had Pine Ridge cabernets a few times, and was quite pleased to taste them again. Their range of cabernets is impressive and, at least for me, showed typicity from the different AVAs of Napa.

Since this was our last full day, we then headed back to the hotel where I dropped off the students. I made a quick stop at Napa Valley Fine Wine and Cigar where I had a nice chat with Carrie. I very much appreciated the time she spent with me as I picked out a mixed six pack of wine (including a 1999 Heitz Napa Cab) for a blind tasting that evening with the students that evening.

We had time for one more stop on Wednesday morning, which was at O’Shaughnessey. Paul and Betty (the same owners as Progeny) met us there and we took a tour of the facility and cave. We finished with a tasting of the Mt Veeder and Howell Mountain Cabs, before Paul graciously opened several bottles from his personal collection stored at O’Shaughessey (including a 1999 Williams Selyem Sonoma County Pinot Noir).

In all, I couldn’t be more thankful for the incredible hospitality and time so many people took out of their days to help educate our students. The trip was amazing, and hopefully, very memorable for our students.

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 4:46 pm
by Peter Shurman
good stuff Pat, thanks for sharing your trip and thoughts ... [cheers.gif]

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 5:10 pm
by Carlton McCrindle
Thanks, Pat! Is there a class project?

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 5:21 pm
by Anton D

Kudos to everybody!

That is an example of the greatness of wine lovers.

Thank you for posting about it!

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 5:22 pm
by Pat Burton
Carlton McCrindle wrote:
December 3rd, 2019, 5:10 pm
Thanks, Pat! Is there a class project?
Yes, the students have a few separate projects. Keep in mind we are an undergraduate college so this class isn't part of a larger wine program. The students are presenting research posters on their individual research into basic wine chemistry questions Thursday for the campus.

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 5:23 pm
by Pat Burton
Peter Shurman wrote:
December 3rd, 2019, 4:46 pm
good stuff Pat, thanks for sharing your trip and thoughts ... [cheers.gif]
Thanks Pete!

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 5:29 pm
by cjsavino
This makes me want to go back to school, great trip Pat

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 3rd, 2019, 7:21 pm
by C. Bowman
Great post Pat. Thanks for stopping by, it was a pleasure to meet you. [cheers.gif]

Re: Report of our class trip to Napa/Sonoma

Posted: December 4th, 2019, 9:00 am
by Pat Burton
I was remiss in not mentioning a couple of items regarding the planning phase of this trip. First, I shout out to Karen at Jean Edwards for hosting my colleague and I during our planning phase this summer. Jean Edwards makes some really high end wines, and I loved the Stagecoach cabs in particular and am happy to now have a couple of vintages in my cellar. Unfortunately, we weren't able to squeeze a trip back to Sonoma Square with our students.

I should also point out that Paul at Halcon most generously offered to host us during the visit. Again, the distance from our other destinations made this difficult during our class trip. This was disappointing to me as I've always loved Halcon wines, especially the Alturas.

We hope to teach the class again though and hopefully we can get Jean Edwards and Halcon on the schedule next time!