My trip to Napa

Been catching up since I got back, and first chance I’ve had to post notes. I’m doing this in chronological order.

Fairchild- I’ve really gotten to know these wines well in the last year and a half, and I have to say, it’s easily one of the most impressive projects in Napa. I wish I wasn’t like 10 years behind, as these wines have such detail and care, it’s amazing this isn’t more a widely talked about. More importantly than getting to know the wines, is getting to know the owner, Larry Fairchild, who has such an impressive grasp on this brand, and how to build it right. He really has aspirations of getting to know everyone on his list. That blows me away. He’s very humble and accessible, and I will always be a huge supporter of his. The 2012 G3 was spell binding. It has this delicateness combined with tremendous structural and savory elements, with great purity and precision. Almost Bordeaux like, and I fell in love. Next was Sigaro, which was just as impressive, and showed tremendous Napa flash, but still never abandoned the structure and precision that the G3 had. I still think Bordeaux lovers would appreciate this. Last was the Stones, and definitely was a flagship wine all the way. Great power and richness, yet still never lost it’s balance because they do such a great job of maintaining the acidity. These wines are like your children, you love them all, but for different reasons. If you buy wines in this range, make a date with Fairchild, you’ll be floored.

Kata- In the land where Cabernet is king, and the Beckstoffer family does an impressive job of leading that charge, it’s inspiring to seem them pull something off that isn’t 100% Cab, and isn’t even 100% Bordeaux varietal! With 17% old vine Petite Sirah, this is one of the most interesting projects in Napa right now for Cab lovers. I thought the front of the wine was a bit reserved, but the nose and the finish tell me this is going to be the most interesting “Cab” in your cellar in 10 years. This project has massive potential.

Pulido Walker- Ever since I tasted the 2010 Panek on release, I’ve been addicted to these wines. There is a purity and singularity to these 2 great wines that I really appreciate. The 2012 Panek brings the best of the valley floor, with lovely fruit and deep, supple character, but shows great potential throughout. Not a hint of heat or tannin at all. The 2012 Melanson screams Pritchard Hill, and I loved that. Had that nice coffee/herb/briary quality that I adore in high elevation wines. The wine had a bit more chew than the Panek, but why shouldn’t it? It was heavenly. The polarity in these two wines is outstanding, and TRB killed it here.

Abreu- Maybe I’m nuts (and that may not have to do with this opinion either), but I feel like this project doesn’t get the credit or attention it deserves. These wines are amazing, and the story of how they are made is even more amazing. The detail, and care, and time that it takes to make these wines is like fine French cooking. You can’t rush it and the net results are stunning. We got to taste the 2014s out of barrel. Much like Fairchild, it was like children, no favorites, you loved them all. The stand out was the Howell Mountain, but that is more in reference to it being arguably the best Howell Mountain Cab I’ve ever had than to it stand out among it’s brothers. Just a wow project.

Nine Suns- I expect the buzz to ramp up around release time, but this is a major project that is going to be very, very hot. They are selling their fruit under the vineyard’s name, Houyi. Realm will have a Houyi single vineyard starting in 2013, and part of Fairchild Stones No. 2 comes from this vineyard as well. Fast rising consultant Sam Kaplan is helping here, and do some great work early. The wine has great aromatics, and a really rich profile, yet keeps precise acidity too. This wine is a baby, and will require time, but shows me all the keys to being a major project in the making. Owner Jason Chang is so on top of his game, it’s not even funny. He has all the drive and passion to be wildly successful, and I really look forward to watching the grow.

Realm- Who wouldn’t want to hang with Juan Mercado and taste these brilliant wines?? Among the hanging out and just enjoying life, we tasted through a great line up of wines, but the 2 that really, really impressed the heck out of us was the Dr Crane and Tokalon…2011s. These were flat out ridiculously good, and were easily in top 3 wines I tasted from the vintage. This was Benoit Touquettes first full vintage, and it’s clear this winery has all the right pieces in place right now. Just crazy what’s going on here. If you want to make the argument “just make great wine and the rest will take care of itself”, Realm should trademark that. Flat out great wine.

MacDonald- Winner of wildest story in Napa Valley? MacDonald! For those that don’t know the story, their grandfather bought up 35 acres of land in Napa, and planted it to Cabernet Sauvignon at the suggestion of friend and neighbor, Bob Mondavi. 60 years later, a half acre still exists of that original planting, and grandson Graeme and Alex MacDonald plan to keep those vines around as long as they can. Even better, there are considerable plantings from 1974, and 1995 as well, so they will have outrageous raw material to work with for decades. If that’s not wild enough, Graeme reached down in what we thought was the soil, and picked up what was two handfuls of straight rock. La Mission Haut Brion much??? The net result flourishes in the bottle, with a huge core of, you guessed it, straight rock through the mid-pallet and finish.

Mending Wall- I posted on the MW thread as well, but this is a great project and certainly well priced too. The Stone on Stone was a very nice creamy Bordeaux white blend, that I think white wine lovers will really love. The Cabernet is a pup, but it’s 2012, excellently sourced, and should age extremely well. The wine that really knocked me out was the Palisades Petite Sirah, which was the perfect mix of power and richness, combined with structure and savory. The perfect combo to be a WOW wine. At $55, I’m buying (well, after my credit card stops smoking, this was my last visit!)

It’s interesting, and personally I think incredibly smart, the number of these wines that are packed in 3 pack OWC or cardboard. I think some wineries over allocate stuff, and if you aren’t drinking as much as you are buying, that scary corner of the cellar can pile up pretty quick with wines from a single winery. Having 3 of this and 3 of that for me, is absolutely perfect (except the Mending Wall PS, that I need more of!).

Ian- thanks for the post. Regarding nine suns- is sam kaplan the winemaker or just more in a consulting role? If its the latter, who is the (assistant?) winemaker?

Lloyd Matthews, and he’s the on-site winemaker, and Jason is very excited about him. He’s young, hungry and seems to be in the long term plans for the winery too!

thanks Ian

Sounds like a great trip. Im looking forward to my trip in september and tasting at Realm.

Some great spots reviewed, thanks.

Great post Ian! What a great trip!
You tasted a lot of my favorites. Had never heard of Nine Suns, but loved the Fairchild Stones 2 sample from there that we tasted last year. Maybe I’ll check out that project, too.

Make sure to taste Bard (my fave), 2013 Houyi, and the 2011s if he still has them!

Much like Larry at Fairchild, Jason is someone you should meet. He’s super driven!

Palisades is an incredible PS vineyard. Along with a few others (Hayne, Library) among the world’s finest.

Perhaps this is selective visiting, but it sounds like Napa is a little like Lake Wobegon, where everything is ‘above average’…

Best example of young PS I have ever had!

VERY selective visiting. I was with a collector friend, and we wanted to see places that a) he hadn’t been too or wasn’t even aware of (tough, b/c he’s SAVVY) and b) were going to be brands with a future. So to come back and be excited across the board wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.

Gee! Maybe we should switch Wednesday’s themes from Burgs to Napa wines!

Thx for the updates. Napa is such an american microcosm of a new/new and a must have at everyturn… but I as an american- I love it.

Ian - Thanks for posting these great notes from your trip. Is Nine Suns going to be released this fall?

Yes. IIRC, October.

It really helps to be there too, you find out so much more in person than you will being on the outside looking in.

I’d rather pick a date when it won’t be so warm outside :wink:

That CDP dinner we had last summer was poorly timed (or was that 2 years ago?)

Ian, thanks for the notes. Nine Suns sounds intriguing – is their tasting room open? The illustration looks beautiful.

Was hoping to visit Realm and MacDonald on our next trip so it’s always encouraging to read positive reports.

Nine Suns should be open before crush. We had a peak at the vineyards from David Arthur, and then zipped down to Yountville for pizza at Reddwood.

Ian…which MacDonalds did you try…any notes on the wines? The geography is indisputable, but was looking for some vintage impressions.

You know it’s a great post when it makes me want to buy Napa Cabs, something I haven’t done in years. Excellent report.

The Library Rat is the man.
that is all.