Is the Napa Valley “Into Wine?”

Into Wine: Terroir = soil + climate + humans

This article is actually about the book “Into Wine” by Olivier Magny and how it pertains to the Napa Valley. Olivier is an outspoken Parisian sommelier and wine educator. I found the book to be a fun read, with little wine jargon and a lot of practical advice for both the wine beginner and the wine aficionado. The big pitch in “Into Wine” is terroir. Olivier Magny suggests rather strongly that we seek out wines that exhibit the character of the place.

image of book into wineWith passion he talks about how terroir gives meaning and life to a bottle of wine. Its uniqueness is the result of the soil, climate, the vineyard grower and the winemaker. It is about the caring of the soil and the vines that imbue a special quality to the wine. It is about the winemaker who cares enough to let the soil and climate shine through in his or her winemaking and cellar techniques. Mostly, terroir wines are ones where sustainable farming is the creed. That means dry farming and no use of chemical pesticides or herbicides. This is a growing trend throughout the wine world, and I know that many Napa Valley wineries are in this category and others are making an effort to go in this direction.

image of oliver mangy

Olivier Magny

I have made a list of the Napa Valley wineries that practice some type of organic farming. The list continues to grow and ranges from wineries that do some organic farming to ones that are certified biodynamic. There is also the program established by the Napa Valley Vintners Association that grants “Napa Green Certified Land” and “Napa Green Certified Winery” to wineries that meet the qualifying standards. See Napa Green. There are some 400 wineries in the Napa Valley so you can see that there is a long road ahead.

organicWe visit the Napa Valley often and we have noticed in recent years signs of change. We see more cover crops in winter and spring, grazing animals, organic vegetable gardens and more dry farming. We see many, many wineries with solar panels. Although solar panels have no effect on the grapes, they are an important aspect in the sustainability of a winery.

We also observe that the whole idea of organics and sustainability carries through to the tasting room. In general, the focus is different with less of a sales push and more towards a human aspect. It’s more about how their wines are good because they have been attentive to the soil. They care that we are getting a bottle of wine that shows the character of their vineyards. I love finding wineries like these. They are so much more enjoyable than listening to a long spiel about each wine and asking me if I can detect a bit of anise character in the nose.

As for Olivier Magny, he pitches “buy only the wines that are made with terroir in mind.” He states that there are many excellent wines under $20 in this category. That is one area where it is hard to find Napa Valley wines in this price range, especially in the red wines. Nonetheless, if you heed the Magny code, choose your Napa Valley wines wisely and support the wineries that are environmentally friendly. It is the right thing to do.

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    Cathy Corison the Queen of Cabernet

    Cathy Corison is one of Napa Valley’s first women winemakers and is well recognized by her colleagues as one of the more influential winemakers in the entire Valley. Her Corison Cabernet wines have long been noted for their quality and character. We visited with Cathy at her wonderful winery and vineyards in St. Helena.

    We have long been admirers of the barn that houses the Corison Winery. The best view is during Mustard season. The vibrant colors set against the grey siding and the green roof make for an awesome view and a photographer’s delight. The barn is set back from Highway 29 and easy to miss. As one drives along Highway 29, by the time you catch a glimpse and are intrigued by the building it is too late; you have driven past the entrance. By all means turn back at the next chance and pay a visit to Corison Winery. It is traditional Napa Valley.

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      Rubissow Wines on Mt. Veeder

      If you are heading up to the popular Hess Collection Winery on Mt. Veeder, I have a recommendation. Before you visit Hess, take a small detour and stop in at the vineyard home of Rubissow Winery. Although Rubissow wines have been around for several years hardly anyone but a few have ever tasted Rubissow wines, and even fewer have visited their home base on Mt. Veeder. If you like adventure and something very different in the Napa Valley, schedule an appointment to view some of the most beautiful vineyards in all of Napa and taste some very exquisite wines.

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        Wine Blogging Conference – Napa Valley Missing in Action

        I’m not sure how the organizers of the Wine Blogging Conference found sponsors or determined what events were to be staged, but clearly Sonoma wineries were at the forefront of this inaugural event. Except for the Culinary Institute of America, which conducted the blind wine tasting event, Napa Valley and its wineries were nowhere to be seen at this conference.

        Sonoma wineries went all out for this event. From the opening event, a lunch and tasting of 12 Sonoma wines at Kick Ranch Vineyards, to the final luncheon on Sunday, just about every event featured Sonoma wines. The major sponsors, the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau, and Sebastiani Vineyards, provided lunches, dinners, bus transportation, and more wines than we could possibly taste. What a coup for Sonoma wineries.

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          Napa — Unsettling Problems

          With redevelopment projects along the Napa River and the buzz created by the Oxbow Market, you would think that all is joy among Napa businesses, restaurants, and lodging establishments. Not so. The last few weeks have not brought good news to the city of Napa.

          Copia continues to have its share of financial problems. Copia recently announced layoffs and surprisingly their winter hours leave Copia open only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The Copia store and Julie’s Kitchen restaurant remain open on a daily basis. We stated in a blog post a year ago that on our last visit to Copia we felt that the exhibits were sparse and not very compelling. The most interesting area to us was the vegetable garden and now we hear that the garden plot might be up for sale to shore up Copia’s financing. You would think that with the addition of the Oxbow Market next door, Copia would see an increase in visitors. Apparently, that has not happened.

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              Napa Valley Wineries Powered by Solar Energy

              It makes sense for wineries to consider a solar energy system to power their wineries. Most wineries have the two requirements needed for this system. They have plenty of sunshine and enough surface area to set up the number of panels needed. When you are in the valley, you are likely to see wineries with solar panels mounted on roofs, on the ground, and even a few in irrigation ponds on pontoons.

              With government incentives, why wouldn’t a winery go solar? As one vintner boasted to us, “I love seeing that PG&E meter running in the opposite direction.”

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                  Tres Sabores Winery and A Visit with Winemaker Julie Johnson

                  We spent a very pleasant hour chatting and tasting wines with Julie Johnson, the owner and winemaker of Tres Sabores winery. Tres Sabores doesn’t get many visitors. It is well off the beaten path and the winery is open by appointment only. But that should not stop the tourists from making an effort to visit Tres Sabores because there is much to like here. This winery is not your typical Napa Valley tourist attraction. It is a rustic winery with no formal tasting room, just a homey welcoming atmosphere. It is just great fun to visit and get an inside view of a small boutique winery in the Napa Valley.

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                    Dutch Henry Winery

                    Dutch Henry Winery is a small family-owned winery at the northern end of the Silverado Trail. The Dutch Henry Winery is a family run affair. The owners are Less and Maggie Chafen of San Francisco, and their son Scott Chafen is the winemaker and vineyard manager. The family opened the winery in 1992. The winery has estate vineyards located at the winery as well as other areas in the Napa Valley. The winery is named for a somewhat shady character, Dutch Henry, who was a silver miner in the area during the mid 1800′s.

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