It was a glorious Saturday, sunny and warm but not too hot, clear blue skies, and I was with people I work with, people who have over the years become good friends. I had never before been to the Napa Valley, or to any California wine region. We drove north from San Francisco and at times it was startling in how lovely it was. As we approached Napa we hit traffic, the first sign of the popularity of this place as a tourist destination. I saw a sign for Domaine Carneros and then another for Beaulieu Vineyards. We saw large flat vineyards with rows of skinny vines supported by posts and wires, all draped with thin hoses for irrigation purposes - it gets very hot in the Napa Valley and months can go by in the summer without rain.
In The Press
I broke up with Chardonnay 15 years ago. For some of us, the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) crowd, it became the wine we loved to hate, decked out in new oak, tongue-coating butter, and in-your-face sweetness. And with food? Diva Chard was a train wreck...
Stony Hill 2010 ($42)
An angular and intensely minerally Chard set off by green melon, hints of pineapple, and kumquat.
Among Napa Valley producers, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, Philip Togni, Randy Dunn, and Bob Travers–along with a handful of others, including Heitz Wine Cellars and Diamond Creek–share a common bond. All are tenacious old timers who isolated themselves from the glitz of valley-floor production to make wines that expressed terroir in a place where ripeness, fruit, and power have taken precedence. What is remarkable about these visionaries is that they have remained true to their sense of place and to their personal tastes after more than 25 vintages each; they haven't been swayed by the whims of the critics or of the consumers who follow them.
I set about to discover what sets these old-guard winemakers apart.