What a Day!
We were fortunate enough to visit the historic winery instead of the tasting room. We were greeted by Harrison Heitz, third generation of this great estate. Heitz Martha’s Vineyard was, in 1968, the first single vineyard Cabernet produced in California. Founder Joe Heitz passed away several years ago but Matriarch Alice still lives in a pretty little white house next to the winery. I have always been a passionate supporter of Heitz. Martha’s is a benchmark wine and belongs in any list of the greatest bottlings in the world and their Sauvignon Blanc is arguably the best made in Napa. Martha’s Vineyard are wines capable of ageing nearly indefinitely and, as the fruit fades, they take on a particular eucalyptus undercurrent which is unlike anything else on Earth.
A couple of eye opening facts:
Heitz, unusually, first age their Cabernet in large neutral oak barrels for a year. They are also one of the only wineries to use Limousin oak (the same in Cognac). As Harrison explains it, Limousin imparts a wood tannin spike to the wines early in the process and if they were to remove the wines after 12 to 18 months, as is the standard, then they would wind up with highly tannic, woody wines. BUT, they keep their Cabernet in barrel for closer to 36 months. So, essentially, you have heavy wood influence at the beginning, the Limousin gives all it has to give, then a mellowing, near neutral maturation for a further 2-3 years.
We tasted the newly released 2009s and they were delicious. Heitz always does a great job in reflecting the vintage and the 2009s are soft, generous, sumptuous, and fine. Those will be released shortly in NYC and believe me you’ll be hearing about them J I’ll also be on the lookout for the Napa 2011 because they didn’t make Martha’s or Trailside in that difficult vintage, de-classifying everything into their entry level Cabernet. Talk about a deal!
Cathy Corison is one of the defining voices of Napa. She was the longtime winemaker at Chappellet before going off to form her brand in 1987. Around the winery, off Highway 29 is her Kronos Vineyard (notice the picture of some Greek Orthodox monks walking Kronos…not sure what that was about but it’s always neat to see Greek Orthodox monks walking around a winery). Cathy is a great believer in picking early. They were harvesting Kronos (almost done) when we walked in. For Cabernet, September 17th is early! Granted, 2014 is a very early harvest (and looks to be another good one, by and by).
We were treated to several vintages of both her Napa Cab and her Kronos (2011/2006/2005 of the Napa and 2008/1998 of the Kronos) along with her Helios Cabernet Franc (which was Christie’s favorite wine on the trip so far) and a very cool Cabernet Rose which comes entirely from press juice!
When Cathy took over Chappellet, she was only the third female winemaker in Napa and when she started her eponymous winery, she was the first female owner/operator. She has served as an example and teacher to the glorious wave of female winemakers who have followed in her footsteps. She makes elegant, old-school Napa style Cab which are pointed in their elegance rather than power. The 2005 Napa was particularly striking and, amazingly, the 1998 Kronos was still an infant!
It’s official. The Eiselle Vineyard, and the Araujo Winery which makes it, is THE “First Growth” of Napa Valley. Recently purchased by the Artemis Group (owners of Chateau Latour, Chateau Grillet, and Domaine D’Eugenie), I was treated to a tour by Burgess, longtime Master of Hospitality, and Winston Chang, newly installed General Manager of the estate. Their main refrain was of being good shepherds to the history and possibility of this remarkable vineyard (of which the winery and estate are built around). I was absolutely struck by everyone I met’s humility in the face of their charge. They were dead serious. They think the Eiselle Vineyard is special and it’s their job to make sure it stays that way.
And boy are they right! I was fortunate enough to try through the 2011s (the last vintage made under the previous owners and the guidance of Michel Rolland) and the newly bottled 2012, along with their Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. What an absolute treat! These are wines which defy easy categorization. They are unmistakably Napa but show none of the ponderous weight of some of the “New” Napa Cabs. They are light on their feet, yet swimming in depth, with great acidity, length, and refinement. The 2011 Eiselle Cab and Syrah are 2 of my highlights thus far on the trip. I’m currently reserving judgement on the 2012, because it was bottled less than 2 weeks ago, but I believe that will turn out to be a wine which improves for half a century.
Today is another great day…
On the docket:
Patz & Hall
Wish me luck!