With hundreds of wine industry trade members in town last week for Premiere Napa Valley, the St. Helena Appellation organization, ASH, hosted its 10th annual Preview Trade Tasting for Premiere guests last Thursday.
Held in the Raymond Vineyards’ cellar, it was never going to be like any other trade tasting event. More than 30 wineries poured numerous wines, including many one-of-a-kind lots created especially for Premiere. These lots would be sold two days later at Premiere Napa Valley’s auction event at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone for thousands and thousands of dollars. Auctioneers Ursula Hermacinski and Fritz Hatton sold 225 lots for $5.9 million, smashing the previous record of $3.1 million set in 2012.
But that is not what set this trade tasting apart. Raymond Vineyards’ owner, Jean-Charles Boisset, gives visitors a wine country experience like no other. The winery’s Crystal Cellar, where the preview tasting took place, may be lined with stainless steel tanks as in any other St. Helena cellar, but it also has mirror-top tables, crystal chandeliers and mannequins scattered among the winemaking equipment.
Appellation St. Helena certainly has trailblazing roots; the regional group is the oldest wine society in Napa Valley. Its founding members, including Charles Krug, Henry Pellet and Seneca Ewer, first banded together back in 1875 to combat poor sales and a negative perception of the quality of the valley’s wines in the all-important East Coast market. They would make critical winemaking decisions that put them on a new quality path, including not relying on the Mission grape and no more chaptalizing wines. Today St. Helena is home to some of Napa Valley’s most famous wineries including Corison, Heitz, Raymond and Vineyard 29.
Pouring their wines at the ASH event were 31 different producers including Charles Krug, Crocker & Starr, Flora Springs, Freemark Abbey, Pellet Estate and Trinchero Napa Valley. Some of the wines presented at the tasting include:
• Corley 2009 Yewell Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a powerful fruity entry with well-integrated oak flavors and a long finish.
• Corison 2010 Kronos with its deep aromas and signature balance of fruit, acidity and tannin structure.
• Chase 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, made from the Musque clone with a delicious burst of peach and pear fruit and a crisp palate.
• Freemark Abbey 2010 Josephine, a cabernet sauvignon blend with rich blackberry fruit and balanced freshness, which should age gracefully. The 2005 Josephine also poured at the tasting was good testament to its maturation potential.
• Raymond Vineyards’ Premiere auction lot, named Masquerade, which has heady aromas and a wonderfully smooth palate.
• The 2009 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a deliciously rich, silky smooth, balanced wine.
Dozens of other wines were enjoyed by guests who streamed into the Crystal Cellar, including those by: Anomaly, Ballentine, Benessere, Calafia, Casa Nuetra, Crocker & Starr, Ehlers, Flora Springs, J. Lohr, Louer, Leto, Parry, Pellet (recognize the name from the original trailblazing families?), Robert Biale, Sabina, Salvestrin, Sequum, Saint Helena Winery, Stanton, Taplin, Titus, Trinchero, Varozza and Young Inglewood. While the majority of the wines were cabernet sauvignon, there were some interesting additions including a Malvasia Bianca Frizzante by Ballentine Vineyards; numerous zinfandels including three from Chase Cellars; a cabernet franc from Crocker & Starr; and petite sirah from Robert Biale Vineyards. For information on Appellation St. Helena, visit www.appellationsthelena.com.