There’s no better way to judge a wine vintage in the Napa Valley than to ask those who made it.
The recent Premiere Napa Valley 2016, which culminated with an auction of 226 wine barrel futures at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, was the perfect opportunity to talk to a lot of winemakers. Since most were pouring their 2014 cabernet sauvignons, it’s worthwhile to listen to their opinions.
Mike Davis from Calistoga’s Davis Estates calls his ’14 cabernet “beautiful and well balanced.” He said winemaker Philippe Melka has kept it in oak barrels for the past 16 months and it will remain there for another four to six months before it’s bottled. Davis said the wine has a “nice, warm, soft taste to it” and added that Melka has done a fabulous job.
Davis said he expects that the new winery estate on the Silverado Trail is some 60 days from being done and should open in May. “We can’t wait to open it up and show the public,” he said.
Alan Viader said the 2014 wines “are everything that I wanted out of the ‘13s, but more silky, more fleshy, more full-bodied and sexy wines.” At the NG (Next Generation) winemakers’ party, held on Feb. 18, he was pouring his 2013 wine, but added it was too young and that he was decanting it and giving it “enough air for them to open up, to show people what the wines are all about.” He said the ’13s are too young and the ’14s will show better younger, since “they are more approachable.”
Christopher Howell from Cain Vineyards on Spring Mountain, said 2014 was a good year. He added, “2012 was just a year that was too easy. Having that perfect year, nothing else is quite there. The 2013s are a little more structured and the ’14 may be a little more that way, although they may not have as much depth and sweetness.” He predicted the 2014s will be “long-lasting, complex” wines.
Joel Aiken, owner and winemaker for Aiken Wines, said 2014 “was another great year,” the third in a row, with beautiful weather. The wines are “lush, they’re rich, they’re big. I just love the vintage. We could just wait and pick at the perfect time,” he added. There were no heat spells in 2014 and no rain coming through, so to Aiken’s mind “it was perfect. In the Napa Valley, we get lazy with the weather and I like it that way,” he said.
Trevor Durling, senior winemaker for Provenance and Hewitt, said the past three vintages — 2012, 2013 and 2014 — are “all amazing vintages, three right in a row, which is fantastic.” He said the three are all a little different from one another. The 2012 “is luscious, supple and a big vintage, 2013 has incredible concentration,” which will allow it to age for years and years, and the 2014 “is between the two. I’m really excited about those.”
The comment about 2014 from Honig’s Bryan Upton, production assistant, was short and sweet. He said the 2014 vintage is “shaping up to be a really nice supple year, with nice, bright tannins, bright acidity and great fruit.”
Jeffrey Stambor, winemaker for the historic Beaulieu Vineyard, said the Napa Valley has had “an extremely, consistently high-quality vintage in the last three years. The ’13 is outstanding, the ’14 is fabulous and the ’15 seems very much similar in personality to those other two.”
Paula Kornell calls her 2014 Parallel PNV wine, a cabernet sauvignon made by Philippe Melka, “gorgeous.” She said she has been tasting the ’12s, ’13s and ‘14s and the latter “is just shining right now.”
Dan Casto, assistant winemaker for St. Helena’s Gadona Estates, also was pouring a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, made by Philippe Melka at Meadowood Napa Valley Resort. What about the 2014s? “I think it turned out to be surprisingly great. Many people weren’t surprised by it but I was surprised. After the ’13s, I didn’t think we could top it, but the ’14s have the power of the ’13s, but are a little softer, which is nice.”
Finally, Stefan Blicker, owner of BP Wines and Last Bottle Wines, which is based in Napa, said the 2014 is “a flat-out terrific vintage. Even now, it has more lift, bright aromatics and vigor than the more sultry 2012s, and I liked that quite a lot.”
Blicker, who spent the three days of Premiere Napa Valley tasting the offerings with his business partner Corey Wagner, said the ’14s had “great freshness, tons of flavor and a sense of balance, with a bit more red fruit component and perfume.” The wines had “a sense of being lighter on the feet and ready to dance.” In fact, he added, he preferred the ’14 barrel samples over the finished ’13 wines.
“We really have the best of both worlds,” he said. “The ’13s to cellar longer while we drink the ’12s and ’14s, while waiting 10-plus years for either.”
During one of the many PNV events, Bob Egelhoff, winemaker for Axios Wines, told the story of creating an interesting wine for the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, a “2131 Cabernet Sauvignon 2013,” for Cal Ripken Jr. from Napa Valley grapes. “We made 2,131 bottles and each comes in individual wooden boxes. Two hundred of them come with a signed baseball for a little extra,” he said. The wine commemorates Cal Ripken Jr.’s breaking of Lou Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played. Ripken played the 2,131st game of his 21-year career for the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 6, 1995, against the California Angels. Gehrig had held the record for 56 years and many thought the streak would never be broken. Ripken ended his career by playing 2,632 consecutive games, all as an Oriole.
Egelhoff said the wine is an Axios cabernet blend from what he calls the “magic vintage, 2013. It is the best one I’ve tasted in a while,” he added. “It is way better than ’12, richer with more fruit and smoother on the aftertaste.”
After working 5½ years at Hundred Acre – and creating Dark Matter wines – Angelina Mondavi said she decided to “fly the coop and start her own wine consulting business,” which is called A. Mondavi Consulting. She left Hundred Acre about a month ago and added she’s working on a website. Mondavi’s keeping busy as she still has Dark Matter Cabernet and Zinfandel from Howell Mountain and she and her cousin, Rob Mondavi Jr., continue to create a new brand, called Four Leaf.