The tasting of six wines at a private tasting in the heart of Yountville started on the Sonoma County coast and drilled directly into St. Helena.
Kerrin Laz, who spent a dozen years as wine director at St. Helena’s Dean & DeLuca, recently opened her own wine tasting room and retail shop, K. Laz Wine Collection, on Washington Street. K. Laz is open for sit-down tastings seven days a week, by appointment only.
The two Sonoma coast wines were both from 2013: A chardonnay from Peay, who produced their first vintage in 2001 and the initial vintage of Waterfall Pinot Noir, made by winemaker Helen Keplinger. Laz said the Peay Chardonnay, made by Vanessa Wong from estate grapes and grapes from the Searby Vineyard and Campbell Ranch, is a good indication of the 2013 chardonnays.
Adjacent to Peay is the Walala Vineyard, which is 1,200 feet in elevation along the ridgeline. The pinot noir is a full-body Sonoma Coast pinot, Laz said, “big, but keeps it in line.”
The third wine tasted was a 2011 red wine blend, Marciano Estate Terra Gratia from the foot of Spring Mountain in St. Helena. It’s a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and petit verdot created by Andy Erickson. Vineyard manager is David Abreu. Laz said the first vintage of this wine “shows really well” and “shows what a winery can do in a not-perfect vintage year.”
The dozen people tasting the wines were seated around a large wooden and iron table that took up nearly half of the room, which is divided by a long, horizontal hand-built cabinet. The space is clean and neat, with wood floors and a large red leather chair underneath Laz’s own framed photographs portraying scenes of the Napa Valley. Along one wall, next to the wood and iron-base table, is a line of wine bottles, laying on their side, just waiting to be tasted and enjoyed.
Next up is another St. Helena wine, a 2012 HL Two Dogs Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards just below the Howell Mountain AVA. It is Herb Lamb Vineyards’ second label, made by Mike Trujillo, who Laz said was a “very good winemaker for Karl Lawrence. He knows the vineyard and this is classic St. Helena.” It is 100 percent estate cabernet sauvignon and Laz said she “has never tasted a wine as good as this one for the price,” which is $46.
The second of three 2012 cabernets in the tasting is another second label, the Spottswoode Lyndenhurst, which was just released. It’s made by Aron Weinkauf, who is also the estate’s vineyard manager. The first Lyndenhurst vintage was 1995 and this wine is mostly estate fruit.
Last year, Laz donated a “Perfect 10” tasting (10 wines each with 100 point scores) to a Jameson Rescue Ranch auction. This year, she fulfilled the lot shortly after spending time in Bordeaux. “I had just come back from France,” she said. “I love French wine, I love California wine, although I probably have more of a California palate because of what I do and by living here.”
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She included three Bordeaux wines in the 100-point tasting panel and seven Napa Valley cabernets. “Of all the wines the Spottswoode Lyndenhurst was one of the best at the tasting,” she said.
That’s important to see, because like many in the wine industry, Laz said she loves to see “what’s new, what’s exciting. I like to be ahead of the curve, I like to taste the wines and get an allocation before the critics get ahold of it.” But, she added, the older wineries, like Spottswoode, are just as important as the newcomers, “because they probably paved the way, have stayed relevant through the years and are consistently really good. I love to showcase these wines as well.”
The sixth wine was a Futo OV/SL Red, also from 2012. It is a blend of mostly cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot. Owner Tom Futo and Jason Exposto, winemaker and vineyard manager, made the wine from a 12-acre estate vineyard on the western Oakville bench (OV in the name) and estate fruit from Futo’s Stags Leap (SL in the name) District Vineyard. Consulting winemaker is Mark Aubert. The wine was released in April.
During the 90-minute tasting, Laz told stories and entertained the table. It’s clear she knows Napa Valley wines and those behind the wines. The stories, the wines, the artisan cheeses and the delightful camaraderie make for an entertaining afternoon. As more wine was consumed, the conversation became more animated and all were charmed by Ramsey, Laz’s white terrier, who sat on the laps of many of the tasters, his head resting on the table.
Laz said she was able to “carve out this wine direct business” from her long association with Dean & DeLuca and added the “mailing list would be important to keep going.” But, a tasting room wasn’t in the cards, unless it was in Yountville, where she has lived since moving to California years ago. She added, “I knew I wanted to build a website and at some point I thought it would be great if I could have a tasting room, but I wasn’t necessarily bound by that. For me, if it was the right space at the right time, then it would make sense, but I didn’t want to get locked into a space that wasn’t a great space.”
Laz offers three levels of tasting, either for three wines or six wines, ranging in price from $35 to $85 for three wines and $65 to $165 for six wines. The Oct. 1 tasting that she shared with friends and media was $65 per person with bottles ranging from $47 to $158. The wines for the tastings will vary. Seasonal artisan cheeses also are served.
Also offered is a sit-down wine tasting with lunch from Bouchon Bakery (either a sandwich or salad with dessert). That will take an hour and the price is yet to be determined.
“The tasting room is going to be about new, exciting wines but also about wineries that are really doing well and doing it well for a long time,” she said.
For information contact Laz at 707-415-5040 or firstname.lastname@example.org.