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Eduardo Dingler

It’s been a few summers since Robert and Margrit Mondavi made a dream come true by creating Copia, which opened back in 2001. Although the idea and content were brilliant, Copia closed its doors in 2008.

But a renaissance is occurring. With the energy and expertise of the Culinary Institute of America, the building is becoming a center for food and beverage celebration.

Aside from an infrastructure that includes the impressive Hestan Kitchen with state-of-the-art functioning kitchen stations, a Williams Sonoma artifact exhibition and Contimo provisions setting up shop for a quick and satisfying breakfast or lunch fix, the newest addition is the K. Laz Wine Collection at CIA Copia.

What is the K. Laz Wine Collection? To better understand the concept, we must first become acquainted with founder and curator Kerrin Laz. An East Coast native fell in love with wine when she started working for Dean & DeLuca as the wine director. Her role eventually brought her to the Napa Valley where she thrives like a fish in the water.

During her tenure with Dean & DeLuca, she was instrumental in the growth and exposure of California wines, more specifically Napa Valley and Sonoma.

One of the examples: “During the 2008 recession we were forced into finding alternatives to stay afloat so we developed a program to bring the wines into buyers’ homes since there wasn’t many people traveling to Napa,” Laz said. “The program consisted on flying to any corner of the United States and hosting a tasting for the host and friends which resulted in healthy growth. This is a concept I still utilize to this day.”

She created strong bonds with wineries that needed the sales during that time. These relationships are a big reason for success of K. Laz Wine Collection.

She decided to venture on her own after 10 fruitful years with Dean & DeLuca, and that is when the K. Laz Wine Collection was born. She opened in 2015 in Yountville simultaneously with her online wine shop.

The offered tasting experience is unique for every group. Kerrin and the team find a balance between well-known producers and new wines that will rattle your senses and you’ve most likely never heard of.

The quaint tasting room in Yountville is slightly tucked in off Washington Street, the tastings are by appointment only, and they make you feel like the most important person, giving you a sit-down tasting complemented by superb storytelling.

The experience at the Culinary Institute of America Copia will be similar in terms of personalized experiences, the range and styles of wine, and plenty of background information, which you can only know by being close with the vintners and vineyards.

The added experience in Napa is the cuisine component. “An element we are thrilled about is having the kitchen next door, the level of pairings the CIA chefs have been working on for our program are incredible,” Laz says with a confident smile.

The experience levels offered, which all include pairings by the CIA’s executive chef follow.

— The Taster, $90 per person, includes a customized tasting of six wines ranging from $40 to $100.

— The Artisan, $120 per person, offers six wines with a price range from $50 to $150.

— The Cult, $185 per person, is six wines from $75-$300.

— The Centurion is $350 per person and the retail prices per bottle dance from $125 to $1,500. It is suggested to spend approximately 90 minutes for the experience.

During a recent visit, Laz guided an experience that included a compelling group of wines. She greeted us with Catteya Pratt Vineyard Chardonnay 2015 ($73) the brainchild of Bibiana Gonzalez Rave. The vineyard is tucked in the Russian River Valley and the total production is a mere 65 cases. I cannot say if it was the location, Laz’s storytelling, the exquisite glassware or the wine itself but I can say it is not every day I’m so enchanted by Chardonnay. This baby had a marzipan, quince attack with a bright pop of Meyer lemon marmalade, high acid structure and a long finish.

The next wine was Black Kite Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($63), an intoxicating lilac and lavender field with hints of biscotti, hibiscus and amaro dominating the senses. All 777 Dijon clone and from a 300-800 feet elevation from the base of Sonoma Mountain at 250 cases produced.

Then we switched into the Cabernet Sauvignon-influenced world, and Laz’s personal touch made the tasting feel like reading an entertaining novel or hearing the stories straight from the winemakers.

Hourglass HGIII Red Napa Valley 2015 ($55) a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon dominantly brought a cocoa powder nose with crushed rose petals, a rich and burly mouthfeel with layered tension on the finish.

2015 Drinkward Peschon Entre Deux Mères Cabernet Sauvignon ($78) is made by winemaker extraordinaire Francoise Peschon who also crafts a number of gems like Vine Hill Ranch and Kelly Fleming Wines and cut her teeth at Château Haut-Brion in Bordeaux. This beauty showed no shortage of blue fruits, raspberries a chocolate brownie tone and a firm and grippy tannic structure.

The final wine of the sample flight was Alejandro Bulgheroni Lithology Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($138) made by Philippe Melka alongside vineyard manager Jim Barbour with consulting by Michele Rolland. This is a blend of clones 4 and 337 from Rutherford, Oakville, Saint Helena and Pritchard Hill. This, its inaugural vintage, was a full explosion of textures and flavors that triggered memories. Supple and rounds red and black fruits, crushed violets with plush tannins and a layer of espresso.

Laz’s ability to select the right wines and wax poetically about each selection is key for her experiences. Even when she’s not guiding personally, she’s gathered a team of professionals who deliver with passion and and charisma.

The new tasting room at CIA Copia features a multifaceted and customizable experience that caters to small and large groups. The space features Antonio Galloni’s Napa Valley Vinous Maps, which are permanently on display and serve as a tool to better portray the source of a lot of this wines.

“We plan on hosting all kinds of events from dinners to cooking classes and walk-around tastings at Copia in the near future” she said. She has a few ideas, including an evening of sake, grower champagne, oysters and pizza in August. No doubt her high-energy attitude will be a great addition to the city of Napa’s landscape mixing fun and educational activists for both visitors and locals alike.

Aside from her mission of bringing exciting wines in front of the right people, Kerrin started Inspire Napa Valley this year. A nonprofit event that benefits the Alzheimer’s Association and broke the $1 million mark for Alzheimer’s research on its inaugural edition earlier this year.

“When I found out my family was affected by Alzheimer’s disease, I felt I had to do something” Laz says.

For information of K.Laz Wine Experience, visit klazwine.com. For Inspire Napa Valley inquiries go to inspirenapavalley.org.

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Eduardo can be reached at eduardo@sakedrinker.com.

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