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  • Date publishedFriday, August 22, 2014

Napa Valley Tasting - June 2014

The Hess Collection Visitor Centre & Gardens
On , I visited Napa Valley for the second time in the last 2 years. After visiting quite a few wineries along the Silverado Trail during my first visit, I decided that I wanted to visit more wineries off the trail this time around.

The first stop on this hot and sunny Monday was The Hess Collection Winery, located within the Mount Veeder sub-appellation within Napa Valley. I had tasted Hess Collection wines last year at the Napa Valley tasting in Toronto and felt the wines they offered that day represented relatively good value and figured I would see more good value at the winery - and I was not disappointed.

The site on which The Hess Collection sits was established as a winery in the 1860's. Fast forward to 1978, where Donald Hess established his first Mount Veeder vineyard. Hess Collection now owns 1,034 acres of prime California vineyards, including 704 acres in Napa Valley. The tasting room and art museum are located on Redwood Road, west of St. Helena Highway and the famous Silverado Trail. It is reachable after driving approximately 10-15 minutes on a narrow, long and winding, uphill road.

Since its inception, The Hess Collection has tried to use sustainable and environmentally-sound practices for growing grapes. In 2008, The Hess Collection was among the first 10 wineries to receive certification for the Napa Green Winery program and one of only six wineries to have both Land and Winery certifications. Two years later, they were among the first wineries to be certified through the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance by third-party verification.

Wine Tasting at The Hess Collection WineryWine Tasting at The Hess Collection Winery

Due to arriving a bit later than expected because of late-morning traffic, I didn't have time to do a very in-depth tasting, but did get a chance to taste some wonderful wines nonetheless. My favourite was the 2010 Mount Veeder 19 Block Cuvée. This special wine comes from 19 blocks from their highest altitude estate vineyard (Veeder Summit Vineyard), with altitudes ranging from 1,300 to 2,000 feet above sea level and features steep slopes and volcanic soils. Overall, this red wine is intensely flavoured, complex and ageable for at least 4 years, although you will be tempted to enjoy it now.

Full wine reviews of many of the wines I tasted on this day are available at the bottom of this post.

For our second stop of the afternoon, we ventured back east along the aforementioned Redwood Road, passed St. Helena Hwy and the Silverado Trail, towards the eastern side of Napa Valley

A View of Napa Valley from Palmaz VineyardsPalmaz Vineyards

Upon arriving at the front gate at Palmaz Vineyards, I realized that we were going to be in for something special. After being let in through the gate, driving by a former gatehouse, and up 4 levels along a steep and twisty road on Mount George, we arrived at the main entrance and were promptly greeted by Diana Lasso, National Estate Ambassador at Palmaz Vineyards and our guide on this visit.

Veranda at Palmaz Vineyards

We began the tour outside the main entrance on level 4, overlooking the vineyards and the said gatehouse, while having an expansive view of the Napa landscape. Diana began by telling us about the rich history surrounding the property that began its story as Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery by Henry Hagen in 1881. Henry was one of the Napa Valley's pioneer winemakers, and his wines garnered many awards. Unfortunately, Prohibition forced the winery to close and the site laid dormant for nearly 80 years.

In 1997, soon after Julio and Amalia Palmaz purchased the property, they began to restore it and accomplish a shared dream. Those in the medical profession may recognize the name "Julio Palmaz" - he invented the now widely used coronary heart stent.

We were also informed that the former gatehouse we saw upon entering the estate was restored and is now the home of Christian Gaston Palmaz, Director of Operations, and son of Julio and Amalia. He lives there with his wife Jessica Louise Palmaz.

Dr. Julio Palmaz had great interest in mechanics and engineering and played an integral role in designing Palmaz Vineyards' gravity-flow winery. Inside, we got to see the grape sorter that he helped design - it was quite versatile as it was able to sort different sizes of grapes with relative ease. Being a gravity-fed winery, the grapes arrive at the top to be sorted and de-stemmed and then proceed on an ever downward path and eventually bottled. The height of the cave is equivalent to an 18-storey building. We got a glimpse of this depth in the stairwell, looking down the centre of the staircase.

Palmaz Vineyards: Versatile Grape SorterPalmaz Vineyards: Staring Down 18-Storey Drop

Palmaz Vineyards: The View from Level 4Palmaz Vineyards: The View from Level 3

Fermentation Level at Palmaz VineyardsBarrels at Palmaz Vineyards

Once the grapes are sorted, they go down one level and into fermentation tanks. The dome in which these tanks are housed is 72 feet in diameter and 54 feet high and is the world's largest underground reinforced structure. One can truly appreciate the design and beauty of the dome when looking up from Level 3, where the fermentation tanks are held. The cave also houses its own water treatment plant, resulting in reuse of all waste water and in compliance with strict conservation guidelines.

Next, we went down another level to Level 2 and visited the barrel ageing room, as well as the racking area. During the whole tour, I couldn't help but notice that everything was SO clean - the level of cleanliness appeared to be medical-grade and seemed cleaner than some hospitals I've been to.

By now, I think we were all salivating at the thought of finally tasting the wines after being awestruck by the facility. We entered the classically-styled dining room and sat down at a long, very grandiose, dining table. Diane took us through the tasting menu as we paired four wines with bite-sized treats.

Wine Tasting at Palmaz VineyardsGroup Photo at Palmaz Vineyards

The pairings were all very well done, but my favourite was the Muscat Canelli with the Almond and Apricot biscotti. This wine also paired well with the Dark Chocolate Cabernet Truffle, while the two Cabernets also fared very well with the chocolate truffle. My favourite wine was the '09 Cabernet Sauvignon with it's classic aromas and flavours, smooth, velvety tannins, mouth-watering acids all nicely balanced into one cohesive wine. It paired really well with the Piave Vecchio (hard, cow's milk cheese).

If you are ever in Napa, I would highly recommend adding Palmaz Vineyards to your itinerary as it is truly an amazing winery. Note that tours and tastings are available by appointment only.

Model photoshoot overlooking vineyards
The third stop of the day was Miner Family Winery, located on the scenic Silverado Trail. Most of our group appeared to arrive at Miner breathless due to the amazing experience at Palmaz. This resulted in only a few of us partaking in the tasting on Miner's lovely upper deck patio with a sweeping view of vineyards located in the Oakville AVA.

The Miner Family Winery brand was born in 1996, three years after Dave Miner got his start in wine as President of Oakville Ranch Vineyards - a winery owned by his late uncle, Robert Miner. In 1999, Dave and his wife Emily purchased the winery building from his family and released the first Miner Family wines. That same year, a 15-month project to build caves concluded, resulting in over 20,000+ square feet of space they could now use for wine ageing. Impressively, since 2008, Miner has been running exclusively on solar power. Next time, I think a tour will be in order to see first-hand some of these impressive accomplishments.

Miner Family Winery tasting menu
In all, we tasted 5 wines (+1 one more that only I tasted inside at the bar) from what appeared to be a specially crafted menu just for us. All 5 wines were very good to outstanding in quality, with the favourite being aptly named "The Oracle". This Bordeaux-blend is their flagship wine that was first made in 2004. The 2008 version of this fabulous red wine was most recently in Vintages last October, and I expect the 2009 will be available at some point later this year.

Our final stop of the afternoon was a quick and unplanned visit to Priest Ranch Wines. This winery had a rustic, Western charm and was conveniently located just off St. Helena Hwy in the town of Yountville, en route back to home base.

Priest Ranch was originally part of the 8,500-acre Rancho Catacula Mexican land grant that took place in 1844 and remained in the Priest family for over a century until it was sold in 1963. In 2006, Priest Ranch became part of the Somerston Estate.

Wine label of 2008 Priest Ranch Coachgun
Tasting through a flight of wines and meeting Jack Edwards, Vice President of Sales, my favourite wines were the Syrah and the Bordeaux-blend Coachgun. Ironically, neither of these wines are currently available at the LCBO, but perhaps may make an appearance in the future, while the others I tasted have made their way onto LCBO shelves. On my next visit, I think I will make a point to visit Somerston Estate to experience their all-terrain vineyard tour and taste some of their limited production wines.

Given the quality of the small sampling of just 2 Syrahs I tasted on this trip, I will definitely be seeking out more Syrah from Napa. Currently the 6th most planted grape in California, I would love to see Syrah move up a couple of places and become more widely planted.

And finally, a big thank you to Megan Basten at Profile Wine Group, who helped arrange the visits to Palmaz Vineyards and Miner Family Winery, while also introducing me to Somerston Estate.

Tasting Notes:
HESS SMALL BLOCK VIOGNIER 2012 - Mount Veeder, Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $28
Aromas are of medium+ intensity and show fresh notes of clean lime, citrus and nectarine. Medium+ bodied with a very oily and slightly chalky texture on the palate. 14.5% alcohol by volume (abv). Good acids and a long finish. Tingly mouth sensation is numbing. Serve well-chilled. Score: 89 pts

HESS MOUNT VEEDER CHARDONNAY 2012 - Mount Veeder, Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $40
Did not undergo malolactic fermentation and was aged in neutral French oak. Medium-intensity aromas which show orchard fruits, pear and white peach notes. Medium-bodied on the palate with nicely balanced aroma replays and mineral notes. Good acids. Elegant spice on the long finish. Score: 90 pts

HESS ALLOMI VINEYARD CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2012 - Napa Valley (#906420) (XD) - $30 USD / $37.95 CAD
Aged in American oak and contains 10% Petite Sirah and 2% Petit Verdot. Medium+ aroma intensity with ripe fruits, plum, cherry notes. Medium+ bodied with integrated tannins on palate with flavours of cassis, plum, pepper, and spice. Good acids and a long, warm finish. Score: 89 pts

HESS MOUNT VEEDER 19 BLOCK CUVÉE 2010 - Mount Veeder, Napa Valley (#018879) (D) - $38 USD / $47.95 CAD
Blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Malbec, 11% Syrah, 6% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot. Medium-high intensity aromas that show complex bretty, red fruits, black currant, and tobacco. The palate is medium-bodied with flavours consisting of blackberry, black cherry, vanilla, green pepper and oak spice. Mouth-watering acids and finishing long with tobacco and slight earthy notes. Dry tannins are nicely integrated. Enjoyable over the next 4 years. Score: 91 pts

Wine Tasting at Palmaz Vineyards

PALMAZ CHARDONNAY "AMALIA" 2012 - Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $55
Highly aromatic with elegant apple, pear and butter aromas. Nice and creamy on the medium-bodied palate with very nice aroma replays. Well-balanced overall with a long, long finish that is slightly warm and has some subtle spice notes. Score: 91 pts

PALMAZ ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2009 - Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $145
Contains 1% Petit Verdot. Aromas are very expressive, showing currant, cassis, blackberry and slight brettiness. It's medium-full bodied with nicely balanced aroma replays. Mouth-watering acids to go along with smooth, velvety tannins on the palate. Long, smooth finish. Balanced wine overall. A delight. Score: 93 pts

PALMAZ ESTATE CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2010 - Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $120
Include 3% Petit Verdot. Highly aromatic with elegant barnyard, cassis and currant aromas. Palate is full-bodied with black currants, earthiness and black cherry flavours. Mouth-watering acids and tannins that are smooth and integrating nicely. Lengthy finish. Nicely balanced. Would give this another in bottle for everything to come together. Score: 92 pts

PALMAZ MUSCAT CANELLI "FLORENCIA" 2012 - Napa Valley (#) (MS) - $55
Medium+ aromas with elegant peach, tropical fruit, and melon aromas. Fresh, clean, orange citrus and peach flavour profile that is medium-dry. Has crisp acids and a long finish that is slightly oily in texture. Score: 90 pts

MINER THE ILIAD 2012 - Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $30
Blend of 54% Marsanne, 40% Roussanne, and 6% Viognier. Medium-high intensity aromas featuring clean herbal, pear, and florals. On the mineral-driven palate, there are aroma replays and crisp acids. Finish is long with herbal notes in play. Score: 89 pts

MINER WILD YEAST CHARDONNAY 2010 - Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $50
Highly aromatic with apple, butter, and pear notes with hints of butterscotch. Medium+ bodied on the palate with crisp acids and nice aroma replays along with hints of crème brûlée. Texture is creamy with a finish that's long and smooth. A little high in alcohol at 14.3%. Score: 90 pts

MINER ROSELLA'S VINEYARD PINOT NOIR 2011 - Santa Lucia Highlands, Monterey (#) (XD) - $60
Aromas are of medium+ intensity and show strawberry, cherry and citrus on the nose. It's low-to-medium weighted with crisp acids. Warm red berries, hint of earth on the palate. Slightly astringent. Very fruit-driven and finishing long. Score: 89 pts

MINER LA DILIGENCE SYRAH 2009 - Stagecoach Vineyard, Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $40
Medium+ aromas with nose consisting of blueberry preserve, purple fruits, and bacon. Medium-full bodied with warm, black fruits, meaty, peppercorn and subtle smoke on the palate. Mouth-watering acids and finishing long, and smooth. Tannins are nicely integrated. Made in a northern Rhône style, this very nice wine is drinkable now or can be enjoyed over the next 2-3 years. Score: 90+ pts

MINER CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011 - Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $50
Contains 8% Cabernet Franc and 2% Merlot. Grilled green pepper and currants show on the highly aromatic nose. Full-bodied with finely-grained tannins, aromas replay on the palate joined by herbal notes and some oak. Mouth-watering acids and a very long finish. Score: 89 pts

MINER THE ORACLE 2009 - Napa Valley (#046367) (XD) - $90 USD / $99.95 CAD
Barrel aged in 55% new French Oak blend consisting of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot. Elegant oak, currant, cassis, vanillan and red berry notes make up the medium+ intensity bouquet. It's full-bodied with red currant, leather and sweet tobacco flavours and a spicy mid-palate. Has good acids, drying tannins and a lengthy finish. Drinking well now, could be enjoyed until 2019. Score: 91 pts

PRIEST RANCH SYRAH 2009 - Somerston Vineyard, Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $38
Aromas are of medium intensity with nose consisting of peppercorn, oak and dark fruits. It's full-bodied with very good acids and flavours of peppercorn, blueberry and vanillan oak. Slightly chalky tannins. Long and spicy finish. Very much Old World style. Enjoyable now, but will reward in 2-3 years. Score: 89-90 pts

PRIEST RANCH CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2011 - Somerston Vineyard, Napa Valley (#361097) (XD) - $48 USD / $52 CAD
Contains 5% Petit Sirah. Highly aromatic with green pepper and red currant nose. Medium-full bodied with aroma replays on the palate joined by cassis and minty complexity. Dry, chalky tannins and long, slightly warm finish. Could use 2-3 years in cellar. Score: 89 pts

PRIEST RANCH PETITE SIRAH 2010 - Somerston Vineyard, Napa Valley (#361105) (XD) - $40 USD / $52 CAD
Medium+ intensity nose with mulberry, currants, dried fruit and mint aromas. Medium-bodied with eucalyptus, spice, blackberry and sweet vanillan flavours on the palate. Tannins are crunchy, big, and smooth. Very good acids and slightly warm finish. Score: 89 pts

PRIEST RANCH COACHGUN 2008 - Somerston Vineyard, Napa Valley (#) (XD) - $75
Blend of 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 22% Merlot, and 10% Petit Verdot. This mature red has medium-high intensity aromas that has a nose consisting of dried fruits, mint, and raisined notes. Full-bodied on the palate with nice aroma replays along with dark fruits, sweet cassis, and eucalyptus flavour profile. Finish is long and warm. Score: 90+ pts

Note: All prices are in USD, unless otherwise stated.


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