Gleanings from Napa

What a week. The Wine Writers Symposium and Premiere Napa Auction events were exhilarating and exhausting. Some highlights:

Cathy• I finally got to meet Cathy Corison (left), and she was as delightful as I expected: classy, plain-spoken and whip-smart. The next day, my way better half got a glimpse of why Cathy is in such good shape, spotting her walking from her winery to the auction at the CIA, a good 3-mile hike.

• At the same tasting, I was talking to a vintner whom I respect enormously. He called the 2013 vintage “the biggest, the baddest, the best I have ever seen in Napa.” Noteworthy because (a) this guy is not at all given to hyperbole and (b) he favors wines with power, grace and some restraint.

Harlan• I finally got to meet Bill Harlan (left), owner of Meadowood resort and of course Harlan Estates. I was praising the Meadowood property, and he said he originally had bought the land that now is the golf course with the intentions of growing grapes there. I didn’t ask, but I’m guessing the golf revenues would rival those that his first-class vineyards do.

• We went to dinner with some of my favorite people in the wine biz. Lang & Reed’s John Skupny was his usual delightful self. And generous, bringing a 1976 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet that was sublime, still in its peak years at age 40. One of my favorite things about hanging with wine people, trade folks and/or just friends, is their generosity.

• Earlier in the week, we had hung out with Gabrielle Schaffer (below left) and Adam McClary, Minnesotans now making fab Gabrielle 2Loire-grape wines under the Gamling & McDuck label. I asked what they thought was the optimum place in Napa or Sonoma to grow cabernet franc. Gabe’s answer surprised me: Carneros, where chard and pinot reign. Last year, Amelia Ceja of Ceja Vineyards declared Carneros the best North Coast local for merlot. Maybe there’s a future Cheval Blanc in them-there hills (hey, a guy can dream).

• At Shafer’s can’t-miss pre-Premiere tasting on Friday, my way better half and I were lounging on the patio gazing at the Sunspot Vineyard, where Shafer’s best grapes are grown. Our reverie was shattered by a glass or two breaking on the nearby rocks. A short while later, who came out there to clean up? None other than the winemaker himself, Elias Fernandez. I had heard about his passion for cleanliness — the winery’s “Relentless” syrah is named for him — and I guess it also applies with klutzy revelers.


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