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Wednesday Warblings
Premiere Napa Valley Showcases The Best of The Best In A Weakened Vintage

By Stephen Eliot

Napa Valley’s celebratory, week-long homage to itself, the 17th annual Premiere Napa Valley is now history, and I must admit that it was quite a show. It began with this year’s new inductions to the Culinary Institute of America’s Vintners Hall of Fame and was followed by a succession of impossibly busy days of conferences, tastings, workshops and parties in preface to Saturday’s spectacular barrel tasting and auction.

The wines offered for auction were special small lots of some 60 to 240 bottles created and donated by just about everyone who is anyone in the Valley. The vast majority were Cabernet Sauvignons of the 2011 vintage and are unique, one-of-a-kind wines that will ultimately reside in the cellars and on the lists of the handful of retailers and well-heeled collectors who won them in bidding. They are thus not the stuff we would ever review formally, and, while we confess to finding both favorites and disappointments alike, it would be folly to view them as absolute indicators of winery successes or failures. That is why we wait for the finished wines in bottle. Still, they afforded a best first look at the 2011 vintage for Napa Valley Cabernet, and they provided plenty of food for thought.

There is no question that the vintage was challenging, and, despite the claims of many who see redemption and a new beginning for Napa Valley in the cool 2011 harvest, there is a difference between being lively and fresh and being downright reedy and green. There were plenty of both. If, as a group, the wines were a bit lighter and less given to high extract, there were also plenty of rich, well-ripened efforts that in no way suggested that they had been born in a difficult year. In short, 2011 looks like a very mixed bag and is a vintage that will defy simple, summary judgment.

It looks to me to be very much a winemaker’s year, a year in which strict selection and a willingness to really pay attention to what the grapes have to say will ultimately prove to be the keys to success. Sure, the same can be said for every harvest, but this one will be especially demanding of those who make winemaking decisions from triage at picking straight through to bottling.

Now, I will never discount the importance of place and hold fast to my belief that there are certain blessed pieces of dirt that yield wines of unquestioned greatness. I have, however, never been entirely comfortable with the old saw that wines are wholly made in the vineyard. I have long held that winemakers count, significantly so. I have seen silk purses spun from seeming sows’ ears, and I have seen grand opportunity missed. Happily, we tasted some very impressive wines last week, and we feel safe in saying that there are more than a few very talented folks out there who made good decisions and very good wine in 2011.

Lately, I have been hearing one after another excited declaration that the auspicious 2012 vintage will be a year in which winemakers will have to work hard to fail. I hope that prediction is right. The winemakers deserve a break after 2011.


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PNV 2013
by Henry Patland
Posted on:2/27/2013 11:13:25 AM

Stephen, it was meeting you at PNV 2013.  Thanks for stopping by Patland Estate Vineyards.  Looking forward to doing an in-depth tasting with you in Napa some day and showing you the beautiful Terra Del Cuore property.

by Spoto Wines
Posted on:2/27/2013 2:26:58 PM

Hello Stephen,

It was nice meeting you at the 2013 PNV Oakville preview tasting last Friday.  Thank you for trying our 2011 Spoto Wines Oakville Cuvee (Lot

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