Napa for Normal People

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 Napa for Normal People©

by. L.M. Archer, FWS

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Is Napa for normal people? Or for just the rarified – those willing to dole out $20+ tasting fees to sample $100+ bottles of wine in multi-million dollar facilities owned by multi-billion dollar corporations and family empires?

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binNotes recently travelled to Napa to find out.

I first pondered the question of a ‘Napa for Normal People’ while listening to an International Guild of Sommelier’s podcast about Napa’s history. The podcast, a frank, free-wheeling discussion with Tim Mondavi of Continuum Estates, John Williams of Frog’s Leap, and Press Restaurant sommelier Kelli White, centered around Napa from the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 to the 1990′s.

This roundtable recalled a Napa of collaboration, curiosity, and collegiality among mostly family owned wineries - wineries dedicated to quality and innovation. I wondered – what about Napa today?  Does a Napa for ‘normal’ people exist, a wine region not unlike the Willamette Valley or Walla Walla, where you’re more apt to meet the wine maker in jeans and fleece swearing at a tractor than airbrushed in glossy wine magazine ads?  The answer surprised me. Hopefully it will you, too.

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Have you ever happened upon the extraordinary in an unexpected way? Bellying up to the bar at  JoLe Restaurant in downtown Calistoga, my partner in crime and I sensed we’d happened upon something special.

Subdued conversations thrummed through the scrums of tightly packed tables arranged French bistro style – the clientele a mix of locals and visitors – always a good sign. We took a place at the prep bar overlooking the place.

An upbeat, impeccably attired server brought the wine list and menu. Perusing them, I found myself uttering an uncharacteristic expletive:

“Holy @#$%.”

  Forget the usual big name Napa Cabernet makers we’d driven by en route to dinner. This place featured gems from off-the-radar wine makers like Shypoke, Shafer, Jericho, Larkmead, and Laura Michel.

And the food matched the same innovative vibe, featuring well-paired fare like locally sourced grilled asparagus with strawberries and lamb tongue with watermelon.

By the end of the evening, I realized I’d stumbled down the rabbit hole into another Napa – where wines reflect terroir, not Wine Advocate tout sheets, and food reflects local flavors, not Food Network soundbites.

 And then it hit me.  ‘Napa for normal people’ does exist – a quiet revolution burgeoning within Napa today, similar to its post-Prohibition Renaissance.

Intrigued, we chatted with the person behind the prep bar – owner Matt Spector. I learned about his journey from Pittsburg to Napa with his wife and pastry chef, Sonjia – a tale laced with passion, peril, and perhaps a bit of profanity. A story built upon hard work, humility, humor – and a commitment to quality.

A story worth sharing here.

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b/N: Who or what brought you to the Napa region?
“I joke that my wife Sonjia brought us here, she is from Northern CA and had worked in Napa before moving to Philly where we met. When we would visit her parents we would always stop here first for a few days. The same things that bring so many tourist are the same things that brought us: Lifestyle, landscape and of course the food and wine. We always thought we would settle here and when we had a chance to sell our restaurant in Philadelphia we figured it’s now or never. “

b/N: Tell readers a bit about the history of JoLe Restaurant – what makes it unique?
“JoLe actually begins in Philly where Sonjia and I met. After working for other people we opened our own restaurant called Matyson ( Matt & Sonjia). Fast forward 5 years now w’ere in Napa looking to open our second place and we need a name. We have to boys Joseph who was 4 at the time and Jacob Levi who was 6 months. Put their names together you get JoLe, so from Matyson JoLe was born. At our restaurant in Philly we did themed tasting menus every week, they became the biggest part of our business. Those menus inspired our menu here where you can design your own experience by choosing from the a la carte menu to make your own tasting. With or without wine pairings. Our feeling was you have limited time in the valley why not be able to try as many things as possible especially with the wine, two 5 course dinners offers the diner a chance to try 10 different wines.”

b/N: You have an incredible wine list, featuring many of Napa’s under-the-radar rock stars and burgeoning artisans. Tell readers a little bit about the process that goes into creating JoLe’s eclectic wine list.

(Answered by James Cerda our wine buyer and GM):

“Our wine list really begins with our open tastings that we hold each week. Each Wednesday and Thursday between 3-4:30 p.m. we hold open tastings where any distributer, sale representative or even winemaker can stop by and pour whatever wine they have with them.  In any given session we will taste between five and twenty-five wines, usually from all over the world. About 90% of the wine we purchase come from these open tasting.  What I’m really looking for during these tastings  are distinctive wines.  Something has to jump out at me, but I’m not looking for one thing specifically , but if I’m still thinking about a wine a day or two later I either purchase it that week or add it to my list of wines to be purchased in the future.   With each week that pasts the list of wines to purchase in the future grows longer and longer.

When it comes to what wines make the list at any given time, I try to shape the menu around a multitude of different palates. We usually have around 60 different wines by the glass and I like to think that no matter who walks through the door I will have a wine by the glass that will fit their palate.  This means that  with the most popular varietals like Pinot, Cab and Chardonnay I usually have two to three different offerings of each, all in different styles and usually from different areas of the globe. Other popular varietals such as Merlot, Zin Grenache, Syrah , etc  are also almost always represented on our list as well. After that I get to fill out the list with quirky wines that I like, like a Gruner Veltliner from the Von Strosser winery, possibly a Mueller Thurgau from Alto Adige, or Charbono from right here in Calistoga.  Price point is important as well.  Our by the glass price ranges from $7-$35 per glass and  I think that one can fine some great values at whatever price point they are looking at.

My favorite aspect about our wine list are the small local projects that we get to highlight.  Many come from wine makers who have cut their teeth at other wineries and are now just starting their own projects. These are sometimes the most interesting wines on our list and often times they are some of our best sellers. It’s really great that we get to offer these phenomenal wine makers a platform to showcase their wines.

With so many wines from all over the world and so many producers right here in our back yard , there is no possible way to showcase every great wine at one time, so we have taken on and embrace change when it comes to our wine list. The wine list is constantly evolving. This means that each time a guest returns to JoLe they are likely to discover at least a couple new wines since their last visit and sometimes a completely new menu. Our goal is to create  an exciting and ambitious by the glass program that is ever changing and focuses on smaller producers who have something to say. Often guests will come in twice in one trip and be able to have a different menu then the night before.”

b/N: JoLe’s inventive, farm-to-table fare pair perfectly with the wines offered. Tell us about how you and your wife Sonjia collaborate on the menu – do you have specific flavor profiles you each/both favor, or is it more improvisational?

“Improvisational would be the best way to describe our menus. I always tell people we do American food that way we can take from the melting pot that is our country. Aside from myself and Sonjia there are only 6 other cooks in the kitchen, we ask all of them for input. As things come into season we will get them on. We change pieces of the menu at different times, usually within 5 weeks the whole menu will have change.”

b/N: JoLe offers a taste of first-rate food, wines and staff without the hype or high prices typically associated with Napa. Did you deliberately set out to offer a ‘normal side of Napa?’

“…We just do our thing cook the food we like and by the wines we enjoy. We work at a high level on both sides of the line but we implore a Mom & Pop attitude. Someone wrote about us in Philly and deemed our place “casually sophisticated,” that still our goal.”

b/N: You have great staff – they really add to the dining experience at JoLe. How are you able to attract and retain such great people? 

“Of course as business grew we were able to attract more quality employees. While we want people to bring their own personalities to the table we ask that they check their egos. I think people who work with us understand that they are part of a dream that is being realized by us. It is a special thing to be a part of.”
b/N: What is/are your greatest challenge(s) running a restaurant in the Napa region? 

“Our greatest challenge is being a seasonal business. After six years we have learned to manage it, but I will never get used to slowing down in the winter. “

Cheers!

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 Thank you:

Matt & Sonjia Spector, JoLe Restaurant - Calistoga, CA

Copyrighted 2012-2014. All Rights Reserved.

Memoir: Jini Dellaccio

Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

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Have you still got your space? Your soul, your own and necessary place where your own voices may speak to you, you alone, where you may dream. Oh, hold onto it, don’t let it go.
—Doris Lessing

Today binNotes gets personal.

A great lady died recently. Jini Dellaccio, photographer to rock stars, died earlier this month at the age of 97.

I knew her as part of the eclectic group of artists, writers and photographers hanging from the rafters at our ramshackle, barn-red Victorian in a staid, Catholic neighborhood of attorneys, executives and engineers.

 Ours was the ‘one of these things is not like the other’ family – the one with the rock band practicing in the basement, parties falling into the early morning hours, and postcards tacked to the refrigerator from friends flying high in far-flung corners of the earth.

It took me a lifetime to understand the gifts of an unconventional childhood – one I spent far too long trying to eradicate.

 Jini Dellaccio’s photographs hung on the walls of my childhood home, the scenery and people in them as familiar as the rain falling on our roof.

A midwestern transplant and saxophone player by training, Jini Dellaccio took to the camera like another musical instrument, riffing on it like a great blues player.

A sensitive, introverted child, I watched quietly as this force of nature shaped her unique vision of the world through a viewfinder.

Jini Dellaccio’s photographs taught me about listening with one’s eyes.

About seeing the grey between the black and white.

About seeing the space between.

About loving what you do, and doing it up until the end.

A great lady died recently.

But her vision lives on.

For more about Jini Dellaccio, check out the documentary: Her Aim is True.

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Copyrighted 2012-2014. All Rights Reserved.

 

HBD!

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

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Today Francophiles worldwide celebrate Le Fête Nationale, also known as ‘la fête du 14-juillet‘…better known as Bastille Day. 

Regardless, it’s a time to celebrate égalité, fraternité, et liberté with food, wine and friends…and fireworks.

Care to share how do you plan to celebrate?

Leave a comment below, or send a tweet @binNotes #bastille day!

Santé!

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Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved. Image courtesy: metislinens.blogspot.com

Time out from the ‘hood…

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

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Taking a break…..enjoy some cloudscapes from the ‘hood…see y’all back here next week…

Cheers!

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Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved. All images courtesy the author.

Guest Blog Redux: International Food and Wine Pairing Round Up

 Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog

by L.M. Archer, FWS

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International Food and Wine Pairing Roundup

Here’s the newly migrated link to my recent guest blogger contribution ito the 2014 International Food and Wine Pairing Blogger Roundup, hosted by London wine merchant Roberson Wine.

Cheers!

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 Have a happy 4th of July!

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Thank you:

Carlo – TUG

Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved.

Meet the Winemaker: Anne Parent – Domaine Parent

Welcome to binNotes: Meet the Winemaker

Today’s Exclusive:  Anne Parent, Domaine Parent

Pommard – Burgundy FR

by L.M. Archer, FWS

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A winemaker’s story is a true hero’s journey –  involving obstacles, an occasional mentor, and the ultimate reward - in this case, wine. Details may vary, but never the storyline.

Today’s winemaker, Anne Parent of Domaine Parent hails from Pommard in Côte de Beaune, part of Burgundy‘s illustrious Côte d’Or wine region.

Anne Parent’s winemaking heritage harkens back 12 generations, including an ancestor who served as wine supplier to Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States.

binNotes first encountered Anne Parent at the Terroirs et Signatures de Bourgogne 2014 Seattle Trade Show - her wines ferocious in flavor and unflinching in tensile structure – a combination of power and finesse, coupled with undeniable character.

binNotes brings you this formidable winemaker, in her own words:

Who or what brought you to winemaking?

“Actually, I have wanted to have this job since I was a little girl. When my father retired, my sister Catherine and I took over the Domaine. Winemaking has always fascinated me, it thus came very naturally. “

Share with readers the brief history of Domaine Parent. What makes it unique?

“The origin of the Parent family dates back to the 17th century in Volnay, and then one of our ancestors came to Pommard to settle down. Catherine and I represent the 12th generation of winegrowers, which is quite unique. We represent the very long history of this family, who has always owned vineyards on Pommard, which is our specialty.

Last but not least, our ancestor Etienne Parent became the Burgundy wine supplier of Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the USA.”

Some Burgundian-trained women winemakers speak of having to fight for a place in school and in the vineyard. As a formidable vigneron, industry leader (past VP of BIVB) and founder of Femme et Vins de Bourgogne, you seem inured to the battle. Do you find Burgundy more receptive to women winemakers today?

“Indeed, during ages women could not go into the cuveries, mainly for religious reasons.

Mentalities have now changed a great deal and today, despite its authentic and traditional aspect, Burgundy is open-minded, and lots of women are involved in wine production.

In the old days, sons always succeeded to their fathers, or daughters had to marry winegrowers.

Nowadays, women are renowned to be as professional and skilled as men.”

What was your impetus for starting Femme et Vins de Bourgogne? Has the success of the organization surprised you? 

“My first motivation was the need to share and exchange technical information on winegrowing and winemaking.

Moreover, it was important to go and taste at each other’s Domaine, to learn to know each other and defend women status in wine properties.

When we created this association in 2000, we were only 6. Today we are more than 40, representing the 5 Burgundy sub-regions: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Châlonnaise, and Côte Mâconnaise.

This is why I am particularly proud of this association, which promotes diversity of Burgundy wines, wine culture, and the know-how and competence of the women who are involved in winemaking.”

You’ve taken a leadership position in the reclassification process of Pommard Grand Crus. Many readers may not know the history of Pommard’s original 1935 classifications. Explain the reasoning for the reclassification, and its impact if approved.

“The two Premiers Crus “les Epenots” and “les Rugiens” that we are trying to reclassify in Grand Cru had already been proposed when the INAO (National Institute of Appellations of Origin) was created in 1935. At the time, winegrowers had not been able to agree because they were afraid of higher taxes and lower yield. In the confusing context of the time, Premiers Crus were better sold than Grand Crus. Thus, the proposal did not succeed.

Today, everybody agrees on the renowned quality of these two Premiers Crus, which has always been more highlighted than the other Premiers Crus, and that Pommard would deserve to have one or two Grand Crus. The official reclassification request was officially processed to the INAO in 2014, but it is a long and complex procedure, and we cannot know today what the result will be.”

You’ve spoken with great force and affection about the clay soils of Pommard, and the wines created there – expressive, intense, complex. Yet you also work with other regions as well: Corton, Ladoix, Monthelie, Volnay. How do these various terroirs impact the flavor profiles of the wines produced there, as compared to your beloved Pommard? Do you have a favorite? 

“Pommard is an appellation with a certain character, and much personality.

Wines can be powerful, intense, and solid, but also refined, elegant, stylish, complex and sensual.

Pommard is one of the greatest appellation of great wines of Burgundy, and especially of Côte de Beaune. It produces exclusively Reds, with a good potential for ageing. Pommard cannot be compared to any other appellation.

Of all the charming and seductive Premiers Crus which we produce at Domaine Parent, my two favorites are “Les Epenots” and “Les Chaponnières.”

Domaine Parent is in the process of 100% biodynamic certification. What led you to invest in biodynamic farming? What challenges do you face? 

When my sister Catherine and I took over the Domaine in 1998, we very quickly orientated ourselves towards sustainable winegrowing methods. We also have worked a lot on soil analyses and terroir organic matters.

We wanted to go further in this process, by personal philosophy. We had the feeling that we could work differently, respecting the environment, protecting our health and bringing more precision in our wines.

We are now certified organic. We also use biodynamic processes. These cultural methods make us work more rigorously, observe more and we need to be very reactive, but the challenge is definitely worth it and we see the benefits every day.”

Anything else you care to share with readers about your domaine, your wines, or about Burgundy that readers may not know? 

“Burgundy is not complicated but rich of appellations.

It is a patchwork of different terroirs, and an alchemy between the two authentic and historical grape varieties : Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It is made of multiple and mysterious terroirs and “climats” of our villages, and different winegrowers and winemakers.

Balance is the main goal at Domaine Parent, be it in its vineyards or in its wines.”

One final question: “If wine making has taught me anything, it’s taught me…  

“If wine making has taught me anything, it’s taught me to stay humble in front of nature, to be amazed in front of vineyards, and realize that if oenology is a science, winemaking is an art.”

 For more information:

Bourgognes Parent| 3 rue de la Métairie 21630 POMMARD |TEL +33 3 80 22 15 08 | FAX + 33 3 80 24 19 33

www.domaine-parent-bourgogne.com

Santé!

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Thank you:

Anne Parent – Domaine Parent

 Alix de Gramont – Bourgognes Parent

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Copyrighted 2012-2014. All Rights Reserved.

Ode to Walla Walla: Of Syrah, Savage Beauty, and Stones

Welcome to binNotes | a wine blog.

Ode to Walla Walla: Of Syrah, Savage beauty, and Stones.

By L.M. Archer, FWS

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I learned a few things last weekend attending Celebrate Walla Walla Syrah 2014.

As a pinot-swilling, Burgundy-burnished, less-is-more type of wine lover, I had my doubts about problem child syrah.

Syrah...a varietal the Wine & Spirits critic and guest speaker Patrick Comiskey so brilliantly calls “the right amount of wrong” and “a bit sauvage”,  introduced itself with personality and wit and balls-out brashness. And it was good.

Toto, we’re not in Kansas, or Burgundy, or the Willamette Valley anymore.

We’re in Walla Walla. And I’m here to tell you that Walla Walla syrah has stones.

I kept thinking about that ‘problem child’ moniker. Syrah…the Rhone varietal introduced in the United States by California’s Rhone Rangers, then over-produced with homogeneous monotony by its various ‘adopted’ regions.  The problem child varietal mishandled, mismanaged, misunderstood – like so many adoptees.

Until Walla Walla.

Walla Walla beckoned like anyone who understands a wild thing. Carefully. Patiently. Without expectation.

Walla Walla unhobbled this varietal, giving it free reign upon the lilting hills and valleys, lulling it with its breezes and soft summer sunlight.

And it was good.

The wild child did what any wild child does. It balked, taking, but not giving.

And then, as time unfolded, it understood. It was safe here. Safe to dance, sing, grow upon the vast landscape.

And so…it started giving back to the hands that tend it.

The hands that tend it, but never tame it.

For syrah cannot be tamed.

No, syrah will always be Walla Walla’s wild child.

The one most likely to arrive early and leave late on that 3-day weekend to Vegas… maybe with a  pet tiger.

The houseguest with the most colorful stories to tell, mainly raunchy.

The wine you choose to crack open with your friends, not to impress your boss.

The  wine with backbone and bravado, castanet-clicking its flamenco-fueled frenzy across your palette.

The wine belting out a sensory aria that blows your mind, breaks your heart and busts your gut.

The wine sure to tattoo a one-two punch across your taste buds.

Syrah. A little bit ‘sauvage’ indeed. At least in Walla Walla.

Walla Walla syrah has stones. It’s rocked my world.

Cheers.

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Thanks:

Celebrate Walla Walla Syrah cast, crew, and winemakers

Heather Bradshaw – Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance

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Copyrighted 2012-2014. All rights reserved. All images courtesy the author.