Last weekend I headed southbound down I-5, but it was no vacation. I was moving from the Willamette Valley to the Napa Valley. I was migrating from pinot noir to cabernet sauvignon. It was less than a ten hour drive, but it’s worlds apart.
Cabernet and pinot may both be wines, but they have little in common other than being red. Cabernet’s backbone is tannin, while pinot’s is acidity - at least that’s what nature intended. The culture between the Willamette Valley and the Napa Valley is also a contrast. The hippie winemaking ashram of Oregon versus the corporate powerhouse of Napa. For me it is another step on a winemaking journey: three vintages in Italy, three in Oregon and now on to Napa.
I’ve learned many things on this odyssey. First and foremost is that your palate is not a machine that can be calibrated, but something always in motion. Something that is influenced and defined by the wines you are drinking at the moment. After three years of drinking young nebbiolo, the the wines of Oregon seemed unstructured. After three years of Oregon pinot the wines of Napa seemed bombastic. Yet after a month of drinking them my palate has adjusted and opened so that I also appreciate their power and concentration. As in all art, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The fashion today is to rank wines with an exactitude that is absurd, but true connoisseurs understand that it’s the full rainbow of diversity that makes wine such a compelling beverage.
Wine is a beautiful, creative thing that brings not only happiness, but health and invites us to sit back and appreciate life and each other. Those that define it by points deny this cultural and aesthetic beauty. Those that rank wines don’t give up their aesthetic distance when they taste. I do.
So this is my first week as a full time resident of Napa, a place I’ve visited many, many times over almost three decades. It’s a new start in familiar surroundings. I hope regular readers will forgive the sporadic posts over the last two weeks during my move and transition into my new job, but now I’m back to the the blogging grindstone. I’ll not be commenting on California cabernet for obvious reasons, but will be increasing my commentary on exciting wines of America’s Northwest as I separate myself from day-to-day relationships with wineries there. As always you’ll find extensive commentary on the wines of Europe, which I love.
Now you’ll find my professional attentions focused on Cornerstone Cellars, which produces two cabernet sauvignon wines, a Napa Valley and a Howell Mountain, crafted by an extraordinary winemaker, Celia Masyczek. So my blogging focus will be on everything but Napa Cab.
I became a wine professional in 1980. Now as I approach my 30th year immersed in all things wine and food I can only count my blessings. Most of all I treasure the diversity of taste that I have been privileged to experience. That experience has taught me to dig deep to understand the character of wine and those who make it. With the same passion I took on nebbiolo and pinot noir I now focus on cabernet sauvignon.
Appreciating each wine and wine region for both what it is and what it isn’t is what wine appreciation is all about. I’m about to truly appreciate the wines of the Napa Valley.