World Malbec Day

Last Friday, April 17th, was World Malbec Day.  It was the fifth year of this recognition that was instituted in Argentina to celebrate and bring recognition to this varietal.  The grape was first grown in the Southwest of France and brought to Argentina in1853.  In this new environment, the varietal grew and flourished and has become the flagship varietal of the country.  The celebration this year was marked by more than 70 events in 64 cities in 44 different countries around the world.  That is a big deal for a grape!

What makes and has Malbec be so distinctive and attract such attention?  At its best, Malbec has a dark purple color with plum and violet aromas.  On the palate, you have lush, rich fruit with a ripe tannic structure.  Typical of the varietal are flavors of plum, raisin, and hints of tobacco.

Argentina has some well-known producers whose wines are available in many locations.  One of the labels you can count on (and probably find) from Argentina is Catena.  I have many a fine bottle from them.

In honor of World Malbec Day, I pulled a well-aged bottle from the cellar from another fine producer that is more difficult to find.  Achaval-Ferrer is a wonderful winery, and the wine was all that one would expect.  Rich, full bodied and velvety.  Please open your palate to Malbec and discover this great varietal, so you’ll be ready to celebrate World Malbec Day on April 17, 2016!


Rosemary Cakebread: Blending Risk-Taking and Restraint

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker and owner of Gallica Wine. This was a chance to gain insights into the “drivers,” the perspective and spirit, of a great winemaker. Rosemary holds a degree in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California at Davis and has put her education to work for over 30 vintages in Napa Valley. Her background is rich and varied, from a harvest in Bordeaux to working with sparkling wine at Mumm Napa Valley. She was the winemaker at Spottswoode, one of the iconic wineries of Napa Valley. Rosemary led the winemaking effort at Spottswoode from 1997 until 2007 and consulted through the 2012 vintage.

In 2007, Rosemary launched her own label. Gallica 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was introduced to the wine buying public in 2010, and it was a stunner. The very first vintage of her wine was well-received, to say the least. Robert Parker gave it 99 points, truly a great beginning. While Cabernet is a varietal Rosemary is very familiar with, in more recent vintages, she has explored other wines. I have enjoyed her Grenache blend called Suzuri; and, with the 2012 vintage, she released a Syrah.

I am delighted to be able to share with you the interview I was afforded. Enjoy!

What first interested you about wine? It was really several things. I always need to keep moving, and I like my career to be a little on the edge. I like to take risks, and I find myself the happiest when I’m pushing the envelope. I like to learn new things, and I don’t want to do things over and over again. In the wine industry, especially when I was starting my career, there was a lot of pioneering spirit. It was always new and fresh with lots of opportunity. It’s a little different now, but there’s still a lot of opportunity. That’s really what made me want to start my own brand. Winemaking gives me freedom to explore new opportunities and work with varietals I haven’t worked with in the past. At age 22, I stumbled into opportunities that led in a particular direction. A summer job at Sebastiani led me to discover UC Davis, where Roger Bolton was my advisor and Ann Noble was one of my most influential professors. I was focused on Napa Valley, because it was the center of the universe for making wine, in my eyes. I was able to get good jobs and a great deal of experience. I was a hard worker and received great mentoring along the way.

How would you characterize your winemaking style? I think it’s very restrained, a Japanese sort of approach. Napa is the land of sunshine and wines that tend to be bold. I don’t consider my wines to be big wines. They’re more balanced and restrained, which is the kind of wine I like to drink.

What person or event had the great influence on your winemaking style? In one of my earlier jobs, I worked for Guy Devaux at Mumm Napa Valley. Guy came from Epernay, and this was influential in my approach to wine. Wines are about nuance, balance, and aromatics. I learned an amazing amount from that job, particularly the importance of blending. I was young, and this was a great job to have. It was a start-up at that time. I like that kind of work – where things aren’t defined and there’s no manual that tells you how to do it.

Who were your other mentors? Mary Novak from my time at Spottswoode. Mary is such an impressive person who overcame some life challenges and turned those into opportunity for herself and her family. She did this with a great sense of humor and a lot of class. She’s one in a million and an inspiring person to work for.

Your 2013 is in barrel. What are you looking for and how often do you taste as you’re assessing a wine’s development? I just bottled the 2013 Syrah from Pisoni and the Amador Shake Ridge yesterday. What do I look for? I don’t taste weekly. It’s good to stand back a little bit. Barrels are watched carefully. I probably taste everything monthly. Standing back helps give me perspective. If I taste too often, it’s hard for me to see any contrast. I try to keep an open mind. For example, I just tasted all of the 2014s one barrel at a time. I want to get a sense of what this vintage is doing. As I taste, I think about how I see it and when it might want to be bottled. I form my impressions and take good notes.

Isn’t this where the real artist comes in? With blending, the art comes in. The vintage gives you what it gives you. It’s Mother Nature. You need to be honest and evaluate each vineyard block. I keep things separate and make decisions about whether to blend early or later. I may blend earlier if I feel the wines need time to integrate. In my time working in Napa valley, I think the 2013 vintage is one of the best I’ve seen. It’s pretty spectacular. These wines have a stamina, grace, and elegance that you don’t see every vintage. It’s not often that you feel like you don’t have to do much work. I think the 2013s are going to be a vintage to be collected.

You said you like to be pioneering and make your own path. From where you’re sitting now, what’s the greatest accomplishment of Gallica for you? I think the biggest accomplishment is that I’m thankful that I’ve been able to do what I do at a small production level. Not everyone gets to do what I’m doing. So many people have been supportive of my efforts and have bought my wine. I’m doing it myself without investors. I have a supportive husband who says, “Go do what you want to do.” I’ve really been thankful that the wines have been well-received. One of my stated goals was to see what else is out there, beyond Cabernet Sauvignon. I’ll be releasing my sixth vintage of wine working with Ann Kraemer at Shake Ridge. Now I’m working with Mark Pisoni. Next, I’d like to make a white wine.

What’s next? I don’t have a grand plan. I love what I do, and I’m always trying to learn new things. I took a class this past year at the University of Bordeaux on the subject of terroir. I also feel like it is time to contribute, to the Napa Valley Vintners Association and to the community we live in. It’s fun to mentor and work with interns. I’ve been the beneficiary of great experiences, and I hope to return the favors to others.

To learn more about or to purchase Gallica Wine, visit the Gallica website.


A Tasting to Be Remembered

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a tasting that was pricey but well worth the time and money. It was in St. Helena at the wine store located in Dean & DeLuca’s. Being in the heart of the Napa Valley, there are many gems that are worthy of note. This tasting opportunity arrived, and I jumped at it.

Here is the line-up of wines that I was given the chance to taste:

Araujo Estate
Arrow & Branch
Bryant Family Vineyard
Cade Winery
Continuum Estate
Corra Wines
4 Winds Winery – Debut Release
Fait-Main Wines
Futo Wines
Gandona Winery
Hourglass Vineyard
Keever Vineyards
Momento Mori
Odette Estate
Ovid Vineyards
Realm Cellars
Schrader Cellars
Screaming Eagle
Switchback Ridge Vineyard
VHR – Vine Hill Ranch

As I type the list, I can’t believe I missed even a few. With so many wines, this was obviously an event to not do anything but swish, savor, and spit. This allows you to stay present to the nuances and flavors of each wine. As you can see, there are big cult wines on this list that rarely get poured at tastings – Screaming Eagle, for example – so this was a tasting to be remembered for sure,

There were a couple of wine makers there that I had the opportunity to visit with. Rosemary Cakebread, who makes Gallica, was there pouring her wonderful wine. Tim Mondavi, whose label is Continuum, was present as well. He was quite engaging and offered great information on his wine.

This was a tasting to be remembered by all who attended. It was first class with beautiful wines being poured – worthy of anyone’s table. While clearly these may not be everyday wines (for some they may be, just not me!), they are wonderful wines to treat yourself with on that special occasion. Some are more available than others in a price range you may want to splurge on for the right experience. Please do treat yourself and explore one or more of these wines!