Lail Vineyards – A TRUE American Tale!

Lail House

Having been in the biz this long, I’m often guilty of wandering back to Europe when writing about California wines – I’ve even been called out on it…

But this is a family’s story so deeply rooted in the vinous fabric of America that even I can’t think of anywhere else but Napa when sharing their story. Follow me now; this one has a lot of forks in the road…

It all began in the late 19th century when Robin Lail’s Great Grand-Uncle Gustav Niebaum (ya’ the one and only!) built Inglenook Vineyards – talk about an American icon. By the turn of the 20th century, American wine had no rival. Niebaum’s Inglenook passed down to his Great-Nephew, John Daniel Jr. in 1936 after Prohibition, and Daniel Jr. would be the catalyst for bringing many of Niebaum’s dreams to life.

Daniel Jr., along with Robert Mondavi, made the Napa Valley appellation a reality. The sale of Inglenook in the 1960s made history, as it signified a family’s legacy in the Napa Valley.

Enter Robin Lail – John Daniel Jr.’s daughter. She inherited the Napanook Vineyard (again, ya’ the one and only!) and, after a brief hiatus, “went on to co-found Dominus in 1982 with her sister Marcia Smith and the brilliant winemaker Christian Moueix”.

Pride of ownership beckoned (obviously) and after a successful run with Bill Harlan, Robin sold her portion of Dominus and Merryvale, hooked up with rock-star wine-maker Philippe Melka in 1998, and gave the world Lail Vineyards!Lail Logo

 

Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Cuvee Edmund 2012 – The Greatest Sancerre of All Time?

sancerre-alphonse-mellot

 

A plethora of outstanding Eastern Loire Valley dry white wines have graced the pages of Parker’s Wine Advocate over the years. I’m speaking of all the appellations – Sancerre (and her most well-known sub district, Chavignol), Pouilly-Fume, Pouilly-sur-Loire, and Menetou-Salon.

Perhaps I’ve tasted slightly fewer than the expansive collection available to readers via Wine Advocate, but this is a favorite region of mine so I’ve sampled several dozen of each from dozens of vintages. Spanning all those vintages, across all regions, districts and cuvees – to include the biggest names: Neveu, Reverdy, Dagueneau, Riffault, Cotat, Crochet, Vacheron, Vatan, Blanchet, Bourgeois – there has never been a higher rated, more cult-like cuvee of wine from this corner of the Loire Valley (my book OR Advocate’s) until now.

Dedicated to his father Alphonse Edmund, produced from centenarian Sauvignon Blanc grapes growing in what must be the most coveted slice of calcareous marl soils in Europe, Advocate call this the “most precise expression of the kimmeridgian terroir”.

 

2012 Alphonse Mellot Sancerre Edmund  

Aromas of limes, yellow citrus, crushed stones, herbs, chamomile and honey lead the 2012 Sancerre Edmond to a refreshingly mineral, profund and pure palate of great expression and a stimulating length with citrus flavors…there is nothing more on the nose than ripe fruit aromas (nectarines again) based on and powdered with rock flour. This exceptional Sancerre was fermented and aged for 11 months in wooden vats and new demi-muid barrels, which initially seemed to add a further layer to this already very complex wine. However, the oak was completely absorbed by the minerality, which shines through even clearer the second day when Edmond became significantly more pure, transparent and “naked.” Its length, complexity and tension, though, remains unrivaled. This is a really powerful and expressive Sancerre but does neither lack purity nor finesse, thrill nor aging potential. I would definitely buy it to give it 8-10 years although it is already accessible.

96 points – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Lail Vineyards – A TRUE American Tale!

Lail House

Having been in the biz this long, I’m often guilty of wandering back to Europe when writing about California wines – I’ve even been called out on it…

But this is a family’s story so deeply rooted in the vinous fabric of America that even I can’t think of anywhere else but Napa when sharing their story. Follow me now; this one has a lot of forks in the road…

It all began in the late 19th century when Robin Lail’s Great Grand-Uncle Gustav Niebaum (ya’ the one and only!) built Inglenook Vineyards – talk about an American icon. By the turn of the 20th century, American wine had no rival. Niebaum’s Inglenook passed down to his Great-Nephew, John Daniel Jr. in 1936 after Prohibition, and Daniel Jr. would be the catalyst for bringing many of Niebaum’s dreams to life.

Daniel Jr., along with Robert Mondavi, made the Napa Valley appellation a reality. The sale of Inglenook in the 1960s made history, as it signified a family’s legacy in the Napa Valley.

Enter Robin Lail – John Daniel Jr.’s daughter. She inherited the Napanook Vineyard (again, ya’ the one and only!) and, after a brief hiatus, “went on to co-found Dominus in 1982 with her sister Marcia Smith and the brilliant winemaker Christian Moueix”.

Pride of ownership beckoned (obviously) and after a successful run with Bill Harlan, Robin sold her portion of Dominus and Merryvale, hooked up with rock-star wine-maker Philippe Melka in 1998, and gave the world Lail Vineyards!Lail Logo

 

Ceago – Fantastic Value, Biodynamic Pioneer

Ceago

They call this place a “vinegarden”.  And if you find yourself near Clear Lake, Lake County, California about two hours outside both San Fran and Sacramento, take my advice, spend the day with Jim Fetzer, President of Ceago, and his winemaker, Javier Tapia.  For not only are the wines delicious – especially the Sauvignon Blanc – but the history lessons they offer on the practices of biodynamic wine production are fantastic.  Jim and Javier have a way of literally walking you through the practices, step by step, as they lead you through their living vinegarden in such a way that you’ll come away with an understanding of their art and an appreciation of biodynamic wine-making as something actually quite practical.

Jim Fetzer has been working in the field of natural, organic and now biodynamic wine making since his time with his father in the 1970s.  His father taught him to consider the phases of the moon as a practical time for “racking” the barrels, for example.  The dark of the moon results in the greatest gravity, and Fetzer was taught to use those days for “racking”, when the sediment would naturally be pulled to the bottom of the barrels .   More than 30 years ago, the Fetzers understood the simple logic behind low and high tides and how these factors, tied to the natural forces of Mother Nature, could be used to benefit the winemaker.  Today’s biodynamic practices, in full force and certified by Demeter-USA at Ceago Vinegarden, are the natural progression of Fetzer’s life long work in the field of natural wine making.

Touring this biodynamic place results in a clear understanding of not only the winemaking practices, but the entire theory of a self-sustaining ecosystem.  There are diverse crops, such as olive orchards, a beautiful lavender field and gardens galore.  Biodynamics call for multiple cultures occurring at once in a vineyard, and Ceago takes this theory to heart.  Further showcasing the work of biodynamic farming, you’ll witness rye grass and poppies growing between the vines, bringing beneficial insects to the vineyard.  There are so many other amazing, seemingly simple, and practical measures in place here as well, from the chickens that protect the vines from worm infestation to the sheep that assist the vineyard in their own little ways.  It’s truly a wonderful, natural and beautiful place, and I cannot think of a better way to spend a long afternoon.

And then, there is this wine they call their best:

Tasting the 2007 Sauvignon Blanc Kathleen’s Vineyard, self-described by Fetzer as the “main” wine emanating from the Ceago cellars, is a breath of pure sunshine.  The fruit purity can only be described as being miles above practically everything else in the region.  But it’s the slight effervescence that truly captures one’s attention.  By resting the wine in one of the coldest cellars you’ll ever visit, Fetzer and Tapia aim to trap the wine’s natural spritz, allowing the wine to have an ever-so-slightly “frizzante” quality.  This combination of fruit and spritz – just a touch, mind you – offers one of the most unique and lip-smacking wines you’ll enjoy all Summer.

And at direct from the winery pricing, this will be the best $16 you spend on a bottle of wine….

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