California Day 3 – Clarksburg to St Helena
A crackerjack day. I thought I was walking into the hangars for the new Boeing 777 – But no – it was the Bogle Barrel room – 7-8 rooms – each larger than an aircraft hanger – approximately 1 kilometre long. You could not see from one end to the other – the horizon was in the way. 12,000 barrels per year – Thousands upon thousands of Barrel ferments – each vineyard – vinified separately – incredible. The rooms are specially designed to cope with the massive CO2 emissions during ferment, as well as the massive temperature rise of so many fermenting barrels. The attention to detail is impressive. Anthocyanin and tannin count, mass spectrometers for acids. No sugar or acid additions. The guy doing the lees stirring looked more like a guy off of an Ebert building site – but then no wonder – he had to traverse barrel mountains like girders on a skyscraper. This new winery was established in 2009 – it really does incorporate all of the modern technology and is a sight to behold – the wines, for example, are gravity fed with minimal intervention… The walkway for the tall tanks is the highest elevation in Clarksburg. The American flag together with the Bogle flag flies proudly from the centre of the winery. The Bogle wines truly do over deliver for the cost.
We drive for an hour and twenty minutes into Napa. We arrive at HdV. After Bogle, we are not sure if we have driven into someone’s back yard by accident – which happens to have a couple of tanks and barrels in the back. Little did I know what a sensational tasting was in store. Guillaume the assistant winemaker is busy racking a couple of barrels, and James the Manager meets me. Other than the two of them there is Stephane the chief winemaker – and of course, Aubert…he may not be there but his presence is every where. The first thing that James tells me is that Aubert is an extremely humble person. For him a winery is a winery – no time for flash ‘add ons’ – everything is about the vineyard and the wine expression – we sit in the tiny room adjacent to the winery. I’ve already noticed that they love their Fuders’ – several big barrels in dark dingy corners of the room. Theo Gisen told me that Fuder’s were German – Aubert de Villaine believes that they are Burgundian…
The Hyde vineyard is in Carneros. It is 150 acres in total supply several of the greatest wineries in Napa and Sonoma. 23 acres are specifically for HdV. The first vines were established in 1978, and although not certified – Organic practices are 100% employed. The vineyard contains a shallow alluvial soil and then hits heavy clay. Larry Hyde has helped the natural drainage by building larger drainage channels throughout the vineyard to alleviate any high water issues. This has created the phenomenon that is the Hyde Vineyards.
We proceed to taste a truly exceptional lineup:
2014 De la Guerra Chardonnay
20% fermented in concrete egg – no new oak, The vineyard was planted at the north end of the Hyde vineyards in 2010. Only 250 cases are produced annually with 80 cases for export. I can’t believe the vines are so young – James simply smiles. He does that a lot over the course of the tasting – the knowing smile of someone who knows that you are experiencing a sensory euphoria. The mealy taste I know so well comes through, the balance a mid palate of cream texture, a rounded wine and grace and length – exceptional – and this is the quaffer.
Guillaume tells me that 2013 was a great year, but 2014 was an incredible Chardonnay year, possibly the best ever in Napa. An early Spring leads to an early bud burst for Chardonnay and a very long ripening period. Concerns about a drop off in acidity towards the end of ripening due to the length of the season did not eventuate, creating amazing flavour profiles in the Chardonnay. On top of this, there was an Earthquake on August 24th.
2014 HdV Chardonnay
Wow – 20% Malo, 20% new oak, 11 months in barrel, 4 months in tank, 1 year in bottle. The wine has lilts and phases – The bouquet is truly aromatic – Guillaume says that all wines are aromatic if you pick at the right time – early stone fruit, through the classic mid palate roundness and cream, constant hints of gunpowder flint (from a purposeful slight reduction technique during the 4 months in tank, through to a beautiful minerality and salinity, with lingering finish. You can taste the vineyard. Superb.
2013 Ysabel Pinot Noir from the Van de Camp Vineyards in Sonoma (150 cases produced)
Elevation is high for this vineyard at 1700 feet. Aubert had been resistant to make pinot noir in California for a long time. Rightly so, he did not want to make anything which might detract from the almighty DRC. However, this vineyard changed his mind. It’s not in the Hyde vineyard stable in Carneros, but from the oldest and highest vineyard in Sonoma (planted in the early 1960’s)
The wine is beautiful and rustic with a textural richness. The aromatics sing (something in common with all HdV wines).
The Ygnacia we did not try but this is planted from much younger vines planted in 2010 from 7 ‘secret’ sites around the region. The wine shows violets and bright fruit and is as different to Ysabel as one can get. Both are worthy enough for Aubert.
2014 Californio Syrah
Oh my God moment! Maybe I do love Syrah after all! 350 cases produced. Some production was lost in the 2013 Earthquake. Violets, all the way through blue fruits to cocoa powder, spice box, and powerful with terrific length – ‘off the charts’ good. selected from 2 blocks in Hyde and 3 clones.
2013 Belle Cousine
I now find out the Pamela Hyde (Aubert’s wife) is actually Larry Hyde’s cousin. Larry and Pamela are the same age and grew up together – hence Belle Cousine. 70% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Red and blue fruits, aromatics bursting, fresh yet rich – will age to plush no doubt. Guillaume stresses that whilst many neighbours add acid, their natural acidity helps the wines to age incredibly. The wine reminds me of the Dominus we had recently – then I am told the Merlot is the same clone. These guys have taken a slice of California with a touch of Pomerol and the result is magnificent.
Then I fall off of my seat – the last wine.
2015 Vinehill Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon from Yountville.
This vineyard is owned by the Phillips family and is used for the top Harlan wines. It dates back to the 1880’s. The wine is clean as a whistle, cassis, blue and red fruits, graphite all the way through – beyond good! Only 2 barrels made and already sold to Aubert’s friends and the most wealthy wine collectors in the World for an undisclosed price. It was a ‘you had to be there’ moment.
Tomorrow – Coppola, Spotswoode and possibly Schweiger – a strong tip from James at HdV for incredible Cabernet at very reasonable price.