What I learned last week in Napa was that not allNapa SB is trying to be Chardonnay in disguise. There is some SB being produced that is excellent, well-balanced, and surprisingly refreshing. It just happens to be a big pain in the ass to make it that way, because according to the Napa winemakers that seem to be getting SB right, by and large Napa growers are habitually picking SB way too late…
At a dinner with Opus One winemaker Michael Silacci, I was introduced to Christine Barbe, a Bordelais transplant to Napa who has previously worked for the Gallo and Mondavi wine companies. Christine, being true to herself, is attempting to make SB wine in Napa that has the soul of France. She is succeeding, and her small-production 2008 Toquade SB is a lovely, balanced, and refreshing wine. Best of all, you can tell by smelling it that it’s SB and not some kind of Frankenstein monstrosity constructed from overripe SB grapes.
What Christine will tell you is that it’s a struggle to get her grapes picked early enough, as most growers think she’s nuts for wanting the grapes off the vine at a lower than “normal” brix reading. What she knows, better than most Napa SB winemakers, is that picking SB grapes at fuller phenolic ripeness in Napa mutes some of the pure SB flavors in the resulting wine.
The traditional compensation for this in Napa is to oak the living shit out of the wines, which Christine deftly (and blessedly) avoids. Some 1WineDude.com readers will recall Michael Silacci’s challenge to me to try Toquade – it’s not exactly going to be mistaken for a wine from New Zealand, and that’s okay by me, because it’s a unique SB expression that’s well worth seeking out. Oh, yeah – Mike, you’ve earned an “I told you so.”