The new names to know in Napa

From per­sonal pas­sion projects to col­lab­o­ra­tive wine­mak­ing, the lat­est wave of in­no­va­tive pro­duc­ers in Napa Val­ley is tak­ing the re­gion’s wine scene in a new di­rec­tion. Elin McCoy meets them

Decanter - - DECANTER -

Meet the in­no­va­tors who are driv­ing change in the Napa Val­ley. Elin McCoy re­ports

EV­ERY TIME I’M in the Napa Val­ley, I play the ‘What’s new?’ game, pick­ing up hot tips from wine­mak­ers, while hang­ing about in wine bars, at the an­nual Premiere Napa Val­ley bar­rel auc­tion, dur­ing din­ner par­ties to which some­one brings a new dis­cov­ery, and by check­ing the by-the-glass list at Press Restau­rant in St He­lena, which has its fin­ger on the val­ley’s pulse.

Start­ing a new la­bel in a re­gion where the prices of top grapes and vine­yard land keep sky­rock­et­ing isn’t an easy propo­si­tion, un­less you have mil­lions to spare. That’s why high-priced Cabernet, which can prom­ise the best re­turn on in­vest­ment, has taken over.

There are sev­eral new es­tates mak­ing ex­cel­lent and very ex­pen­sive Caber­nets, such as Ale­jan­dro Bul­gheroni, named for its bil­lion­aire founder. But many of the most in­ter­est­ing new names in Napa are the side-brands of rest­less young wine­mak­ers who craft wines for oth­ers as a day job and buy grapes for their own per­sonal projects. Some of them source fruit from other, less ex­pen­sive re­gions, like the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, as Eton-ed­u­cated Jack Roberts and his wife Jo­hanna Jensen of Keep Wines do.

I’ve fo­cused in­stead on new names that use Napa Val­ley grapes for most of their cu­vees, high­light­ing only winer­ies that have al­ready re­leased at least one vin­tage. That meant leav­ing out Pym-Rae win­ery on Mount Veeder, owned by the Tesseron fam­ily of Bordeaux’s Château Pon­tet-Canet, which will re­lease its first Cabernet next year.

I could have picked many oth­ers, but those listed be­low of­fer a glimpse of where Napa seems to be go­ing. Some winer­ies cham­pion grapes other than Cabernet, oth­ers em­brace or­ganic and bio­dy­namic viti­cul­ture, and still oth­ers con­sciously look back to an ear­lier era in the val­ley for in­spi­ra­tion.

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