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12.06.2011

Piña Napa Valley: Current Releases

pina_dadamo.jpgIf one were to speculate on the wine market as a savvy investor might in the small-cap stock market, the game would be the same: follow people you know with good track records. In the wine world, we'd also have to include a corollary about betting on great vineyard sites, but leaving aside the raw materials, it's clear that most good wines don't happen by accident. They're made by talented people.

Finding talented people in Napa isn't hard at first. There are a lot of them, many of whom have big brand names. When they start working for a winery, everyone pays attention.

But there are many more talented folks in Napa that never get the limelight of the big names. These are the "small cap" talents that are responsible for many of the small production wines throughout the valley that are just waiting to be discovered by anyone who can start connecting the dots between great vineyards and the people that work them.

Piña Napa Valley is owned and operated by the Piña Family, a name that might not mean much to most wine drinkers, but will turn the head of anyone who is reasonably involved in growing grapes in Napa. In the current generation, the Piña Family, through their firm Piña Vineyard Management are responsible for farming some of Napa's most prestigious vineyards (Bryant, Pahlmeyer, Cafaro, Gemstone, Kapcsandy, Outpost, Showket, Sawyer, O'Shaughnessy, just to name a few), but the family has been making its home in the Napa valley since 1856 when their progenitor Bluford Stice led a wagon train into the valley from Missouri.

Only a few years after that wagon train, the family became involved in the wine business in Napa. They owned a vineyard just south of St. Helena, and Bluford Stice's son became a prominent winemaker at the then famous Inglenook winery (now Rubicon Estate) The family has been part of the Napa wine industry ever since.

As early as 1979 the family had thought about making their own wine, even founding a company called Piña Cellars with that intention, yet somehow never found the time until they purchased a small property on Howell Mountain in 1996 and decided to put their viticultural talents to work for themselves.

Their Howell Mountain property is known as the "Buckeye Vineyard" and its partially terraced hillside surrounded by Redwoods, Oaks and Madrone trees border Ladera and Beatty Ranch.

The family has been producing wine from their estate vineyard for the past 10 years, and in the last couple of years they have been acquiring long term leases on several more vineyard sites around Napa with the goal of producing single vineyard wines.

One of these sites is the D'Adamo vineyard which sits at the foot of Atlas Peak in the southern part of Napa. This sustainably farmed vineyard is planted with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Piña's began their project with the wines being made by winemaker Cary Gott (a longtime Napa wine veteran and consultant who has worked for more vineyards than are possible to list). In 2005, Anna Monticelli took the helm as winemaker, having been assistant winemaker at first Seavey, and then Bryant Family before arriving at Piña.

Monticelli's winemaking doesn't seem to have deviated much from the same regimen that Piña has been using for some time now. These wines are carefully harvested and destemmed, meticulously sorted, fermented in steel and then aged in French oak barrels (somewhere between 60% and 70% new) for 18 months before bottling.

I've tasted the Piña wines almost every year since their first release, and they are fairly consistent in their presentation, leaning as they do to the big and rich end of the spectrum. The winery now produces 5 single vineyard Cabernets as well as two blends named Mimbre and Cahoots.

Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.

TASTING NOTES

2008 Piña Napa Valley "Buckeye Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain. $85
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cherry, chocolate, and black licorice. In the mouth black cherry, licorice, and cocoa powder swirl amidst muscular tannins. Rich and dark, the wine has a raw smoky quality that plays counterpoint to the ripe, slightly sweet fruit. Wines like this earn the moniker "massive" for a reason, but it is hard not to like them for all their brawny power. Long finish. 14.9% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5.

2008 Piña Napa Valley "Firehouse Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford. $85
Very dark garnet in the glass, this wine smells of cherry and cassis, with a hint of cedar. In the mouth, the wine has a light sweetness, and a thick fleece blanket of tannin that wraps around the core of the wine which is cherry and more cherry. Decent acidity keeps it refreshing, but the tannins need some time to mellow. The wine finishes with a sweet cherry quality, betraying none of its 15.1% alcohol. Score: around 9.

2008 Piña Napa Valley "D'Adamo Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley. $75
Very dark garnet in color, this wine smells of cassis and black cherry fruit. In the mouth, black cherry and cassis flavors mix with cocoa powder as thick, suede-like tannins coat the mouth. Cassis and lavender notes linger in the long finish. A tiny bit of heat hints at the 15.2% alcohol. Score: between 8.5 and 9.

These wines are currently released and on the market, but in very small quantities. The best way to track them down is to call up the winery.

Comments (6)

Bernard wrote:
12.07.11 at 7:06 AM

Alden, I'd hate to challenge your palate prowess or integrity, as I'm confident that you drink volumes more wine than I, but I have to question how, in a vintage commonly referred to as "the worst this decade" and at best "challenging"; producing wines with old-world austerity, someone can make wines in the 15%abv range. One would have to assume extremely long hang times and or questionable manipulation in the cellar and so, everything that the industry is working so hard to "train" us Cali-centric, Parker-ized consumers against. Further but with just that in mind, how wines described as "ripe slightly sweet fruit"and "finishes with a sweet cherry quality", can earn your scores in the 9-9.5 range?...just saying'!

Alder Yarrow wrote:
12.07.11 at 9:55 AM

Bernard,

Everyone is always welcome to challenge my palate, to which I would never attach the word prowess. My tastes are simply that, my own. If you disagree, that's great.

My integrity, on the other hand is a different story. But I don't see you impugning that, just mentioning it. So I'll let that lie for now.

Please note that these wines are the 2008 vintage, which was actually a fine vintage in California, and in Napa in particular. The wines tended to be big, with big tannins, and of the hundreds of 2008 wines I've tasted, talked with winemakers about, etc. There was certainly not any issue with anyone making wines as ripe as they wanted that year. The suggestion that somehow in order to achieve 15% alcohol these wines needed some sort of manipulation (other than the requisite hang time) to get to that level is silly.

As for why I'm giving a 9-9.5 rating to a 15% Napa Cabernet that has a faint sweet edge to it? It tastes damn good. That's why. I have pretty wide ranging tastes, and I can appreciate this wine just as well as I can a 13% Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet. If you consider the former to be a perversity of nature, then the tasting notes I've provided should clearly warn you off this wine.

Butch wrote:
12.07.11 at 4:35 PM

Great article! I am a new reader and love stories on "small cap" talents. My wife and I went to Napa this year for the first time. I will put this one on the map for our return.

1winedude wrote:
12.07.11 at 6:24 PM

Bernard - Regarding the scores/ratings - Pina makes some interesting and ageworthy wines in my experience. In fact, I've been holding off on the temptation to sample my latest samples (might be the same ones reviewed here, actually) because I like to give them a bit of extra bottle time, if I can afford it, to see how they develop.

I think the key is that they are pretty well-balanced wines, which eases the impact of the high abv % (at least when it comes to their taste - it will not ease the impact on your headache should you drink too much of them! :).

Chris wrote:
12.07.11 at 9:12 PM

In support of Alder's point: Yes, there have a few vintages recently that have had some issues with getting fruit as ripe as we'd like, but those vintages were 2010 and 2011. 2008 was a warm year, and it's generally the cool years in which ripeness is an issue. The big issue with 2008 supposedly the wild-fires that ran through the state and infused a lot of guaicol (smoke taint) into some wines, especially Pinots. However, I have only personally tasted this in Anderson Valley Pinots and Syrahs, where the affected wines are really quite awful.

08.25.14 at 6:28 AM

Awesome article.

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