• Alexander Smith

Premiere Napa Valley: The Best Trade Event in the Wine Industry!

A few weeks ago I returned from a fantastic week in California attending the Premiere Napa Valley event. This week-long event showcases the best of Napa with multiple lunches, tastings and dinners. The highlight of the week is the famous Napa Premier Valley Barrel Auction. This auction allows restaurants and members of the trade to bid big on future barrels of wines, anywhere from 5-60 cases. These wines are unique and one of a kind. Most wines poured were the 2018 vintage. Even at an early stage, this looks like another stellar vintage from Napa. After tasting close to 100 different 2018 wines, I can sum up this vintage as having the fruit purity of the 2016s with the structure of the 2015s. I am loving the 2016s with their purity of fruit and elegance, yet I am not sure if it will hold together as long as say the 2015s. The 2015s are monsters with good structure and tannins which will ensure long ageability, yet these will certainly need time before truly enjoying.

A few days prior to the event, Spottswoode hosted a fabulous garden lunch along with 8 other wineries as a build-up to the auction. Wineries included, of course, Spottswoode, Dominus, Vineyard 7&8, Corison, Staglin, Eisele and Larkmead. The wines on show were both the Auction Lots along with some of their current and library collection. So many standout wines, however, I was able to get a first taste of the 2017 vintage which is being portrayed as a difficult and lacklustre vintage in Napa. It certainly is not as big and bold as the 2016s, it is a more restrained vintage with early drinking pleasure with elegant fruit, smooth tannins and more classic in style. The vintage is certainly approachable at this stage and more exciting than 2011 and 2012. Spottswoode 2017 and Eisele 2017 were showing particularly well. In terms of new discoveries, I was blown away by the wineries of Vineyard 7&8 from Spring Mountain District and Larkmead. Pouring next to the big guns of Spottswoode, Dominus and Eisele must be daunting, but these guys are certainly punching above their weight. Finally a shoutout to Corison who bought the Kronos 1998, at 20 years I was not expecting a lot, however, I was surprised to find perfectly developed fruit, freshness and phenomenal finesse. Napa does age! A wonderful 3 hours meeting some of the best wineries in the valley along with some passionate owners, if only every lunch would be this fun!

The main event was the Napa Valley Auction. With over 200 wines on display, I arrived with a plan to taste around 50 wines. The majority of the wines being poured were Cabernet-based, however, there was also a fantastic Chardonnay from Hudson Ranch which ended up being one of my top wines of the tasting. The tasting lasted 3 hours and started at 09h30, I heard more than once how this was one of the only times of the year us professionals could taste this many wines before lunch! #Cabernetforbreakfast!

The wines being poured were one of kind and unique and one which you could not buy on the market. From 100% Hungarian Oak to a 100% Malbec, the winemakers really thought out of the box to ensure a unique experience to those who bid on these barrels. For those wondering, the average case sells for $2,500 and depending on the lot anywhere from 5-60 cases per product was on offer. These cases would then go to restaurants and wine shops around the world. The profits from this auction would be used to market Napa Valley at events across the world. Below is a selection of photos which I took to give an idea of what the event was like.

I took notes on all wines tasted, however below are a selection of my top wines which I tasted, and it was difficult to decide on the following list.

Spottswoode - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from estate fruit, aged in Hungarian Oak for 20 months, Winemaker - Aron Weinkauf, 98 -100 points, Sold by Total Wine & More.

Dark fruit, cassis, cacao, full-bodied and precise structure along with with velvety tannins, pronounced sweet spices and a long elegant finish. This is just class and elegance and how can I get just one bottle?

Stag's Leap Wine Cellars - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from FAY block 2, aged in New French Oak for 21 months, Winemaker - Marcus Notaro 95 - 97 points, Sold by Oeno.

This is an Iron fist in a velvety glove, with big plush dark fruit, structured tannins yet with velvety chocolate and a silky smooth finish. A tamed monster of a wine.

Shafer Vineyards - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from John's Upper 7, Winemaker - Elias Fernandez, 95 - 97 points, Sold by Jacob Liquor Exchange .

Dark, rich and broody with cassis, black cherry, cigar box, flaked chocolate, fresh and ripe yet with muscular tannins and a powerful finish.

Alejandro Blugheroni - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 20 months in Taransaud barrels - Winemaker - Philippe Melka. 95 - 97 points. Sold by Napa Wine Ltd

Rich dark fruit, savoury herbs, dusty potting soil yet with freshness and structure, long finish.

Odette - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged for 22 months in 300-year-old French Oak, Winemaker - Jeff Owens, 96-98 points. Sold by H-E-B

Big, bold, lush, rich with creme de cassis, black forest, dark fruit, cedar, smooth silky tannins

Larkmead - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from clone 332, aged for 22 months in 100% French Oak, Winemaker - Dan Petroski, 94 - 96 points. Sold by Wine Access.

Quite floral on the nose, with bright red and black fruit along with good structure and a very elegant finish.

Joseph Phelps Backus - 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot, aged for 24 months in new French Oak. Winemaker - Ashley Hepworth, 94 - 96 points. Sold by Gary's Wine & Marketplace

Dark black and blue fruits along with fresh herbs, espresso, chalky tannins, crushed stones and a long driven finish.

Hall - 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Rainin Estate Vineyard in Diamond Mountain District, Winemaker - Steve Leveque, 96 - 98 points. Sold by Fremont Hills Country Club

The purity of the fruit on this is crazy, along with forest fruit cake, sweet tannins finely integrated chalky tannins and a plush but straight finish. Very nice!

Hudson Ranch - Chardonnay from the Little bit and Ladybug Vineyard, Winemaker - Clayton  Kirchhoff, 95 - 97 points. Sold by Nakagawa Wine Co.

This was rich with phenomenal depth and concentration, yet had good acidity with ripe orchard and tropical fruit along with a long finish.

An absolutely phenomenal event and one which I hope to return in the near future, and a must for all Napa trade enthusiasts.

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