2. A grower-producer in Napa
3. Carneros: A cool pocket in a hot valley
4. The Wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon
5. ...and the jewel, Roussanne
A few weeks back, I had the luck to meet with Anthony Truchard of Truchard Vineyards. I was thrilled to have the meeting because a few years ago I'd been to the winery and met his mom, Jo Ann, who bought the land in 1974 with his dad, Tony. Moment of truth: I wasn't all that happy with the visit and it was not their fault!
Before meeting Anthony I was a little nervous. I had a pang of guilt because I vividly remember that when I met Jo Ann Truchard I was on a training immersion with the big hulking winery. I remember us visiting with a large, unruly, and kind of rude group. They neither listened to the woman nor respected her presentation of her lovely wines (in fairness, it was the last day of the trip and people were "wined out" but I left feeling mortified). Even though the Truchard's had no idea who I was, the guilt by association loomed.
Fortunately, Anthony granted absolution. I felt like I needed to tell him my experience to clean the slate. He laughed and said that they hosted groups like that all the time -- because of their family feel and the fact that they grow grapes for about 20 wineries in Napa (some huge).
A Grower-Producer in Napa
And that growing/selling thing leads me to the next point about Truchard, which is very interesting. You may have heard of the term grower-producer. It's more commonly referred to in places like Champagne and Burgundy, where farmers sell most of their grapes to larger producers and co-ops, but then save a little back to make wine. A lot of these are small-production (small meaning really small -- like a few barrels of wine). A lot of times because the people making the wine are so close to the land, the result is that the juice reflects the sense of place, or terroir, better than the wines from the large wineries who buy and blend the farmers' grapes.
Truchard falls squarely into the category of grower-producer.
Carneros -- A Cool Pocket in a Hot Valley
|Map from: http://www.carneros.com/appellation/map|
As Anthony explained, the family farms nearly 300 acres of vineyards in the hills and valleys of Carneros, in southern Napa. This area remains cool for much of the day because of breezes off the Pacific Ocean and the southern San Pablo Bay, and the fog that gathers over the land.
Carneros has been singled out as an ideal place for growing cool weather grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. There are all sorts of sparkling wine producers here because of this.
But as Anthony explained, the hilly terrain and variety of soils in Carneros also make it possible for lots of different grapes to thrive. The Truchards grow 10 different varieties both to take advantage of the diversity, and according to Anthony, his dad's love of "tinkering" in the vineyard (and for those of you who asked, the only new wine out this year is a small-production Malbec, but Anthony isn't sure if it's a one-vintage thing). Sounds like Tony likes to experiment.
The Truchard Story
It was probably this interest in experimentation that led Tony and Jo Ann to make their own wine 15 years after they bought an old, terribly maintained prune orchard that they quickly turned into a property from which everyone wanted to purchase grapes. When they tiptoed into winemaking, it was for their own consumption but with time they decided to expand, hiring Sal De Ianni, an Midwesterner and wine science dork turned winemaker in 1998. Truchard slowly built a reputation on their own, and today they produce 16,000 cases (192,000 bottles) and are distributed around the United States.
Truchard is really, truly, family run. It's a small business with a small team. Jo Ann and Tony are still the lynchpins of the company, but Anthony is coming on strong. After working at a wine shop in California, where he seemed to have the opportunity to try literally every top wine in Bordeaux and Burgundy (he was rattling off names and I was fascinated! How do I get that gig!?), and a stint on the east coast, working for Chanel in New York, he decided that he wanted to get in on the family business. He moved to a house on the property and he manages sales and marketing for the winery, occasionally making roadtrips around the country.
I had a fun dinner with Anthony and learned about things from his perspective. He was so nice and so honest -- we covered everything from the fabulous Chanel employee sales to the cliquey-ness of the Napa wine scene and the game of wine critic reviews to the challenge in getting distribution for a smaller brand with limited supply. Although he was completely professional about it, I could sense his frustration with the politics of wine distribution (he has to get a distributor to buy his product, a retailer to take it and if he goes out of stock on something because that's all that they made, he has to fight again to get a space on the store shelves the next year -- which may, or may not be there), which means it's often hard for us, as consumers, to get his wines. It was a great conversation.
Anthony had some great wines to show. Here are some quick notes and then one more detailed note...on the Roussanne, which I think is the best wine Truchard makes. They create something from this Rhône variety that is absolutely stunning. Read on for the deets.
I really enjoy Carneros Chardonnay because if the winemaker does it right, the grape's flavors and acid can shine while benefitting from a little subtle oak. De Ianni did a good job here, balancing green apple and tropical fruit notes with a small hit of flavors from oak -- vanilla, a light caramel, and wood. The wine had a little too much creaminess for me (from the malo-lactic fermentation) but that strong acidity that is typical of Carneros Chardonnay lightened everything up and made the wine refreshing.
To me, color matters big-time in a Pinot Noir. The wine shouldn't be too deep in color -- if it is, to me that indicates it was on the vine too long, or it was mixed with another grape. This hit the mark for me -- it was plum in the center but pink and transparent when I held the glass at an angle. An amazing earthy smell and taste -- like the dirt it grew in. The wine was highly aromatic -- like orange peel, ripe strawberry, and red, ripe cherries. It had mild tannins but great mouthwatering acidity. A great wine.
Wine 3: 2009 Truchard Merlot, 14.2% Alcohol, $30
When I smelled pepper, cumin, and cardamom, and then roses, violets, and mushroom I thought, "this is going to be a crazy Merlot (in a good way)." There's 24% Cabernet Franc in it, lending that mushroom, earthy, spicy character. Despite that crazy smell, the wine tasted a lot like Merlot -- with dark raspberry, ripe tomatoes, and baked strawberries brightening up the dark tea notes from the Cab Franc. The oak played a nice part here -- licorice, vanilla, and a dark-chocolate covered cherry came to mind. The wine was super-textured too -- nice mouth-drying tannins that I was chewing on long after the wine left my mouth. A very good and interesting Merlot that I hope to try again. I think with some more time this thing is going to taste more like what it smells like and I don't want to miss that.
This wine was dark ruby, with tons of pigment and pretty thick legs from the high alcohol content. It had great floral smells -- sort of like the Merlot, violets were all over this wine. Lots of blackberry, green pepper, and plum aromas and then a hit of vanilla and mocha from the oak. The wine tasted like black cherries, vanilla, and plum. It was such a pleasant wine -- the tannins were mild but present and lasted a long time. There was great acid to keep everything fresh and a little bit of black pepper to keep it interesting! This is a terrific medium-bodied Cab and a STEAL for the price, compared to others from Carneros/ Napa that are not as good. I think you could save this one for 5 or 8 years and it would get better, just like the Merlot.
and... the 2011 Truchard Roussanne, 13.9% Alcohol, $25
A bunch of people on Facebook asked me to talk to Anthony about the Roussanne, in my estimation Truchard's most distinctive wine and certainly an unlikely player in Napa.
To give a little background on Roussanne, it's the star of the white wines in the Northern Rhône and it was Tony's love of experimentation that landed it in a perfect location in Carneros. Tony figured that since Syrah -- the other native northern Rhône giant -- grew well on the well-drained volcanic soils, Roussanne stood a chance. He was right!
To start, the wine was only for their consumption, until the tasting room staff ran out of Chardonnay and in a genius move poured Roussanne instead. That move set off a wave of excitement and the winery now has a reputation for this amazing grape up and down Napa Valley.
This is really a special wine, the only other vineyard in all of Napa that grows the grape is the Stagecoach Vineyard, much farther north and east and warmer for the most part. You'll find the grape further south in the Paso Robles area, but this is almost it in Napa.
We didn't taste this wine together, but Anthony knew I was a fan, so he sent it to me. THANK YOU! is all I have to say. What a jewel...
*Note: Before I go any further, I do need to let you know about a dumb thing I did so you don't do it: this wine has to be served a little warmer (not right out of the fridge) to taste amazing. Make sure it's not ice cold or you'll think I'm full of s*&t in my descriptions below. Tastes totally different at a warmer temperature.
Color: A rich, golden yellow color from the grape and from some oak aging. It just looks flavorful!
Smell: There was a LOT to process. The wine was like pineapple, apricot, and honey (Anthony said that even on the dry wine, sometimes grapes with botrytis get thrown in, giving a little honeyed note to it). On a second whiff, WOW! I got parsley, celery, and fresh garden herb smells. From the oak, there was a little sawed wood and baked cinnamon flavor too.
Taste: Just as complex as the smell, but in a different way. Canteloupe, pineapple, and lemon cookie dominated at first but after I swallowed it was just like a Score or Heath bar without the chocolate -- tons of toffee flavor. There was a touch of vanilla and popcorn too. I could sense the oak tannin a little bit in the wine -- playing off the rich, waxy flavor (weird description, I know. Think wax lips from when you were little or when you put Chapstick on and a little gets in your mouth), was a tiny hit of bitterness. (BTW -- I know all these descriptions sound ridiculous, but if you try this wine, I think you'll get it immediately).
Drink or Sink?: Drink, emphatically. This is a great wine. One of my favorite white wines out of California, by far. It's got a ton of complexity -- there's so much to think about when you taste this wine. If you think of white wine as watery Pinot Grigio or oaky Chardonnay, you may want to give this a go. Even if you don't like it, you'll appreciate that there's a lot more to white wine than the big brands out there.
For those Roussanne fanatics who had questions for Anthony on great Roussanne vintages...one more note:
Anthony describe the Roussanne as a case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde for the Truchards. Its natural character is floral but it is very sensitive to oxygen. The wine turns into something more like cardamom/Chai tea after a few years but can lose its zest after longer. The wine should be consumed before 10 years, in his mind.
He mentioned standout vintages for the wine: 2002, 2005, 2009, and it looks like 2012 will join those, so stock up when it's released!
Thanks so much to Anthony Truchard for spending time with me and to the Truchard family for making such wonderful wines whose style is all its own...in a good way!
*All pictures from Truchardvineyards.com