by Lolis Eric Elie, columnist
Posted on NOLA.com
May 22, 2008
What does Napa Valley taste like?
It's not hard to figure out what a particular area of California's most famous region tastes like. To do so, you can pick up a bottle or a few bottles of wine featuring the juice of grapes from a particular Napa Valley appellation. But is there a way to get the taste of the entire area in one bottle?
That's the task that the makers of Fourteen set for themselves.
Steve Reynolds and his wife had been making wine since 1999 at his Reynolds Family Winery. His friend Mike Seitz was a viticulturist, consulting for and farming with lots of vineyards in the area.
"Mike wanted to learn more about winemaking to be a better grower, and I wanted to learn more about growing to be a better winemaker," Reynolds recalled. "It was one of those margarita nights, and you know we all solve the world's problems after we've had a few drinks. Mike said, 'What if we made a little United Nations of Napa? What if we made the first wine that actually represented the entire valley?'
The idea was to blend wine from each of the sub regions, or appellations, of Napa Valley. In many wine-growing regions of Europe, each micro climate is named and mapped. Over time, the wines from these appellations earn a reputation for particular flavors or levels of quality.
In the United States and other New World wine regions, the idea of delineating such appellations is relatively new. Previous generations of Napa Valley growers and producers often chose grapes they liked without first determining which European cultivars would fare best in their soil. When the makers of Fourteen started their project several years ago, there were 13 Napa Valley appellations, and thus the 2002, 2003 editions of their wine are called Thirteen. Since then, a 14th appellation has been declared and the name of the wine has been changed to reflect that.
In 2003, Seitz died, but the concept of this wine still bears his mark. His widow, Kristi, has joined Reynolds, as well as Oscar Renteria of Renteria Wines and Sean Thomas of Thomas Knoll winery, to form the partnership that now makes the wine. The makers of Fourteen begin a year before harvest by establishing contracts with vineyards in each appellation.
"We actually control the growing all the way through," Reynolds said. "In a lot of situations, we get to pick the rows that we want. In some cases we can farm the rows a little different."
The winemakers take four barrels of wine from each of the 14 appellations. After a year, they blend half of this wine together, two barrels from each appellation. They taste the resulting wine and then add wine from the remaining barrels until they have the desired taste.
Most of us choose a Napa Valley wine based on the winery or the grape of our preference. We couldn't name the 14 appellations. For the record, they are Atlas Peak, Chiles Valley District, Diamond Mountain District, Howell Mountain, Los Carneros, Mount Veeder, Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena, Spring Mountain District, Stags Leap District, Yountville, Wild Horse Valley and Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. Calistoga is pending approval.
"When the majority of people look for a Napa wine, they are looking for a wine that has a little more fruit. Kind of big, yet approachable, and not super high in tannins. Something you don't have to lay down forever," Reynolds said.
"Stag's Leap has a lot of the cherry, chocolate and jamminess, a lot of those fruit characteristics. The Rutherford Cabernet has that as well," he said. "Those two combined build the backbone of this wine with a core of New World style flavors.
"As I get down to the cooler regions, they are going to be lighter in style and higher in acidity. Wild Horse and Los Carneros district, maybe the new Oak Knoll district -- I would look at those as being a little more acidic.
"I look to Diamond and Spring Mountain to bring some really big, agreeable qualities to the wine and add some of the backbone and finish -- huge flavors, though with less finesse."
Napa Valley has come to be known for wines made with the traditional grapes of France's Bordeaux region. For the first three vintages of their wine, Reynolds and his partners used Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Malbec, a Bordeaux grape that has become the definitive red wine grape in Argentina, is relatively rare in Napa. But for the 2005 vintage of Fourteen, some Malbec is included.
Buying four barrels from 14 appellations, Reynolds and his partners are able to produce between 800 to 900 cases of their wine, depending on how much wine they actually use from each vineyard. The first three editions of the wine have sold out. But Reynolds will be pouring the 2005 vintage at a seminar as part of this week's New Orleans Wine and Food Experience.
"14," Reynolds' seminar, will take place Friday from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. in the Riverview Room of the Hotel Monteleone. For information on this and other NOWFE events, call (504) 529-WINE (9463) or visit www.nowfe.com. For information on Fourteen wine, visit www.13appellations.com.