#NapaFire: Devastation & Community

The Judge breathes safely during the #NapaFire. #Yountville
The Judge breathes safely during the #NapaFire. #Yountville

The week of October 8th, 2017 was the most bizarre week of my entire life to this point.  The fires that struck the NorCal counties of Napa, Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino and Solano wreaked an incredible amount of devastation, yet as many disasters have shown around the world, it also taught the Lady and myself a beautiful lesson about community. While the #NapaFire flames destroyed much of our beautiful eastern and western hillsides in Napa along with homes, wineries, businesses and farms, it did not destroy the love that binds our Valley together, despite danger and distress.

Smoky sunset over The French Laundry Garden & Mayacamas. #Napafire
Smoky sunset over The French Laundry Garden & Mayacamas. #Napafire

We first sighted the #AtlasFire a little after midnight.  We were celebrating our move with brand new neighbors who happened to have a third story window facing east.  We all saw the flames coming over the Vacas Mountains, but I assured everyone that I had seen many fires during my life in the Valley and never had seen much destruction, much less see it make it down to the valley floor…this was obviously wildly optimistic about the final outcome. The Lady and woke up the next morning with the sun…with no power, cell phone service, internet (not that we had it anyway due to the move) or landline service, we had no idea how badly the fires had already spread.  They were fanned by up to hurricane-level winds (clocked at 55 to 80 mph down the mountain ridges).  Powerlines and transformers were quickly toppled, possible sparking the original fires, but definitely spreading those fires extremely quickly, at times faster than a human can run.  We became worried once we saw the thick, smoky air outside and could not use any powered device or phone at our new home.

Air Support filling up with water at Yount Mill Rd & 29. #Napafire
Air Support filling up with water at Yount Mill Rd & 29. #Napafire

What followed was over a week of incredibly anxious and yet hazy stretches of time where we spent our days and nights pinning down fire updates by our own eye, and updating our friends & family by SM.  We were briefly evacuated in our new home of Yountville, my parents were evacuated for ~3 days from their home in southwest Napa (Browns Valley), while our family HQ was at my sister and brother in-law’s home near my alma mater, Vintage High School.  Our cousins’ home SW of Fountaingrove in Santa Rosa survived with minimal damage, though not all of their neighbors were quite as fortunate.  All in all, we ended up being quite safe and very lucky as a family…the flames came about ~1.5mi at their closest, but were seemingly always threatening one home or another, all dependent upon the winds.  The first, second, third, fifteenth responders that poured their entire, danger-wrought lives into saving people, animals and homes were brilliant and we will never be able to thank them enough for their hardest work and sacrifices.  They came from all over the world in fact, Australia had a corp of firefighters fighting the #TubbsFire, as did Mexico and Canada.

It is in this spirit of support that the Lady and I quickly came to know our new community of Yountville in a very warm and loving light.  Our new neighbors were constantly asking if they could help us move, as the flames and smoke would allow. Bardessono Hotel and Spa was one of the only businesses that stayed open all week, supported by their own generator and with cell and internet service the whole time.  They graciously gave free coffee, power, internet and local news on tv to all locals and emergency personnel. Ranch Market Too stayed open by candlelight to provide goods for sale for locals. Bouchon Bakery provided free coffee and pastries to anyone in town. R+D Kitchen, also on a generator along with neighbor Kelly’s Filling Station & Wine Shop also stayed open and acted as a central hub to exchange news. Lastly, Pancha’s of Yountville, as always, was HQ for locals to gather, blow of stress and steam and find out the latest information from those of us that work for the city and county. Pancha’s, Bardessono, Kelly’s and all of these businesses kept our little village in a tight embrace and worked hard to take care of all of us, as they could.  We can’t thank them enough during that first crazy week.

#Yountville is open! #Napa #wine #food #art
#Yountville is open! #Napa #wine #food #art

And it’s here in Yountville that I think I will finish…feeling so fortunate to be a part of a community of quirky, yes, but loving and fully supportive neighbors; blessed with wine, food, art and fun. Come support the valleys, virtually all of us are open, despite incorrect news reports that abound.  You will find grateful independent business owners and industry workers, happy to serve you during what is typically the highest season of the year.  If you would like to donate more directly, please click on the link below to be taken to the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Fire Donation site. These funds go *directly* to those in need in Napa County.  Thank you and I hope that all of you are safe and happy, around the world, as your read this post.

     – Ward Kadel@drXeNo#Vinopanion

5th Pops & Son Wine Trip in Napa: Day 1 Afternoon

The afternoon of our first day on the 5th Pops & Son Wine Trip continued the vinous adventure that we had started in the morning at Kirkland Ranch and William Hill.  As we traveled up Silverado Trail on the Western side of the Valley, we mused about which winery to next visit, as we had plenty of time before our 2:30 appointment with the highlight of the day, Terra Valentine on Spring Mountain.  We passed numerous wineries along the way, including many Stags Leap favorites such as Regusci, Darioush and Clos du Val.  As we approached the Oakville appellation, Pops asked if I’d ever visited the large contemporary building that housed Miner Family Vineyards.  I had not done so and just that easily, we had picked our next winery!

Miner Family Vineyards is a family owned and operated winery (refreshing in this conglomerate era), tucked into the foothills of the Vaca Mountains on the Eastern side of the Valley.  It was founded by Dave Miner in 1996.  They are best known for their powerful, yet elegant reds, particularly their meritage blend (a domestic blend made up of only 2 or more of the Bordeaux varieties of grapes such as Cab, Merlot, etc) called The Oracle.

Pops also decided to sit this tasting out as he was increasingly starting to feel a cold brewing.  I only had a little bit of time, so I got to work.  The main tasting room is a beautifully designed contemporary setting with light tones and plenty of slate and marble.  The room was comfortably busy throughout my short stay, with patrons from all over the US there to try their many wines.  I was very pleased to see that they serve their wines in my favorite “stemware,” the Riedel O Series varietal-specific glasses and all are etched with the striking Miner logo on the bottom…a very nice touch.

Jeff was quite knowledgeable about the wines and the winery and poured good, reasonable-sized tastes, which is not always the case at tasting rooms these days.  One of the things he mentioned is that the vineyard that surrounds the winery and makes up the ‘05 Oakville Cab, while owned by the Aunt in the family, it is not considered part of the winery’s holdings.  The highlight wines for me were the two Stagecoach Vineyard reds, the ‘05 Merlot and ‘05 Cab.  I love the wines that come out of this vineyard and have written about Stagecoach Vineyard wines many times.  Also interesting was that this was the first time that I have been really impressed by The Oracle.  The ‘05 is just a tremendous wine and drank brilliantly that day.

I finished off the great wines at Miner and rejoined Pops out on the patio.  We still had a fair amount of time before heading up Spring Mountain Road so we meandered over to St. Helena and had an early afternoon pickmeup at my favorite coffee shop of all time, Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company.  I could be a bit biased as I used to work here and at the downtown Napa location while going to Vintage High.  They truly roast my favorite espresso on this planet, however.  I even recommended them in my Napa Recommendations post awhile back.  With our caffeine needs satiated, we headed a little further North in town and out onto Spring Mountain Road towards Terra Valentine.  I first read about Terra Valentine in the handy read, A Moveable Thirst.  They received a great review in there and the descriptions just stuck with me until I started planning this trip.

The drive up to Terra Valentine was much further up Spring Mountain that we ever thought…in fact, I had never traveled up that far and with the weather as it was, it ended up being a really neat drive.  It was already misty and sometimes rainy, but we hit the cloud line about 10 minutes into our drive, about 5 minutes before the estate and it provided wonderful atmospherics to our adventure.

We pulled up to the winery after passing some rather enthusiastic bike riders who were headed pell-mell down the slim mountain road.  I had a complete sense of déjà vu when we reached the gate and I had to tell Pops to pull the Jeep over for some pics.  All of the sudden I was back in high school, fully immersed playing Myst at 1 in the morning.  Quite a trip!  Anyhow, the weather and Old World beauty of the estate was very striking and really appealed to both Pops and I.

Terra Valentine has a very interesting history during its roughly 40 odd years on the upper part of the mountain.  Eccentric engineer and inventor, Fred Aves bought the property in the 60’s, largely funded by the royalties from the curb feelers he invented that you all had on your Caddies.  Mr. Aves was quite the da Vinci and decided to design and build the hand-set stone villa and 17K square foot winery himself, along with five other carefully picked craftsmen.  He also had a primo sense of self-sufficiency and a healthy dose of mistrust about the world, as evidenced by the private concrete batch plant he constructed to build his estate and the total recluse to which he became, eventually leading the original winery into disuse in the early 80’s.

The estate was revived in 1999 when Angus and Margaret Wurtele purchased the mountain property and immediately began updating the vineyards and the property.  Virtually all of the vines had to be replanted and now the estate sports two fantastic and very different vineyards, the Wurtele and Yverdon Vineyards, featured as two single vineyard estate Cabs.  All of the equipment has been updated, including automated punchdown fermentation tanks (very, very state of the art, no pumpovers here), but they were careful to preserve and restore the original architecture, such as the Aves designed and constructed stained glass windows that stand out on the two buildings.

We still managed to arrive early, so as I walked around still snapping mad amounts of misty photos, Pops realized that it was kinda cold and headed into the winery.  Inside you continue to see wonderfully detailed works of architecture.  The doors and handles were also handmade by Aves and the detail is fantastic.  Pops went in search of our host and I continued to explore the facility.  Erina Fischer greeted us from the office area, just off the main entrance and led us over to the richly decorated sit-down tasting room, replete with Hearst-owned wood paneling and a huge fireplace.  We started off with their ‘07 RRV Viognier, which is showing wonderful peach and pear aromas alongside a full mouth that still retains some great acidity.

Once the three other guests arrived we began the full tasting which, while still a formal sit-down affair, was very comfortable and amiable, matching Erina’s warm personality.  She had only been working for TV for a few months and yet was already very knowledgeable about the winery and wines.  We moved along to the reds, trying the silky, unfiltered ‘06 RRV Pinot, followed by the three Estate Cabernets that really stuck with  me the rest of the trip.  These three wines really became the highlights of the whole two days.  Winemaker Sam Baxter has done some amazing work with these wines. They are all from the 2005 vintage, with the Spring Mountain Estate Cab just a ridiculous value ($38).  A truly great wine, made from a mountain sub-appellation, that could be a flagship wine at the majority of the wineries that I have visited in my life…yet it is merely the starter Cab here!  Following that effort, we delved into the two single vineyard wines, with the Yverdon just barely eeking out a win for the wine for the day.  Both featured eucalyptus in the nose and the mouth, but the Yverdon had tremendous depths of black fruit, followed by spicy cherry.  The mouth was luxuriously silky already, all of the fruit from the nose and finishing with rose petal highlights.  Lovely.

We then took a tour throughout the rest of the winery, starting with a walk down one of the twin iron spiral staircases that lead to the winery proper  and barrel room below.  The fog was lifting a bit and it was definitely brighter outside, but it really couldn’t lift the surreal mood that the stunning wine and surroundings had instilled within me during our time there.  As all good things go, it was soon time to end our day atop Spring Mountain and we said goodbye to Erina and the other guests.  I kept thinking about the dark stones and misty clouds, along with all of the beautiful wines as we drove down to the Valley floor…and how  I need to revisit the estate soon!

Please see all of the wines that we tasted during the second half of the first day in Napa, by checking out all of my reviews below.  If you would like to list these wines in your own WineLog, they are all tagged with “5thPSWT2008-D1“.  All of the wines that were tasted on this trip are tagged with “5thPSWT2008“.  Please leave a comment if you’ve had these wines before, too.  Enjoy!

Miner Family Vineyards:

Miner California Simpson Vineyard Viognier 2007

Miner Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard Merlot 2005

Miner Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Miner Napa Valley Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Miner Napa Valley The Oracle 2005

Terra Valentine:

Terra Valentine Russian River Valley Viognier 2007

Terra Valentine Russian River Valley Pinot Noir 2006

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Yverdon Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Wurtele Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005

Wines that we drank with dinner:

Lang & Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc 2007

Hahn Estates Monterey County Merlot 2006

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