The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2016

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Page 81 of 100

november 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  81 However, the trip wasn't just a history lesson; it was also the chance to get down and dirty and meet the people behind the wine labels. On Thursday before we left, we were broken into small groups in an opportunity to spend time in the vineyards with Napa Valley winemakers. I had the pleasure of joining winemaker Kristen Belair of Honig Vineyards in Rutherford, and our group spent the cool, foggy morning walking down the rows of grapes, selecting bunches at random to test the grapes' sugar (officially measured in degrees Brix) to see if they were ready to be picked. "At this time of year, so close to harvest, we'll test the grapes a couple times a week," explained Belair, as we strolled along the vineyards. Next stop was the laboratory, where we tested our picked grapes, eerily similar to a high school science experiment. To celebrate our hard work, Belair led us through a library tasting of Honig's wines for NVV's Premier Napa Valley auction, which features wines created exclusively for the event. "Very few people have tried these wines," says Belair with a smile. "We just keep a few bottles for reference and the rest go to the lot winner." You can't talk about Napa wine without talking about Napa cuisine, and amaz- ing food was everywhere. A trio of us spent a night at Chef Michael Chiarello's Bottega Ristorante in Yountville with Mira Winery owners Jim "Bear" Dyke, Jr. and Gustavo Gonzalez. Over pasta and prodigious amounts of Mira's wines, including a Cab Franc, a Chardonnay and a rosé proffered by our sommelier in an elegantly unique magnum bottle, Gonzalez and Dyke gave us the history of their friendship and the winery—which began at a chance meeting at a hotel bar in Washington, D.C. It was a unique night that couldn't have been experienced anywhere else: learning about Mira's wines while talking with the winemakers themselves, dining in the very location where the wine's grapes had been grown. These were but a few of the events our group experienced over the weekend; we also spent an early morning in Duckhorn Vineyard, enjoyed a seminar on top planted varieties at Groth and savored a magical candle-lit dinner in the barrel room of Merryvale Vineyards with library vintages from six different wineries. The experience gave the buyers who attended a chance to experience what those lucky enough to live in Napa get to experience every day, and bring that experience back to their consumers. People love a story to go with their wine, and this was a story unlike any other. The wine buyers invited by Napa Valley Vintners pose in front of the welcome to Napa Valley sign on Highway 29. PHOTO COURTESY OF NAPA VALLEY VINTNERS Kristen Belair, Winemaker at Honig Vineyards. PHOTO COURTESY OF HONIG VINEYARDS

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