The Tasting Panel magazine

June 2016

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24  /  the tasting panel  /  june 2016 SAN FRAN INSIDER F rom a rare vertical tasting spanning 30-plus years of Spottswoode Napa Valley Cabernet to a constellation of real-time data projected on the domed ceiling of a futuristic winery, it's possible to witness the past and future of winemaking without leaving the 30-mile stretch of Napa Valley. Beth Novak Miliken and mom Mary Weber Novak opened a portal to the past with a tasting spanning ten wines from their fourth vintage (1985) through the 2013, which is scheduled for release in September. Characterized as the "Margaux of Napa Valley" for its signature velvety tannins, over the decades Spottswoode has given equal foot- ing to the flavors of earth and fruit in its Cabernet Sauvignon. With the help of Ron Washam, who contributed perspective on vintage conditions for the wines, the past suddenly felt alive and accessible—proof that time can indeed be captured in a bottle. Four vintages—'85, '87, '91 and '95—prior to the winery being built in 1999 were all very much alive. The 1987, which marks 30 years for the estate in 2017, was persistent and vibrant with kirsch, leather, black tea and only the narrowest garnet rim. While vintages after the estate was replanted to the Eisele clone—'01, '05, '10, '11, 12 and '13—are stylistically more abundant, they flawlessly communicate vintage and variety. 2001 was resolved and silky, humming with cassis, mocha and dark spices, and while 2011 relies more on oak, its deep, firm finish will take it well past their 60th. Our future understanding of winegrowing and winemaking seems to be moving quickly towards the molecular level and the microbiomes that will very likely reveal the secrets of terroir and of our own perceptions. Gazing up at FILCS (pronounced Felix), short for Fermentation Intelligent Logic Control System, the information system created by Christian Palmaz at Palmaz Vineyards in Coombsville, winemak- ers become astronomers intent upon decoding the heavens in an attempt to wrest control of nature. FLICS lets Palmaz's winemakers "see" inside a fermentation tank by imaging information about metabolic activity of the yeasts and fermentation temperatures. The proprietary information system is based on TankNet and technology used to monitor the passive thermal diffusion process that occurs within thermonuclear reactors and, in this case, fermentation tanks. But there's nothing passive about the 24 quadrilateral-jacketed, glycol system fermentation tanks that line the circular fermentation in the winery's underground cellar. FLICS automatically adjusts the temperature of each tank based on parameters defined by the winemaking team; one tank is coated in a layer of ice while another is warm to the touch. In a society increasingly drawn to processing data visually through infographics, Christian Palmaz has empowered his winemaking team to spend more time focused on the artistry of winemaking and the quality of what's in the glass. Stargazing at data is admittedly more dramatic than looking at a computer screen, but FLICS doesn't feel like technology for technology's sake; it feels like the future. 2014 will be Palmaz's first vintage produced with the help of FLICS, and when the reds are released in October 2017, we'll see what the future has in store for Cabernet Sauvignon. Time Travel TWO NAPA VALLEY WINERIES WHERE THE PAST AND FUTURE OF WINEMAKING ARE MADE VISIBLE by Deborah Parker Wong FILCS (pronounced Felix), short for Fermentation Intelligent Logic Control System, projected on the domed ceiling of the winery. PHOTO COURTESY OF PALMAZ VINEYARDS Two generations of Spottswoode vintners (left to right): Beth Novak Milliken, Mary Weber Novak and Lindy Novak. Winemaker and vineyard Manager Aron Weinkauf began making wine at Spottswoode in 2011. PHOTO COURTESY OF SPOTTSWOODE WINERY PHOTO COURTESY OF SPOTTSWOODE WINERY

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