Field notes from the Napa Valley Auction
I went to only two events at the Napa Valley Auction, a dinner on Thursday night at Kenzo Estate and, the next day, the big walkaround tasting at Jarvis Winery.
I’d never been to Kenzo before, although obviously I was aware of the tremendous publicity that accompanied the winery’s 2010 launch, when owner Kenzo Tsujimoto, who made his fortune in video gaming, reputedly spent $100 million to create the winery, on the 4,000 acres of land he already owned up Monticello Road, in the southern Vacas. (Four thousand acres, by the way, is four times the size of Golden Gate Park.)
Nor had I ever had the opportunity to taste the wines, which are crafted by winemaker Marc Nanes. He makes 6 wines (7, if you count a rosé that I think they use only for entertaining, but I could be wrong): Five Bordeaux blends (Asatsuyu, Rindo, Asuka, Murasaki and Ai) that are concentrated and impressive. Perhaps, if Kenzo will let me taste them blind, I’ll be able to review them for Wine Enthusiast. But this is currently not his policy. Winemaker Nanes also crafts a Sauvignon Blanc, Yui, that was easily one of the best I’ve ever had. Interestingly, the 2010 was rich and fruity, while the 2011 was green and grassy–not a bad wine, but an absolute testament to the cold vintage.
I usually don’t keep menus from winery dinners, but this one was so spectacular, I had to. The young executive chef, Fumio Yonezawa, was charming as he said, in his introductory remarks, that he was somewhat abashed to be cooking for Thomas Keller, who was one of the guests; but Fumio had nothing to worry about, for his four-course meal, with appetizers, was first class:
Soft boiled egg over truffled potato mash, vodka creme and caviar
Lobster tartare with a honey and tomato compote, strawberries, golden caro rich tomatoes and yuzu gazpacho
Smoked prosciutto wrapped zuke chu-toro tuna, crispy sansho pepper and unagi risotta
Roasted dry-aged Schmitz Ranch rib eye, creamy morel mushrooms and spring vegetables
Red bean and dark chocolate brownie, macha green tea and mascarpone mousse
I sat next to David Abreu, the noted viticulturalist whom I’d long wanted to meet. He was much in demand by the rich collectors there, who treated him like a rock star. I had the distinct impression that it made David uncomfortable. When things calmed down, we had a nice conversation, during which he gave me his views on Napa terroir that, in some cases, were controversial.
Friday’s walkaround at Jarvis, which is also on Monticello but lower down than Kenzo Estate, was wonderful, in part because the weather (unlike last year) cooperated. The estate is beautiful, offering plenty of rolling green grass lawn to stroll and sample some of the best finger foods I’ve ever had. The barrel tasting was inside the huge cave, one of the most elaborate I’ve ever seen, complete with a waterfall. I will say that these barrel walkaround tastings are notoriously difficult to find a proper venue for, and I do not think a cave is appropriate. A few years ago, chez Coppola was too small and cramped, which made people feel claustrophobic. While Jarvis was big, the echo from the stones was overwhelmingly noisy. Everybody I talked to kept pounding the side of their heads; it was like having water in your ears and, for me, the ringing didn’t stop for hours. I hope next year the Napa Valley Vintners will find someplace more comfortable. Not only that, but Monticello Road, a narrow lane at best, was gridlocked, and when you pair that with the one-lane entry to Jarvis Estate, the cars and buses carrying guests often became snarled, going nowhere fast.
At any rate, I guess it’s churlish to complain about little things like noise and traffic, because the event really was a spectacular success. And lest we forget, all the proceeds go to the most wonderful charities that help the field workers and their families, without whom there simply would be no Napa Valley wine.