Surfing The Top End: Part Three

This is part three of my California journey. If you missed them, here is part one and here is part two.

Alex Davies
Author – Alex Davies

The Final Stretch

A lighter schedule for the next day, but no lighter in gravitas (nor breakfast, pictured below). Just the one visit but to the winery of one of the most important, influential figures in Californian wine – Paul Hobbs. He grew up on an apple farm and soon discovered he could identify which apples were from which orchard. This focused his mind at an early age to the notion of terroir. Needless to say, this was central to the way his career panned out. Most famous for having a sixth sense for identifying the potential of new vineyards, he now has a number of strings to his bow.

It took a while to find his place in the morning Sonoma rain, but it was worth the effort. There was a real air of success here, generated partly by a car park densely populated with fast cars. Staff were very professional but welcoming and the house was like a set from A Clockwork Orange (without the people, thankfully). It wasn’t just the slick environment that made the wines taste top dollar (I’ve tasted them in Norwich too). But they were looking fantastic on the day.

I found the Single Vineyard Chardonnays all had really appealing savoury/mineral intensity beneath really complex, but approachable fruit. And I had the pleasure too of tasting the Cabernet from To Kalon, California’s most famous vineyard, which didn’t disappoint, although I didn’t pay well north of £300 a bottle for it which is the going rate…

Afternoon off – swimming pool, beers and dinner out!


Napa Valley, California

The schedule for my last day in California only consisted of two visits, but both were quite comprehensive. The first was to Failla in the Napa Valley, although looking at the tasting line-up you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in Burgundy – an irresistible sea of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Again, this was very much a let-the-vineyard-do-the-talking philosophy. This is a husband-wife team and husband, Ehren, is a winemaker who has a passion for Pinot Noir. #

This is another instance where buying fruit from contracted growers suits the objectives of the producer as here it gives Ehren every opportunity to make wine from his favourite variety from various different soils and climates. For me it was the most recent addition to Ehren’s Pinot Noir portfolio that impressed, from Savoy in Anderson Valley. It has super-fresh cherry and raspberry fruit with garden herbs and the most mineral streak running from forepalate to finish. Well, it was an easy buying decision!

It was a shame to leave Failla as they were having one of their famous biannual tasting events with a barbecue, music and a load of very enthusiastic and happy customers tasting their way through the entire portfolio. The atmosphere was great, but I had my final appointment to get to with Peter Franus.

Peter Franus

Picture of Alex and Peter

I met Peter on the terrace of the winery he shares with other Napa Valley producers. He’d landed only a couple of hours before from a trip to Taiwan. He’d spent the hours before his flight doing business Taiwanese-style (shot after shot after shot, and so on). So he’d done well to turn up at all. Within his portfolio he had a Grenache, a Syrah and a Mourvedre. The three key components for the famous blend used for Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

So it seemed like the obvious thing to do to put my own blend together. Peter agreed that he could do this as an exclusive for Virgin Wines, which is unheard of at these volumes. I gratefully accepted and got blending before he changed his mind! Each component had a lot to offer, but mostly the Grenache had flesh and attractive red fruit. The Syrah had a firm structure and a touch of pepper, and the Mourvedre had a really good intense, dark character. The Father Blend was born (a reference to Peter’s paternal influence over production in the region after many a vintage)!

After a coffee and a chat about Albarino and Japanese customs and traditions, I was on the road again with another great experience under my belt and the excitement of my own blend of a top-end wine about to go into bottle and get shipped across the Atlantic.

I’m already looking forward to going back to California and developing the relationships that I’ve started. I have a lot of faith in the wines that I’ve listed so I can only imagine these new producers will become long term friends of Virgin Wines. But it’s not in my hands anymore; it’s in the hands of our customers. Click here to visit the new range. Enjoy!

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