Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Art of Autumn at Clos Pegase – Calistoga, California

Every season in the wine country offers a unique beauty, in Autumn in late October to December the vines are bare but they are at their height of drama as they vineyard suddenly becomes a rainbow of color on the earth.With a break in the rain, I headed up to the Napa Valley to visit Clos Pegase, Duckhorn Vineyards and James Cole Estate Winery.

Clos Pegase is a 450 acre estate winery nestled in the volcanic hills outside of Calistoga. While many other wineries such as St. Francis, Robert Mondavi and Landmark Vineyards pay homage to the Californian Christian heritage of winemaking by modeling their facilities after the Californian missions, Clos Pegase resembles a post-modern temple to wine and art (“Where Vine Meets Divine”) built in commemoration of Bacchus - the Roman god of wine and intoxication, equated with the Greek Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest, wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy as Clos Pegase’ web site states:

In that spirit, a couple of millennia later, we set out to create a place where the wellspring of wine and the muses of art could live together -- a sort of temple to wine and art. Not a museum or a sacred shrine way up in the clouds, but a haven here on earth. The kind of place we know Bacchus would approve of, where art and vines seem to spring from the same fertile soil, where smiling is encouraged, and pleasure and serendipity are all around you.”

The French name of the winery, Clos Pegase, stems from “Clos,” the French word for an enclosed vineyard, and “Pegase” the French word for “Pegasus” - the winged horse of Greek mythology who was transformed into the constellation by Zeus who placed him in the sky.

The history of the winery actually begins on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. In 1955, Clos Pegase’ founder, Jan Shrem, was studying for his Master’s degree at UCLA when took what he thought was going to be a little vacation in Japan where he fell in love with the land and a woman named Mitsuko and thereafter he remained the next thirteen years developing a publishing business.

He then sold his company in 1968 and eloped with Mitsuko in Europe. Then in 1980, after 25 years in the publishing business, he enrolled in the enology program at the University of Bordeaux, where he soon became fascinated with the idea of combining ancient winemaking practices with emerging technologies. Nowhere was this combination more vital and exciting than in California, so he returned to the United States.

With Andre Tchelistcheff, the most influential post-Prohibition winemaker who was known as the “dean of American winemakers,” Jan Shrem eventually created a unique wine estate with an equally distinctive style of winemaking. In 1983 he purchased a 50-acre vineyard in Calistoga and later he added add more than 400 additional acres in the northern and southern ends of the Napa Valley.

The winery was built to not only produce world class wines but also serve as a showcase Jan’s extensive art collection in a way that made it accessible to everyone. Working with the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Jan sponsored an architects’ competition. From a field of 96 entrants, the judges selected renowned Princeton architect, Michael Graves. He was commissioned to build a "temple to wine and art" at the base of the knoll and a home for Jan and Mitsuko at its summit, with sweeping views of the Napa Valley below. Within the knoll itself, 20,000 feet of aging caves would be excavated, including the breathtaking Cave Theater, a dramatic setting for celebrations, presentations and special events.

In 1987 construction of the winery and art gallery was completed with a surrounding sculpture garden which has become “America’s first monument to wine and art.” There, depicted by the great 19th-Century French artist Odilon Redon, is the winged horse, Pegasus, his front hooves rearing toward the heavens, his back hooves firmly planted right here on earth which is also found on the winery’s label.

So, when visiting Close Pegase winery after tasting the wines, such as their bright sauvignon blanc, their fruity chardonnays, and mellow pinot noir, merlot, and cabernet made in a soft approachable style, be sure to check out the modern and surrealist paintings near the main tasting room and larger than life modern sculptures surrounding the vineyards.

Clos Pegase has two flights, the “Estate Tasting” which consists of four wines (A Vin Gris, a Pinot Noir, a Syrah and a Zin Petite Syrah blend which range in price from $19 to $35 per bottle) for $20 and the “Reserve Tasting” which consists of three wines (which range in price from $40 to $95 per bottle) which consists of one Chardonnay and two Cabernets and for $35. Somehow the difference in pricing for the flights doesn’t add up to me and while I chose the “Reserve Tasting” if I had it to do over again I would have chosen the Estate Tasting.” But, I was in the mood for a Cabernet and since one of them was a library wine I was really curious to see how their wines hold up after 10 years of cellaring. So, after touring the grounds and the gallery I sampled the following wines:

My first pour was the 2007 Hommage Reserve Chardonnay. It was served WAY too cold so I warmed it up in my hands and as I did picked up dried figs, honeydew melon, canned pineapple, crème brûlée, and a touch of spice. On the palate this wine full bodied, rich and, creamy with a smooth finish. This wine sells for $40 a bottle and there are many wines like this one in the $20-$25 range.

My second wine was the 2001 Hommage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (100% Cabernet Sauvignon). A unique opportunity to taste and aged Napa Wine and this one is showing quite nicely, but I wouldn’t hold on it much longer so it is definitely a “drink now” wine. While I picked up some dried plums, earthiness and leather and hints of age, in appearance and on the palate this wine still comes across as quite youthful ass it delivers black fruits, chocolate and a hint of anise on the tail end. Really nice acidity and backbone, great structure and still enough tannin to grip the teeth. A really nice Cab but I wouldn’t pay $95 for a bottle.

My third wine was the 2006 Hommage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (97.5% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Petit Verdot, 0.5% Cabernet Franc). On the nose I picked up blackcurrant, black with a hint of smoke, oak, and vanilla that are well integrated. The palate is big, fat, dense and juicy with tremendous weight and fruit intensity leading to a long finish. Although much younger than the ’01, this wine is a lot softer on the mid palate and rounded and full bodied in mouth feel. If I had to choose a “drink now” wine and choose between the two, I’d pay the extra $5 for the ‘01 but $90 is still too steep – there are SO many other great Napa Cabs out there for less than half the price!
To see more pictures, check out Erik Wait’s Wine Country Photography at:

For More information or to visit:
Clos Pegase
1060 Dunaweal Lane 
Calistoga, CA 94515

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