Friday, February 17, 2012

2012 Mustard Season at Provenance Vineyards – St. Helena, California

It had rained the previous night and there was a lot of overcast early in the morning so taking pictures was a bit of a challenge. Although I arrived in the Napa Valley around 11 AM I had to wait a couple hours for the sun to break through the clouds before taking any shots. But once it did it turned out to be a very nice day with temperatures in the high 60’s and a spectacular day for enjoying the wild flowers.

After taking some pictures of the Beckstoffer “Bourn” Vineyards in the back roads of St. Helena my first stop was at Provenance Vineyards, which is owned by Diageo Chateau and Estate Wines who also own other well-known wineries such as Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda.

The winery was established in August 2002 when Diageo acquired the winery known formerly as Chateau Beaucanon, located on Highway 29. After extensive remodeling and refurbishing of the property, in October 2003 they opened the tasting room, featuring a floor made of barrelheads and staves from 960 barrels, all from the winery’s first vintage, and a large window which allows visitors to view the barrel room.
The word “Provenance” (rhymes with renaissance) is derived from the Latin provenire which means “to come forth, organize," the prefix pro meaning “forth” and venire meaning “come” or “origin.” In art, a provenance then is the record of ownership of a piece of art from its creation to the present. Connoisseurs use a provenance as a guarantee of a work's authenticity. The name of the winery then reflects their goal to produce fine wines that are authentic works of art. In geology, provenance is the source of materials that make up the land’s sediment. Hence, the Provenance reflects the origin of a vineyard's soil which is foundational critical to a wine's quality, flavors and aromas.
Provenance Vineyard’s first release was the 1999 Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, which established the winery's style. Then in the year 2000 vintage they expanded their profile of wines to include Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon and Napa Valley Merlot and later in 2003 they added their only white wine, the Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc.

Provenance owns 120 acres of vineyards that include the Provenance Rutherford Estate Vineyard, that surrounds the winery and was first planted more than 130 years ago which provides Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the high end Rutherford Benchland Hewitt Vineyard, set back against the edge of the Mayacamas mountains, just west of the winery. They also have long-term contracts for sourcing fruit from other Napa Valley vineyards such as the Beckstoffer George III Vineyard, the Three Palms Vineyard in Calistoga (which provides Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petite Verdot) as well as the Beckstoffer Las Amigas Vineyard in Carneros which provides cool-weather Merlot, and the well known Oakville’s Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard. All of which results in a total production of about 60,000 cases of wine with their Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon forming about half of the total production.

Provenance has two tasting flights, the first includes a choice of 4 wines for $20 from a list of 1 white (Sauvignon Blanc), two Merlots, three varied reds (Malbec, Cab Franc, and a Bordeaux blend) and three Cabernets. The second flight includes four of their Reserve Cabs for $35. I chose the latter and selected from the list the following four wines:

Provenance only produces one white wine, so my first choice was the 2010 Sauvignon Blanc.  It is a refreshing and vibrant wine with a strong bouquet of lemon, an herbal grassiness and a hint of chalk on the back end. On the palate it has racy acidity, great minerality with a citrus finish that lingers for a long time. If you don’t like tropical or gooseberry/cat pee versions of Sauv Blanc then this one is for you. I took one home for $22 a bottle.

My first red wine was the 2007 Three Palms Merlot. There are several wineries that produce Merlots from the Three Palms Vineyard ( including Duckhorn and Sterling and although Duckhorn’s web site states that only Duckhorn and Sterling make wines from the vineyard but obviously this report is inaccurate. This wine is bright ruby red with a big nose of juicy raspberries, cherries, and red plums followed by a hint of eucalyptus and mint. On the palate the wine is explosive with sweet red fruits like a Hostess Cherry Pie. On the mid palate it has a slight creaminess with supple tannins that is then followed by a hint of milk chocolate. However, on the finish it has a bit of heat which sadly made the wine seem off balance. The wine is purportedly 14.5% alcohol but it felt more like it was 18%+ as the finish was almost like a cherry cough syrup. So, while I liked the initial attack and the mid palate the finish was overwhelming and at $65 a bottle I’d have to say “pass.”

My next wine was the 2008 Winemaker’s Reserve Blend. Although the wine is a Bordeaux blend there are no notes as to the makeup of the blend on their web site nor was there any on the tasting sheet provided at the tasting room. The server did mention that it is 67% Cabernet and 15 % Malbec but whatever else is in it is a bit of a mystery.  On the nose I picked up black cherry, blackberries, and cassis, anise licorice, vanilla and a touch of eucalyptus and mint. In contrast to the previous wine, it is well balanced and harmonious with no one feature of its profile dominating another. It’s a really nice wine that sells for $50 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard is located in Oakville adjacent to Robert Mondavi Winery. The name “To Kalon” in Greek means “the beautiful” and it is one of Napa Valley’s well-known vineyards. It first planted in 1868 by viticulture pioneer Hamilton W. Crabb. On the nose it is very earthy with hints of tar followed by coffee, black currants, black cherries and a hint of meat. Like the Three Palms Merlot it has a lot of heat on the finish which made the wine off-balance so for $75 a bottle I’d again have to say “pass.”

To visit or for more information:

Provenance Vineyards

1695 St. Helena Hwy South

Rutherford, CA 94573 

Phone: 1-707-968-3633