Monday, March 12, 2012

Orange Poppies in the Vineyard at PlumpJack Winery – Oakville, California

If you travel to the Napa Valley during the Mustard Season (February – March) typically you’ll find that most the mustard flowers are blooming in vineyards around wineries along Highway 29 between Carneros and St. Helena. You won’t see any along the Silverado Trail nor in any vineyard north of St. Helena such as in Calistoga. However, what you will find along the Silverado Trail are a lot of small orange poppies at the base of the vines. So, having recently visited numerous wineries along 29 with blooming Mustard Flowers I decided to visit PlumpJack Winery, which is in the Oakville Appellation just 6/10 of a mile from the Silverado Trail on the north side of the Oakville Cross Road.
 The winery is owned by the PlumpJack Group and the name “Plump Jack” was Queen Elizabeth’s name for the rotund Falstaff (a fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight) of Shakespeare’s Henry IV. So delighted was she with this roguish character that she asked the Bard to write another play in which Jack would fall in love. Shakespeare answered her with The Merry Wives of Windsor.
 The PlumpJack Group was founded in 1992 by two entrepreneurs; the first was Gavin Newsom, who was later elected Mayor of San Francisco in 2003 and later became the California Lt. Governor. The other was Gordon Getty, a San Francisco composer who composed the opera Plump Jack, inspired by Shakespeare’s play. Together these men opened a wine store called PlumpJack Wines in the Fillmore neighborhood of San Francisco. Over the next five years, the business expanded to include a boutique hotel and three restaurants and eventually the PlumpJack Winery in 1997 when they acquired a century-old 53 acre vineyard in Napa Valley on Oakville Cross Road. The winery facility and tasting room was designed by Leavitt-Weaver, the same design firm that the PlumpJack Group used for the designs of its restaurants and hotels. 

While wine debates over the best closure for wines has raged on for years (organic or synthetic cork vs. screw cap) PlumpJack Winery was the first Napa Valley winery to use the Stelvin screwcap closure on its most expensive wines beginning with the 1997 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. 

PlumpJack has two flights, one from the Oakville winery and the other from Cade, their sister winery on Howell Mountain for $15. Some of the wines are the same grape (Merlot and Cab Sauv.) made by the same winemaker. So, essentially, the difference between the two is the difference between valley fruit and mountain fruit. If you have never experienced the difference this would be an excellent opportunity to sample them both. In general, Napa Valley mountain wines (Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain) tend to be more dense, concentrated, earthier with more mineral and graphite components whereas valley wines tends to be fruitier. 

While visiting I tasted the following wines:

My first wine was the 2010 PlumpJack Reserve Chardonnay. This wine reflects a warm climate with tropical notes, dried pineapple, fresh pears and melons on the nose. On the palate the wine has medium weight and body with slight creaminess and moderate acidity. In many ways this wine reminds me of a lighter-weight version of Bogle’s Chardonnay ($8 at the grocery store) and yet this wine sells for $46 a bottle. So, with the first wine we weren’t off to a good start.

My second wine was the 2009 PlumpJack Merlot, which is a Bordeaux blend of 78% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Franc, 6 % Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is very intense with dense concentrated fruit. On the nose I picked up black cherries, dried plums, dried cocoa and a hint of anise. On the palate the wine delivers soft and supple fruit on the mid palate, bright acidity followed by lean drying tannins on the front of the mouth and a lingering chocolate covered cherry finish. A beautiful wine but a bit steep at $50 a bottle.

My next wine was the 2009 PlumpJack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, a blend of 98% Cabernet Sauvignon and 2% Petit Verdot. This wine is WAY too young to be drinking now and it needed a lot of time and patience to coax the aromatics out of it. If you are going to serve this wine within the next couple years I’d highly recommend decanting it to give it some air to breath. After swirling the glass for 10 minutes or so it eventually opened up and delivered black cherries, black berries, subtle herbs and a very distinct minerality with a hint of mint on the finish. Another really fine wine but at $90 a bottle I know of many at half the price that are just as good.

I was then poured a sample of the 2008 CADE Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon to compare with PlumpJack Cab. This wine is 93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Malbec. This wine is very dense and concentrated and the bouquet seemed more open than the ’09 PlumpJack but I swirled them both in separate glasses and tasted them side-by-side. On the nose I picked up black cherries, black berries, black currant, black olives, chocolate a touch of vanilla and cola on the back end with just a touch of earth. There was also a lingering graphite minerality on the finish. Although less expensive, I preferred this wine over the PlumpJack. At the tasting room this wine was listed for $72 but the web site states $60. Perhaps the price difference is to cover shipping costs for online purchases? Still, the price is really steep and I have a few other Mountain Cabs from other wineries that I prefer and only paid $45 for them.

My final wine was my favorite in the line-up, the 2009 PlumpJack Syrah. This wine is very earthy and meaty with a touch of dark plums, pepper, black olives, coffee and bacon with just a hint of dried herbs. And for $46 a bottle I brought one home!

To visit or for more information:

PlumpJack Winery

620 Oakville Cross Road

Oakville, CA 94558

Napa Valley, CA 94558

Phone: 1-707-945-1220