Sunday, March 3, 2013

Crocker & Starr Wines – Mustard Flowers and Hazy Skies in St. Helena, California

This past weekend the forecast for the Napa Valley was “overcast” which isn’t ideal for doing wine country photography. Puffy cotton ball clouds with blue in the background is fine, but hazy gray skies can make pictures and video seem gloomy and the color of the vineyards don’t “pop.” But, I decided to head up to the Napa Valley anyway and visit one of the valley’s ultra-premium wineries - Crocker & Starr. While visiting I met up with a friend I have kept in touch with but hadn’t seen in a while, Dawn Kavanagh. She is a chef by trade who serves as a host at Crocker and Starr, which has become an iconic cult wine producer. In fact, on episode #827 of the Wine Library TV Gary Vaynerchuk gave their 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon 95+ points.

The winery was founded by Charlie Crocker and Pam Starr. Charlie is a San Francisco businessman who is a descendent of Charles Crocker (1822 –1888) who founded the Central Pacific Railroad. Prior to getting into the wine busyness Charlie founded, managed and grew two public technology companies - BEI Technologies and BEI Medical Systems. Pam Starr serves as co-owner, manager and winemaker. In 1984, prior to co-founding the winery she earned a degree in Fermentation Science University of California at Davis. She had worked in the wine business for 18 years serving at Edna Valley Vineyard, Carmenet Winery in Sonoma, then Spottswoode Vineyard and Winery in the Napa Valley. She also wine consulted for Adastra Vineyard in the Carneros, Gemstone Vineyard in Yountville and Garric Cellars of Calistoga, among others.

The winery originally was named Dowdell and Sons Winery which dates back 1870’s but it went out of business during the Prohibition. 

Then in 1971 Charlie purchased the dormant and undisturbed farmland, later planting Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon between 1978 and 1980. Then in 1997 Charlie partnered with Pam to establish Crocker and Starr, resurrecting the historic winemaking estate. 

They then began transitioning from conventional to organic farming of the 85 acres on which they grow five Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec). In the following year they planted Sauvignon Blanc in the warmer up-valley Crocker Vineyard and the cooler down-valley Hyde Las Trancas Vineyard. The fruit from this vineyard would go into the 2001 vintage which was released in 2002. Then in 1999 they had their first release of Cabernet Franc (1997 vintage). At the turn of the millennium they released the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon “Stone Place,” an estate Bordeaux-style blend. Soon they were receiving rave reviews by wine critics and in 2009 they moved into a restored 1918 farmhouse on the vineyard in St. Helena and opened their tasting room.

While visiting I sampled the following wines:

The 2011 Bridesmaid Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley. Bridesmaid is a joint project created by friends, Pam Starr and Drew Neiman, which produces value-priced wines ( Drew is an experienced winemaker who worked as the assistant winemaker for Kongsgaard and Arietta Cellars, and later the winemaker for Jacquelynn and Chateau Boswell. He has been a winemaker along with Pam Starr in Bridesmaid Wines since it’s beginning in 2005. This wine is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (72%) and Semillon (28%). The bouquet on this wine is prounouced with very aromas lemon zest, myer lemon and a hint of chalky minerality. On the palate it is easy and approachable, slightly creamy and yet it has ample acidity. It is medium (-) bodied and has a medium length finish. I prefer my Sauvignon Blancs to be razor sharp and crisp so this one is a little too soft for my palate. But it has an absolutely gorgeous nose and it is reasonably priced at $19 a bottle.

The second pour was the 2006 Crocker & Starr Cabernet Franc. This is an absolutely luscious wine with layers of blueberries, blackberries, mocha and a touch of earth on the nose. On the palate it is full bodied, round with silky tannins and additional notes of freshly cracked black pepper on a medium (+) length finish. This is probably one of the best California Cab Francs I have ever tasted but it is a bit pricey at $80 a bottle.

The third sample was the 2009 Casali Malbec. On the nose I picked up pronounced aromas of blueberries (or Boo Berry Cereal), cranberries and a hint of white pepper. When swirled, this wine is inky dark as it stains the glass when swirled. On the palate it is very delicious on entry, big and round with a silky refined tannins, a full-mouth feel and a long finish. Undoubtedly the best California Malbec I have ever tasted and one of the most expensive as it rolls in with price tag of $72 a bottle.

The fourth wine was the 2002 Syrah. There were only two vintages of this wine produced, the 2001 and the 2002. Sadly the vines were pulled to make room for more Sauvignon Blanc. The limited supply of the 2002 was “lost” and then a few cases were found. Though this wine is 11 years old, visually there are NO signs of aging as it is dark at the base and ruby and violet at the rim with no signs of bricking. On the nose it has pronounced blueberries and blackberries and on the palate it is very delicious with velvety tannins, youthful acidity with a medium length finish. I was very tempted to bring one home but this wine is selling for $62…. while supplies last.

The final pour was the 2010 “Stone Place” Cabernet Sauvignon. When swirling this wine stains glass with bright ruby tears. On the nose I picked up strawberry preserves, blueberries, black cherries, red currants, dark chocolate and a hint of sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate this wine is DELICIOUS on entry, it is round with a full-mouth feel with supple tannins, medium acidity and a very prolonged finish. An absolutely fantabulous wine with a hefty price tag to match at $110 a bottle.

To visit or for more information:

Crocker and Starr

6236 Silverado Trail

Napa, CA 94558

Phone: 1-707-944-9261

1 comment:

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