Saturday, July 27, 2013

Markham Vineyards – St. Helena, California

Although it has had several owners since its inception, Markham Vineyards has the distinction of being the fourth oldest continuously operated winery in Napa County. Markham Vineyards was in 1874 by Jean Laurent, an immigrant from the Bordeaux region of France, who came to California in 1852 during the California Gold Rush. Two decades later he founded the winery in 1874 and shortly thereafter his wines were distributed across the United States in the 1880s. He then died in 1890 but the winery continued to operate during the prohibition, the great depression and two world wars under a succession of owners. 
Then in 1978 vintner Bruce Markham purchased Laurent’s winery and combined it with vineyards in Yountville, Oak Knoll and Calistoga and changed the name to Markham Vineyards. Then in 1988, Markham Vineyards was sold to Japanese wine and spirits producer Mercian Corporation. Over the next four years they spent millions of dollar renovating, expanding and replanting doubling the capacity of the vineyards.

The architecture of Markham Vineyards combines both historic and modern elements, with its old stone and concrete façade, and its subdued red metal roofing supported by round wooden columns. Reflecting the style of its current owners, the entrance way lined with dual lily-filled Koi ponds and water fountains. 

The Tasting Room has an atrium with a large fireplace and the Visitor Center is also home to the Markham Gallery which currently features iconic rock and roll photos (Jimmy Hendrix, Led Zepplin, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones etc.) from the 60’s and 70’s by Rolling Stone’s first chief photographer, Baron Wolman. 

The winemaker for Markham Vineyards Kimberlee Nicholls. She graduated from Willamette University with a degree in biology. Kimberlee moved from the small coastal town of Long Beach, Washington, to California. In 1989 she began working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as a laboratory technician and then became the lab director. In 1993, Kimberlee joined Markham Vineyards’s winemaking team as an enologist to establish an extensive laboratory program. After four years of working in the vineyards and in the winery, she was promoted to associate winemaker in 1997. She then became the winemaker for Markham as well as for the La Jota Vineyard Company, a winery acquired by Markham Vineyards in 2001.  
The Wines
While visiting I sampled the following wines:
The first two wines were both Sauvignon Blancs but from different vintages, the 2011 and 2012. This 2011 has pronounced aromas of white grapefruit, melon rind, and a distinct jalapeno character on the nose. It has medium- body, very high (medium+) acidity and a long finish. The 2012 is quite different, on the nose it has hints of tropical fruit, lemon-lime and a spicy hint of anise. It is slightly heavier on the mid palate with medium body, medium acidity and a medium length finish. Between the two I preferred the 2011. Both wines are reasonably priced at $15 per bottle.
The third wine was the 2011 Chardonnay. This was 100% Whole Cluster Pressed and 100% Barrel Fermented in 32% new French oak but it only went through 44% malolactic fermentation so it isn’t an overt-top- butter ball. On the nose I picked up canned pears, bananas, caramel apples, marshmallows, Crème brûlée and butter. On the palate it is full bodied with medium acidity and a medium+ length finish. It is a well-balanced California-style Chardonnay that is value priced at $18 per bottle.
The fourth wine was the 2011 Merlot, a combination of 87% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petite Sirah and 2% Cabernet Franc so it is similar to a Meritage blend. This wine is bright red ruby in color with aromas of duty cherries, cola and a hint of cedar and spice. It has medium bodied with medium acidity and surprising aggressive tannins and a medium length finish. It is well balanced and fairs better than other wines I have tried from this difficult vintage. This wine sells for $25 per bottle.
The fifth wine was the 2009 Cabernet Franc, a blend of 91% Cabernet Franc and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is clear bright ruby red at the core with intense aromas of licorice, brown sugar, dark cherries and vanilla. On the palate it has aggressive tannins, it is medium bodied and seems earthier than on the nose with additional notes of earth and tobacco. On entry it begins somewhat tannic but then transitions to silk on the mid palate. It is medium bodied with sufficient acidity and a medium length finish. This wine sells for $42 per bottle.
The sixth wine was the 2009 Petit Verdot, a blend of 84% Petit Verdot and 16% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine is clear dark ruby at the core with pronounced aromas of dark cherries, sweet vanilla crème and black licorice. It has aggressive yet well refined tannins, a medium body, ample acidity with additional notes of tart cherries and sweet oak on a medium length finish. Bottling Petit Verdot used to be a rarity but it seems to be more common now, especially in the Napa Valley and this one is a fine example so I brought one home. This wine sells for $42 per bottle.
The seventh wine was the 2008 Altruist Cabernet Sauvignon, made from 100% Cabernet with 100% Estate Grown fruit. This wine is clear dark cherry red with aromas of cassis, anise, new leather and a hint of cherry lozenge on the finish. On entry it is fruit forward with a medium body, medium acidity and a medium+ length. This wine sells for $55 per bottle.
The eighth wine was the 2008 Philanthropist Cabernet Sauvignon – Yountville Estate. This wine is also made from 100% Cabernet with 100% Estate Grown fruit. This wine is dark red and displays pronounced aromas of dried cinnamon, anise, wild blackberries, black cherry, and black plums, on the nose. On the palate it is fruit forward, medium+ bodied, with aggressive up front chewy tannins and a medium+ length finish. This wine sells for $55 per bottle.
I then sampled two sweeter wines, the perfect way to finish a tasting!
The ninth wine was the 2012 Muscato, made from 100% Muscat Blanc. On the nose it has a beautiful bouquet of orange blossoms, mandarin oranges and fresh cut melon. On the palate it is off-dry, medium bodied with medium acidity and a prolonged finish. It is well balanced and not cloyingly sweet. It isn’t sweet enough to be a dessert wine and would pair well with spicy Asian or Indian dishes. This wine sells for $20 per bottle.
The final wine was the 2012 Muscat Blanc, also made from 100% Muscat Blanc. On the nose this wine has medium+ intense roams of lemon-lime, canned pineapple, canned peaches, and melon. On the palate this wine is sweet (8.4% r/s) but not syrupy, very refreshing with a medium body and ample acidity. This wine sells for $24 per bottle.

To visit or for more information:
Markham Vineyards
2812 St. Helena Hwy North
St. Helena, CA 94574
Phone: 1-707- 963-5292