Wine tales part one

Over the weekend we had the pleasure of meeting Chris Phelps, a St. Helena winemaker extraordinaire. He has quite a resume (Petrus! Dominus! Caymus!) and a great family story – his son Josh is following in his footsteps. The two of them have been featured in Forbes and Food and Wine.

At dinner two nights ago we had the pleasure of tasting two of Chris’ wines, his 2016 Ad Vivum Cabernet and a new label, a 2019 Coil Chenin Blanc. Both were excellent – I’m not really a white wine aficionado, but the Chenin Blanc was great and a little unique – it was crisp, with strong citrus notes and richness without being oaky (it was aged in stainless steel, not oak barrels). The cabernet was everything you’d want from a Napa Cab – rich fruit, enough tannins to notice and hints of licorice. Chris’ own tasting notes on the 2016 are a wine education in one page.

The wines are pictured above, in a poorly-framed shot that I can only blame on the wine itself. After two previous tastings and then Chris’ wines, life was good.

Talking with Chris was fun, and as always, every time I meet a winemaker I Iearn a few things. From Chris I learned that many (most?) Napa winewakers aren’t big estate or land owners, but true entrepreneurs who buy grapes and then handcraft their best product. Most only make few hundred cases, so we don’t hear about them the same way we hear about Caymus, Shafer, Silver Oak, etc.

Then, one night later we had the pleasure of trying a wine made by his son Josh in the Paso Robles area. Josh follows Chris’ formula, buying local grapes and fashioning his own labels and wines under the Grounded Wine brand. In this case we had an excellent 2017 Grenache/Syrah blend. A lighter red (the Grenache part), it was enjoyable with grilled chicken and veggies.

All in all, it was great to learn about two under the radar but very strong winemakers, and especially nice to have broken bread with the elder of the pair. Cheers!

Musing about the future

We’re in the mountains west of Gardnerville, staying in our relatives’ palatial home. More than seven thousand square feet of handcrafted wood, glass and stone. Twenty foot tall windows providing incredible snow-capped mountain views. European appliances draped in walnut. Custom-designed furniture taken straight from pages of architectural magazines. And an attached garage-shop complex that’s larger than most single family homes. The whole place is a testament to an extreme version of the American dream, wherein two people bootstrap themselves through economic tiers, work hard and make good decisions, and end up living in a well-earned fantasy home. Good for them.

My point is not to question the lifestyle (I don’t; they earned it), but to wonder what happens to a house like this when the original owners are gone. Sure, the next buyer will benefit from their good choices in design, but what about the long term? What will happen to a house like this in 100 or 200 years? Will it become a second-tier version of the great estates like The Biltmore in NC (perhaps THE extreme example), The Broadmoor in CO, The Henry Clay Estate in KY, where it becomes an expensive resort destination? Or a museum of life in the past.

Many grand homes of the past succumbed to urbanization and were carved up or torn down as population density increased, but that’s not likely here on this remote mountainside. There are natural and legal barriers to overcrowding. Though a breakdown of civilization would render the legal barriers useless.

Perhaps there will always be a demand for a grand home with a grand view, private and only affordable by a few. Two hundred years from now we can only guess at the level of technology that will exist, technologies that could make living in a spot like this much simpler and more affordable (think micro-fusion power, or ubiquitous anti-gravity transportation). And if civilization and laws survive, this place could be a comfortable luxurious home 200+ years hence. The building materials should hold up just fine.

Or, in a darker vision of the future, this grand home could become a fortress, a place for groups to defend themselves against…whatever. Its position on the mountainside is perfect for defense, and plenty of running water for the scenario wherein utility services are gone. And plenty of wood for heat and low-efficiency power.

So I wish I could be around to see it happen. I wish that a lot lately – there are so many interesting, amazing things likely to happen in 50, 100, 200 years. That’s the tragedy of our short lifetimes.