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!