We left the cool, clear, snowy vistas of the eastern Sierras yesterday, and are now in the Eternal Sunshine of dry hot Socal again. 92 degrees Fahrenheit today…92! The constant sunny weather of Socal used to make me happy. Now it just scares the shit out of me.
In the east, April showers bring May flowers. Out here, April heat brings FIRE SEASON. I’ll take the flowers.
We had two of our big-name tastings a day apart – Joseph Phelps on Friday afternoon, and Quintessa on Saturday morning. They didn’t turn out as expected.
I’ve been a longtime fan of Phelps’ Insignia offering – it’s consistently a great wine. Pricey, but great. I didn’t know much about Phelps’ other varietals, but there are only a few.
And Quintessa was a complete unknown – I was aware of the brand, but that’s it. No real inkling of the history of the place or the wine.
We arrived at Phelps’ on Friday afternoon, tired and frazzled. Sometimes being goal-driven is not a good thing – I had spent seven hours on planes and automobiles with the sole purpose of getting to Phelps for a relaxing tasting to start the weekend. We were about 30 minutes late, so by the time we arrived I was not in a relaxed frame of mind.
The venue was beautiful and we sat perched on a hilltop overlooking vineyards (picture above). Check. But…something was off. Our in-laws were well into their second or third tastes, so we offered to catch up. Our vineyard host was a polite and well-intentioned young man, but he declined to start us at the beginning – it was made clear that the tasting would be over at a certain time, and we couldn’t exceed that time. He was also serving 3-4 other groups, so we would get a short bit of attention from him occasionally. That was just as well, because he couldn’t answer most questions about the vineyard or its operation.
Nonetheless, I did manage to relax and enjoy the truncated tasting. The Insignia was as good as remembered – rich, lush, lots of complexity and just the right amount of tannin. Great wine, but not such that I wanted to buy a case of it.
That evening we moved on to our previously-documented dinner with Chris Phelps (no relation), and then called it a night.
The next morning we arrived for a tasting at Quintessa at 10am – breakfast of champions. Another beautiful setting, but we were just getting started. And something was different. Our Quintessa host (Mike) met us at the door and stayed with us for the entire two hour event. Mike was personable, funny, and knowledgeable on everything we inquired about. Without being pretentious.
In their reception center he gave us an overview of the winery with some small talk. Then, we loaded up into a six-person ATV and got a tour of the entire 370 acre property. Lakes, cows, forest, vineyard blocks, barns and residences – everything. Then, he took us up a hill to our private, luxe tasting room, pictured below. We enjoyed a Quintessa white wine while he poured our generous portions of several vintages.
By now it was clear to me that Quintessa has an entirely different – and better – approach to tastings and how they treat members and guests. They make you feel that they are honored to have you there, as opposed to Phelps where we were pretty much just served. Both were expensive, private tastings, but…what a difference!
At the end of the Quintessa tasting I bought wine and joined their wine club. The wine was superb, as it should be for the premium price they charge. But it was the way they treat their guests that won me over. Product is necessary, but great service wins loyalty.
We left Quintessa saying that it was one of the 2-3 best wine tasting experiences ever, and that’s saying quite a bit – we’ve had private tastings all over the world. I can’t wait to get our first shipment.