Swirl ‘n’ Spit
Tasting Room of the Week
By Heather Irwin
Lowdown: New appellations don’t come along every day. It takes years of red tape, a gaggle of territorial winemakers and a magnum of eager sommeliers to figure this kind of thing out. But figure it out they have, and after 10 years of wrangling, the Oak Knoll District in Napa has become the valley’s 14th subappellation. While the ins-and-outs of agricultural boundary lines may be about as exciting to the outside world as a vanilla decaf latte, these turf-driven wine ‘hoods are a sort of viticultural gang, complete with their own cryptic label graffiti, internal alliances and external posturing, yo.
The original gangsta of Napa’s Oak Knoll Appellation happens to be Janet Trefethen, of Napa’s Trefethen Vineyards, who’s been leading the fight for nearly a decade. She hopes the distinctive appellation will become a “recognizable indicator of a certain type of quality or taste that can only be found in the Oak Knoll District.” Straight up. Then again, when you’re less than a mile or two from the next appellation, that distinction can be mighty subtle. Armed with their super tasting palates, trusty sommeliers say they can taste the terroir–the difference in “place”–between, say, Trefethen and their neighbors to the north and south. The rest of us just have to nod our heads and pretend we understand.
Vibe: Surrounded by some 600 acres of grapes, both red and white, Trefethen is one of the oldest wineries in Napa. The red-barnlike structure houses the oldest gravity-flow tanks in the valley, and although some critics say that Trefethen’s best days are behind it (their Chardonnay was named the best in the world in the early ’60s), the winery consistently produces reliably tasty wines.
Mouth value: Trefethen’s white wines–Chardonnay and Dry Riesling–lead the pack in taste and value. The 2002 Estate Riesling ($15) sidesteps the varietal’s often insipid sweetness, instead leaning toward the exotic with tropical flavors and an almost perfumelike smell. Similarly, the 2002 Estate Viognier ($30) was described in the tasting notes as “reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s boudoir.” Um, is that a good thing? For us it had a heavy, lovely floral tone and lots of exotic fruit–perhaps more like Marie’s consorts.
Don’t miss: Just a skip away in Yountville is the new Bouchon Bakery. The pastry hub for nearby Bouchon Restaurant, the petite shop features the Frenchiest of French pastries, Napoleons and éclairs. Almost too pretty to eat, the tiny treats range from $3 to $5.75, and are worth every calorie-laden cent. At lunch, the bakery also serves precut Gruyère and ham baguettes ($5).
Five-second snob: Trefethen isn’t alone in belonging to the new Oak Knoll Appellation. Other wineries include Andretti, Costello, Etude, Frisinger, Kate’s Vineyard, Laird Family, Luna, Monticello Dom Montreaux, Koves-Newlan, Silverado Hill, Trefethen, and Van Der Heyden. Watch for the appellation on future labels.
The Oak Knoll name, however, wasn’t won without a fight. An Oak Knoll winery in Oregon argued that there might be confusion between its wines and those of the new appellation. Seems they worked things out and everyone is happy.
Spot: Trefethen Vineyards, 1160 Oak Knoll Ave., Napa. Open 11:30am to 4:30pm daily. Estate tasting, $10; reserve, $20. 707.255.7700.
From the May 5-11, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.