2016 was unquestionably an impactful year no matter what filters you apply to its 365 days: geopolitics, U.S. politics, the global economy, or the premature passing of a disproportionate number of treasured artists. Certainly, a historical understanding of 2016 will require a thorough review of all of these areas and more. Our goal, however, is not to define 2016, put any labels on it, or attempt to put it into any particular context. Instead, we want to celebrate some of the wonderful events and moments that we experienced in 2016 that are as important to remember. Below are ten of our top 2016 moments, not ranked by importance (how could we even do that?) but chronologically.
- Wines of the World. In January of 2016 we took our first class in the Viticulture and Winery Technology department at Napa Valley College. Most of our wine education came to us in our important role as consumers (i.e., wine drinkers); we knew a fair amount about California and international wines, but were by no means global wine experts. On our first day of class we were poised with our notebooks and pens to take copious notes about the wines of the world. “Where are your glasses?” asked our professor. Apparently this was a wine drinking class! If we knew that such a class existed we would have taken it years before. For the next class, we brought six wine glasses each and tasted wines from 7-10pm each Wednesday for 15 weeks. Each week, we tasted between 12 and 14 wines, starting with France and moving through the rest of the Old World (Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria, Portugal, Eastern Europe) and eventually the New World wines (Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America). Along the way we learned about the different wine regions in each country, the grape varietals growth there, unique wine-making styles, and the specific terroir of each location. Together with the wine tasting, it was quite an education!
- Bottlerock 2016. Music festivals have become a real “thing” the past several years. In Napa, we have our own 3-day festival, Bottlerock, that has grown since its inception about five years ago into an honest-to-goodness kick-ass event. Each year, the quality of the headliners as well as the rest of the festival lineup has increased significantly. For Bottlerock 2016, the headliners were Florence & The Machine, Stevie Wonder and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. We bought tickets for two days – Florence and Stevie – and came to the festival early to catch some of the unheralded (but often equally impressive) early acts. Beyond the strong performances, the food options were more plentiful than in prior years as were the wine and beer selections. We are looking forward to purchasing Bottlerock 2017 tickets when they go on limited pre-sale tomorrow! Please buy yours some other day.
- El Centimo. Through our wine class (see #1 above) we met two of the dynamic people behind El Centimo Real, a wonderful wine from Spain’s Rioja region. Jesus Parreño and Alaina Velazquez both live in Napa and have wine industry “day jobs” but are also trying to share their Rioja passion with the U.S. market. We are often called wine snobs so when we tell you that our New Year’s Eve dinner featured two bottles of this luscious Rioja, hopefully you’ll conclude that the wine is fantastic. More surprising, perhaps, is that the wine costs at least half of what we typically pay for quality California wines. You can find out more about El Centimo Real here: El Centimo.
4. Meeting a Legend. On Father’s Day 2016, we had the opportunity (along with two of our kids) to meet Mike Grgich, the founder of Grgich Hills winery in Napa but also one of the people who helped put Napa Valley on the global wine map. In 1976, Mike Grgich was the winemaker at Chateau Montelena and their 1973 Chardonnay, in a head-to-head contest in Paris, came out on top of a roster of wines that included the best of France’s white wines. This so-called Judgement of Paris ignited the world’s understanding and acceptance of American wines. Here’s a link to our Father’s Day blog entry: A Pair of Aces for Father’s Day.
5. A chance invitation to a wine party. Some time during the summer we received an invitation to join a wine event at a winery with which we were not familiar: Y. Rousseau. Via Twitter, we met Olga Mosina from the winery and she told us about the event and a bit about the winemaker, Yannick Rousseau. Given our interest in and focus on “hidden gems,” Y. Rousseau seemed right up our alley: a small production operation housed in the up-and-coming (but still mostly hidden) Crusher District. As interesting was the fact that Y. Rousseau’s two signature wines are Colombard and Tannat, both rare wines to say the least in the land of Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. To read our original post click here: A Frenchman in Napa Valley.
6. Tasting wine with another legend. Again via Twitter, we connected with Amelia Ceja, the founder and owner of Ceja Vineyards. Sourcing fruit 100% from their estate properties in Napa and Sonoma, Ceja makes a number of different varietals, including some really fantastic Pinot Noir offerings. What is particularly compelling about the Ceja story, we thought, was the fact that Amelia and her husband both came to Napa Valley from Mexico as children and went from picking grapes alongside their parents to growing grapes on their own property and making excellent wines. Our write-up on our visit is here: An All-American Story.
7. A cool Oregon winemaker. After drop-off weekend at the University of Oregon we made a visit to another winemaker that we met on Twitter, Jerry Sass, at his estate vineyard near Salem. We quickly became fans not only of Sass Winery but of Mr. Sass as well due to his personality as well as his approach to viticulture and winemaking. Jerry has a dry wit very similar to ours and an honest outlook on life that drew us to him right away. As a grape grower and winemaker, we loved his commitment to dry farming his grapes (no irrigation) and the fact that 100% of his vines on the estate we visited are “own rooted” – no grafting of one grape varietal onto the roots of another type of grape. Jerry considers making wine a craft and respects the land and the fruit he picks. End result? Fantastic white and red wines. You can read our write-up on Jerry and his wines here: A Lot of Sass In Willamette Valley.
8. Hey let’s meet some Italian winemakers! One of the nights we were in Venice we arranged to meet with a dynamic duo, Roberto and Natalia from The Vinum Winery in Ortona, Italy. It was quite an experience sharing dinner with them at the famous Terraza Danieli restaurant overlooking the Grand Canal – and drinking some of their wines with dinner. They make a fantastic Prosecco as well as a number of other white and red wines; we managed to bring a case of their wine home with us and look forward to the day their wines are available here in the U.S. Our day in Venice, including dinner with Roberto and Natalia, can be found here: Why Is It So Hard To Keep A Secret?
9. What country is this? After leaving Venice, Italy on a Sunday in October we whisked our way north and east into what the wife thought was going to be more of Italy. We quietly crossed the border from Italy into Slovenia and ended up at the Kabaj Morel winery in the Goriška Brda region. We had probably the best overall wine tasting experience of our lives at Kabaj Morel; in fact, it is an insult to the experience to call it “wine tasting.” Our visit lasted 4 1/2 hours and consisted of a five-course lunch and drinking (not tasting) many of the Kabaj wines. Our stop at Kabaj was a top highlight on a trip of top highlights. You can read about our gluttonous feast here: Sneaking The Wife Across An International Border.
10. Last but not least. Our trip to Croatia was a major revelation in terms of our understanding and appreciation of wines from that region. Prior to the trip we had little exposure to Balkan wines, varietals and wine regions. We got a major education on Croatian wines during our visit to Basement Wine Bar in the capital, Zagreb. Based on what we learned at Basement, we structured some of our days in the rest of Croatia around tasting the local wines and even visiting one of Croatia’s most well-known regions, the Peljesac Peninsula. While there, we were able to visit Mike Grigich’s Croatian winery (Grgic Vina) which was a nice tie-in to our Father’s Day visit discussed above. Our Croatia adventure can be accessed here: I’ve a feeling we’re not in Croatia anymore.
Crafting this list was difficult as we have visited several dozen wineries this past year and consumed bottles from many more. Easily, we could have done a top 50 or maybe even a top 100, but we thought ten was a manageable number. We hope you enjoyed reminiscing about 2016 with us.
John & Irene Ingersoll
January 4, 2017