Travel, Etc. --> Chateau Potelle
Sonoma and Napa Spring Break Tour 2005 III
Chateau Potelle - A day on Mount Veeder
We spent the afternoon of our second day at Chateau Potelle on Mt. Veeder, 1,800 feet above the Napa Valley floor. Aside from having one of the most beautiful settings in California, they make some of the best Chardonnay, Cabernet and Zinfandel in California. Here are some insights into how they do it...
At the top of the Oakville Grade, you can make a left turn onto Mt. Veeder road that will take you up the mountain to the Chateau Potelle winery. At the end of a very long and winding uphill driveway, you will find one of the most beautiful scenes imaginable. A winery and home are nestled there surrounded by arrow straight rows of grapevines that undulate down the mountainside. This pastoral setting is what Jean-Noel Foureaux and is wife Marketta fell in love with when they first visited the Napa Valley in 1980.
They had come to California as Official wine tasters for the French Government to learn about California winemaking and vineyard management. After six months of visiting wineries, they sent a telegram home saying "looks good, we stay." They returned to France, packed up their family and moved to California in 1983. In 1988 they finally found their spot, 202 acres perched 1,800 feet up Mt. Veeder overlooking the valley below.
Marketta does the winemaking and she and her assistant, a young winemaker from France, produce about 25,000 cases of estate grown wine a year. Over the last 17 years, the combination of Marketta's elegant winemaking and the intensity of their mountain fruit have placed their Chardonnays, Zinfandels and Cabernets among the most acclaimed wines in California.
Jean-Noel and Marketta were traveling when we visited so we were greeted by Marketta's assistant, Yannick Rousseau, when when we arrived. On the walk down to the winery we learned that Yannick trained in Toulouse in Southern France and is continuing to gain experience here. After visiting Hendry Ranch that morning, seeing Château Potelle's winery was a bit of culture shock... once again reminding us that there are as many ways to make great wine as there are great winemakers.
The Hendry winery, designed by a very methodical engineer/scientist, was spotlessly clean, precisely organized and a little reminiscent of a laboratory. Chateau Potelle's winery was cluttered, a little messy and very eclectic with barrels stacked to the ceilings and crowded into every corner. Yannick knew what was in every one though and proceeded to explain Chateau Potelle's winemaking style. These wines are truly hand made in a very European tradition. The vineyards are dry farmed on the sunny slopes above the fog of the valley. The exceptional drainage stresses the vines and produces yields of only 2 to 3 tons per acre of very intense grapes.
In the winery, only the natural yeasts present on the grapes is used in fermentation and the wines are bottled unfiltered. Unfiltered wines must be racked, transferred from one barrel to another, to leave the lees and sediment behind. This racking is done gently, without the use of pumps to move the wine. A laborious process, when you consider that a pump could do the job and a matter of minutes.
Lacking a two story winery, Chateau Potelle uses an ingenious system, using two forklifts to rack two barrels at a time. One forklift places a pallet with two empty barrels on the ground and a second forklift raises two full barrels 12 feet in the air so the wine will drain from the higher barrels to the lower ones via gravity. We didn't ask if they had ever dropped one...
As always, the proof was in the tasting, and taste we did. Yannick climbed like a monkey through the barrel stacks with his wine thief letting us sample the wines from the different bocks of the vineyards that will later be blended to produce the final wine. He says he sometimes tastes from over 50 barrels a day looking for they precise moment when each individual barrel is ready. If you ever have an opportunity to barrel taste don't miss it. It really gives you an understand of how important blending is to the whole winemaking process. We tasted from 8 different barrels of Cabernet and Zinfandel and each one had its own individual character. The barrels add their own character based upon the level to which they have been toasted, whether they are French or American oak and whether they are new or have been used before. Some were more tannic, some softer, some with more acidity... the winemakers challenge is to blend them into a harmonious finished product.
As I said in the beginning the setting is simply breathtaking. So, if you make the trek up Mt. Veeder, consider bringing a picnic lunch along. The tiny tasting room is perched above the vineyards and winery and has a deck with picnic tables overlooking the valley below. And, the Oakville Grocery and Dean and Deluca's are not far from the beginning of the Oakville Grade back at Highway 29, so you can pick lunch up on the way.
When we returned to the tasting room they had laid out fresh French bread, brie, proscuitto and some wonderful pastries from the Oakville Grocery for us. That and a glass of their VGS Chardonnay overlooking the valley made for one of the nicest picnics in my memory.
Chateau Potelle Winery
3875 Mt. Veeder Road
Napa, CA 94558
Wine Guy Reviews
When you look in the dictionary under Napa Chardonnay it says: see Chateau Potelle
Chateau Pottelle VGS Chardonnay 2002 Mount Veeder, Napa, California $35
We Bought a Bunch $24.99
What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Enthusiast: 93 Points This huge wine captures the essence of mountain fruit. Dense and concentrated in ripe pear, tropical fruit and spice flavors, it also oozes elaborate honey, marzipan and buttered toast from oak. Has the weight and intensity of a great white Burgundy.
What We Thought: Here is another Chardonnay that reminds me of my first ripe, juicy French Pear. A nose of butterscotch, pears and subtle smoke give way to a buttery, rich and viscous palate of more ripe pears and butterscotch. Velvety-smooth, this is a fabulous glass all by itself. And, while it may not complement simple grilled fish, try it with something rich and creamy like king crab with drawn butter or fettuccini Alfredo.
Unquestionably one of California's finest Zinfandels...
Chateau Pottelle VGS Zinfandel 2002 Mount Veeder, Napa, California $49
What the Wine Critics Thought: Wine Enthusiast: 93 Points Always among the most elegant and claret-like Zins, this mountain beauty seems to express the French attitude of Potelle’s owners. Graceful and harmonious despite the power: the plum, blackberry and herb flavors have been crafted into a taut, ageable wine.
What We Thought: An elegant food friendly Zinfandel with a spicy nose of ripe plums tinged with allspice and nutmeg. This is nice rich fruit done in a restrained style with a full-bodied palate of brambly, dark fruit with a light carmel undertones.
May 4, 2005