Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Ten Days in the Napa Valley

Ten Days in the Napa Valley
By Jim Bandy

Mark Porembsky of Zeitgeist Cellars

Like many of you, I have enjoyed Doug’s articles this year about wine with soul. It is certainly special when you connect with a wine that not only tastes good but also has a continuing connection to family, time, and place. In early November, after a three-year hiatus, Ralf and I joined a group of dear friends in Napa. As we revisited some favorites and explored new territory, it was terrific to find some incredible options where families remain committed to making wine that expresses both the vineyard and the vintage. Some were well-known names, while others were boutique labels. I am excited to share with you six of the best from our trip in hopes you may have a little more information when considering your next trip to Napa or a purchase of their wines.

Most of these photo credits go to Jill Smith-Ely who has a far better eye for these things than I.

Zeitgeist Cellars

I first met Mark Porembsky more than ten years ago on an earlier trip to Napa. He, along with his wife Jennifer Williams, are co-owners and winemakers of Zeitgeist Cellars. While they make wine for other well-respected labels, Zeitgeist is their family project. If you were one of the lucky people to recently purchase Band of Vintners Cabernet from Grapevine Cottage, you’ll see Mark’s name on the back. He was one of the founding members of the ‘Band’ and continues with the project to this day.

Mark and Jennifer began with a single Napa Cabernet and Trousseau Gris from Russian River Valley, one of the most interesting white wines I’ve ever had. They have since expanded to offer three single vineyard Cabs, a single-vineyard Cabernet Franc, and a delicious Chenin Blanc from St. Helena.

Mark was kind enough to meet our group in Yountville at Heron House, a boutique collective featuring small, family-owned Napa Valley wine projects, including Zeitgeist:  https://www.heronhouseyountville.comImpressed with their Napa Cabernet year after year, this was our first exposure to Zeitgeist single-vineyard wines. Jeb Dunnuck and Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate give all their Cabernets high marks, so I knew they would be good. What I didn’t know was just how good they would be. Sleek yet powerful was the phrase which kept coming to mind. My favorite among them was their Sleeping Lady Vineyard Cabernet from 2018. Dark fruits accompanied by baking spices – wow! This wasn’t just a fruit bomb, though. It has wonderful structure. As with Mark’s and Jennifer’s other wines, I believe even this knockout now will continue to improve with a few more years in bottle. Everything we tasted confirmed these were special wines from a special family whose skill and passion shine through in every bottle.

Frisinger Family Wines

When our friend Missy Frisinger learned there was a Frisinger Family Wine  in Napa, we had to check them out. Located in the Oak Knoll District, Jim Frisinger was a viticulturist for Beringer. After many years, the family winery was revived by his son Karl and his wife, Rachel. I was impressed with the quality of the wines we tasted. Karl hosted us at the winery, starting with a crisp, clean estate Chardonnay from 2017. Well-balanced with just the right hint of spice, this wine would complement food, but would equally be enjoyable on its own. We also tasted their Rosé of Grenache and Syrah as well as their Cabernet from Oak Knoll, both equally delicious. What stood out to me, though, was their single vineyard Malbec from the eastern hills of Napa. Malbec isn’t something that often calls out to me, but this one did. Medium-to-full-bodied, it was immediately clear this was Malbec from California and not from Argentina or France.

Silver Oak
Silver Oak was the reason why Ralf and I began traveling to Napa on a nearly annual basis. Ok, actually, our friend Jill was the reason, but her invitation to join her and her family in Napa was around the annual Silver Oak Napa release party. That ignited a longstanding love for the area and a deeper appreciation for its wines.

You may not think of Silver Oak as being a family operation, but it is. Today, Silver Oak is still owned and operated by the Duncan Family. Based in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Anderson Valley, and Willamette Valley, their brands also include Twomey, Ovid Napa Valley, and Timeless Napa Valley; each brand has a unique focus.

Our tasting included Silver Oak, Timeless, and Twomey at their beautiful Oakville property, although the newer facility in Healdsburg is on our list for next time. Silver Oak is, of course, known for its Cabernets from Napa and Alexander Valley. They are definitely different in their taste profiles as our side-by-side tasting confirmed. The 2016 Napa Valley Cab expressed dark fruit and silky tannins to deliver a lush mouthfeel. Just as delicious was the 2017 Alexander Valley. This wine offered a mix of red and black fruits and danced a little more lightly on my palate than did the Napa. While there were some similarities between the two, those tend to diverge with age, making each wine more distinct with the passing years.

Timeless was the first new label for the Duncan Family in 20 years. It’s a special wine made from a single vineyard which you can read more about here: We tasted the inaugural 2017 vintage; the 2018 has just been released. It’s not often that I struggle for words, but I did this time. It had the richness I had come to expect from Silver Oak but there was definitely more going on. This is a wine to linger over, but our time was quickly passing.

My favorite of their brands is Twomey This label focuses on Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir from three locations, a Rosé, and single-vineyard Napa Merlot. This time, we tasted their 2020 Estate Sauvignon Blanc which drinks like California sunshine in a glass! Of their Pinots we tasted the 2019 Russian River Valley, Alexander Valley, and Williamette Valley wines. The Russian River bottle was classic in its opulent palate. The Williamette Valley offered pleasant earthy notes which were less present in the other two. As with the Silver Oak Cab tasting, though, I preferred the Pinot Noir from Alexander Valley. It was one I could enjoy with food, on its own, or even chilled for an Indiana summer evening on the patio.

Thankfully, Grapevine Cottage has Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet, my favorite, in stock, as well as some special larger formats of Alexander Valley and Napa.

Next week, I will share three more ‘soulful’ wineries as well as a bit of our overall travel experience, which may help you plan your future visit.