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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Vineyard 29 - Not Your $2 Buck Chuck.

Monday, November 29, 2010
On a rainy Saturday in November, most people wouldn’t consider driving up to Wine Country. But here’s a secret – driving through red and golden vineyards to taste firstrate unreleased wines in a cozy winery’s ultra-chic tasting room is the quintessential rainy day activity. We pulled up the gated entrance of address 2929 in St. Helena off of Highway 29 (even the address is impossibly perfect) and parked in front of a beautiful modern winery, where cypress trees and red vines framed the structurally interesting angular winery a wall of glass windows that showed the red-hues modern art lining the interior. We were greeted with impeccable hospitality and invited to make ourselves comfortable and enjoy our surroundings – I was instantly drawn to the numerous collages, photos, paintings, and array of artful “thank-you” gestures from charities that the winery supports at hosted events on a regular basis.

Suddenly, the doors in front of us parted and we were ushered into an executive boardroom. Here, a few other private guests were seated on sleek chairs at a massive wooden table overlooking a wall of glass windows that looked out over the rain falling on the vineyard below. Here, we were greeted by Austin, Vineyard 29’s charismatic Director of Hospitality, swirling a decanter of white wine in front of a second decanter of red set out on the table before us. Austin spoke with the same confidence he exuded, as he told us about the history of Vineyard 29 and its owners, Chuck and Anne McMinn. From the decanter, he poured an interesting Sauvignon Blanc, which was cloudy (unfiltered) and slightly oaked, lending little evidence of its varietal except for its high acidity and citrus notes. It was a delightful wine – smooth despite the high acid, hints of vanilla and balanced fruit and I honestly would have guessed it was a Chardonnay. Next, we were poured the unreleased, 2009 Cru Cabernet Sauvignon, which already tasted like velvet. Though age would further soften the supple tannins, it was surprisingly smooth and brimming with vanilla crème brulee, dark cherry, and chocolate notes with a long, dark, lingering finish. The Cru Cab is made from 6 Vineyards, indicated by clean line of 6 gold dots that are the only illustration on the striking black bottle with “Vineyard 29” written in bright red script.

From the ceiling of the boardroom, a screen appeared and we had the opportunity to view a short film about the wine growing and making process instated at Vineyard 29. Chuck worked for many years as a High Tech executive, and his Silicon Valley background shines in his winemaking. Gadgets measure the water flow levels through his vines to determine exactly when and how much to water them and when to harvest them at the perfect time. From the video, it became evident that Vineyard 29 grapes are treated with more care than any grapes I’ve ever seen. They are picked in smaller boxes during the harvest, so as not to bruise and cut the skin – because the minute the skin of the grape breaks, fermentation begins. Then, only the perfect grapes are hand-picked off a conveyer belt to make it to the barrel. The winery is so adamant on not bruising the grape juice, that it uses all gravity flow to move the juice. The grapes are not pressed – their weight alone produces the free-run juice which is typically then pumped out of the bottom of the large barrels back on top- but at Vineyard 29, an elevator actually lifts the barrels up to a higher story and the wine is then drained by gravity through a tube into a new barrel below. During fermentation, the juice alternates being fermented in new oak, stainless steel, and even large cement tanks, which apparently allow trace amounts of oxygen in, helping to preserve the wine’s beautiful garnet -ruby color. Once it’s time for the wine to be moved into smaller barrels, tubes are run through the cave walls and wine is gravity fed through tubes into each individual barrel.

Let's just say that Chuck and staff are 100% dedicated to make the greatest wine – at literally any cost – this is no $2 buck chuck.
We toured the pristine winery, winding through the barrel-lined caves; the red wines are aged in barrels from 15 different coopers to produce a subtle blend of flavor elements in the wine. At the end of one cave tunnel, we alighted at a spectacular 250,000-bottle cellar/tasting room, decorated with a stellar Riedel collection and large format bottles of Vineyard 29. Austin, a former professional chef, invited us to sit down at the gorgeous round tasting table, where he served us an elegant presentation of food pairings. The pairings and wines were so perfectly matched, we spent over an hour savoring them. My tasting notes are below:

2008 Vineyard 29 Estate Blanc:
The nose is perfumed with white flowers and honeydew, and the taste confirms the melon, with sweet grapefruit and white peaches. There is a richness alluding to roasted, caramelized pineapple, but the bright acid is refreshingly crisp and vibrant on the palette.

2008 Vineyard 29 Aida Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
This beautiful, luscious Cab smells and tastes like a chocolate dipped dried cherries, soaked in black fruit liquor of blackberry and cassis. A lingering finish that carries you through a symphony of fruits – cranberry and plum, and milk chocolate – balanced and smooth.

2010 Vineyard 29 Aida Late Harvest Zinfandel
This wine is 18% alcohol and unique as it can be served as a dessert wine but manages to avoid overly syrupy viscosity. Toffee, caramel, toasted coconut, and candied cherries, melt into layers of mulled prunes and figs, event hints of blueberries.

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