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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

VGS Chateau Potelle, a delightful, Avante Garde Approach to producing some very good...

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Have you ever had a wine tasting experience so wonderful you wish you could freeze it in time to revisit on a whim?  A short while ago, our host at Cardinale Winery, Jonathan Rivera, was so refined and knowledgeable I had to learn more about his previous training and was surprised to hear it was at a winery that was new to me: Chateau Potelle.   (BTW, here’s a video of his decanting showmanship.)  Since I had assumed he hailed from one of the more well-known, perhaps ostentatious, wineries and the fact that he spoke so highly of Chateau Potelle, it required further investigation...

On a beautiful sun-drenched summer’s day, after some pool time at Health Spa Napa Valley, we set out to find Chateau Potelle.  I noticed an unpresuming tasting room (one we had driven by unnoticed, countless times before) with a yellow door and French and American flags, located right alongside of Highway 29 en route to St Helena bearing the name “VGS Chateau Potelle.”   

Have you ever had an experience vastly exceed your expectations? From the moment I stepped through the garden gates and into the tasting room at Chateau Potelle, I knew that we were in for a uniquely refined yet playful experience. Near the entrance of the door was a very well behaved dog (statue) who I learned was named NS (no Sh**).  This name became even more comical after I inquired about the VGS acronym.  I won’t ruin the surprise, but let’s say two of the words are “very good” and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. The name of the winery however, is actually rooted in history and French wine tradition, named after the original 500+ year old Chateau Potelle in France.  This first impression foreshadowed my expectation that this wine would be so good that the winery could take liberties to be playful with something as audacious as it’s name! VGS has an ethos to “keep it simple: good things speak for themselves”.

In the same entry room  there is a whimsical “grape picking knife” art display hanging on the wall on the left as you enter the building. French artist who spent a week installing this at Chateau Potelle created it as a tribute to owner, Jean-Noel’s heritage; these knives were used in France during many harvests, the oldest said to be 400 years old! The artist added his own touch interspersing colorful plastic “knives” the real ones. Here was a second clue that the VGS brand is all about adding a fresh modern twist to tradition, being whimsical.  As we entered one of the private tasting rooms, I admired the table, which was a yellow door (covered with a glass overlay).  When Chateau Potelle was under construction, they painted the door yellow, but had no sign, so there was a lot of chatter surrounding which winery was opening.  To pay homage, they converted the old door into this table and now use it in the room dedicated to member tastings. A new yellow door, as well as those French and US flags beckon to folks passing along Highway 29.  This is a tasting room that reflects the style of the wines; elegant, restrained and and all details perfected. The experience is fun, relaxed and sometimes irreverent but never pretentious.

VGS Chateau Potelle was founded in 1983 by Jean-Noel & Marketta Fourmeaux (Jean-Noel is now sole proprietor). Jean-Noel and Marketta came to the Napa Valley in 1980 after the famous Paris tasting of 1976 on a “secret mission” from the French government to research Napa Wineries and report back on their findings. They fell in love with Napa and never returned to France, and instead opened their own winery. Their winery was located on Mt Veeder for many years until it was sold in 2007. Jean-Noel rebranded Chateau Potelle, and decided to scale production down, going from around 20,000 cases to about 3,500 cases today, sourced from new vineyards (primarily hillsides).

Jean-Noel takes a minimalist approach to the wines, using natural yeasts, and highlighting the fruit from the mountain vineyards where the wines originate from rather than heavily oaking the wines. This lends to wines that are ageable, nuanced, yet still food friendly.

And for folks looking for the ultimate food and wine experience, this is THE PLACE to visit.  Jean-Noel is also a part-owner of the famed La Toque restaurant, and tastings here are paired with delicious small plates prepared by La Toque Restaurant. The food pairings are hand selected to match each of the wines served, and delivered to the winery daily first thing in the morning.  The pairings are petite and packed with flavor and complement the wines beautifully. Jean-Noel believes both with food and wine, quality and simplicity are best, less is more. Ingredients should be respected and celebrated, not masked or covered up.

Tastings at Chateau Potelle are offered in two locations; by appointment for serious wine enthusiasts during good weather months, guests may visit the Mt. Veeder appellation next to a small redwood grove adjoining the primary vineyard. VGS has partnered with several restaurants to offer premium lunches including their Epicurean experience in which guests are served a 5 course lunch from La Toque, or guests may choose lunch menus from the Oakville Grocery or from Morimoto, another famous Napa Restaurant.

This elegant, tasting room that we visited, located along Highway 29, just south of St. Helena opened in April 2013. Several rooms are available for intimate tastings; guests can also can also stop by for a walk-in tasting at a tasting bar set near the main entrance. If the weather is warm, it’s a special treat to taste outside in their small garden courtyard area. Though it’s merely steps from the Napa Wine train tracks, a trickling water fountain, garden roses, and white chandeliers that hang from the yellow overhang embody a French garden party and it is quite serene. Our kind and expert host, Matthew Regan, engaged us during a perfect Monday afternoon and I can honestly say, the experienced was phenomenal. For such refined and complex wines, everything from the whimsical environment to the way the pairing were plated, to the jovial personality exuded by Matthew, left a smile on our faces. I would recommend this winery to anyone and everyone.  To schedule an appointment, visit www.vgschateaupotelle.com

Tasting Notes:

VGS label wines:

2010 Zinfandel:  This mountain grown wine has an elegant, rich aromatic bouquet including red fruits and notes of mocha. Wine Enthusiast Magazine proclaimed “VGS Chateau Potelle is THE winery that changed the way Zinfandel is made inAmerica.” Elegant, round and balanced. Loaded with raspberry, blackberry and mandarin with lots of spices, zests and vanilla nuances. Zinfandel with a French accent!

2007 Cabernet Sauvignon: The fruit for this wine comes from about 1600 to 1800 feet on Mt. Veeder. Rather they are well integrated and for a relatively young wine, is already fairly well balanced.  The Cabernet is rounded out by Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot. So complex and rich with layers of ripe red berries and spices.  A wine of elegance, depth and character. Beautiful now and will age beautifully for years to come.

VGS Explorer series: (unique blends and varietals)

2010 VGS Explorer Sauvignon Blanc:
Beautiful fresh aromas of nectarines, pear tart and apricot.  Slight oak nuances. Blend complemented with a touch of Semillon which helps round out the mid palate and adds additional weight and floral characteristics to the bouquet.

VGS Explorer 2007 “The Illegitimate” (unique blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel and Syrah).
The Zinfandel certainly makes its presence known in the bouquet – rich and ripe and the fruit dominates with undertones of cedar. The entry is soft and the mouth feel plush and rounded with notes of red fruit including red cherry and cranberry. The tannins carry some weight through a long finish.

2013 Riviera Rose:
A Cinsault and Syrah rose of great complexity, length and substance emulating the premier rose of the South of France. Close your eyes and hear the delicate lapping waves of the Mediterranean.


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