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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

Blackbird Vineyards - You were always waiting for this moment...

Thursday, December 4, 2014
The Experience:
I’ve visited both tasting locations for Blackbird Vineyards, the label for boutique, premium, Pomerol-inspired wines and found them equally enjoyable and unique in their own way. The more well-known location to taste these wines is at Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley - a collective wine, art and design gallery located at 6711 Washington Street in downtown Yountville. Ma(i)sonry makes an aesthetic statement, housed in a historic 1904 stone building that was restored in 2008 by Blackbird Vineyards’ Founder Michael Polenske.  The property also includes a picturesque outdoor sculpture garden that catches the attention of all who pass by and the name Ma(i)sonry is fitting, meaning “A setting in which people come to be inspired by all things aesthetic”.   Here, it’s all about the lifestyle experience of Napa Valley featuring a gallery of unique, high end art and furnishings that guests can appreciate or acquire.  For the most well-rounded experience, select from an indoor or outdoor tasting location to taste through Blackbird wines. Bonus: try additional wines from the rotating collection of limited-production wines featured in partnership with Ma(i)sonry.

For a more exclusive, private experience that focuses solely on the Blackbird wine portfolio, tastings are available upon request at the Blackbird Vineyards Oak Knoll House. The Oak Knoll House is cozy, furnished in the “Napa Chic” Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley aesthetic. Llocated on Blackbird’s estate vineyard in the heart of the Napa Valley, the Oak Knoll District is planted primarily with Merlot, the base of Blackbird wines.  Jonathan Henson manages all private Blackbird wine tastings and will prepare a private tasting for your party in the sitting room of the Oak Knoll House where you can look out on the estate vineyards while tasting through the Blackbird portfolio of wines, (and even sample a couple of wines from the Mendoza-based Recuerdo collection).

The Team: Key Players: 
Michael Polenske, leads the force as the creative director, chairman and founder of Bespoke Collection (which includes Blackbird Vineyards as well as Recuerdo wine portfolios).  After 20 years of investment management, Michael’s shifted his focus to “the business of leisure”, which includes acquiring Blackbird Vineyards in 2003 and turning it into an ultra-premium label. He also curates the art, furnishings and wines at Ma(i)sonry and is philanthropically active as a founding board member of Festival Del Sole Napa Valley, which celebrates the art of life with components of music, art, food and wine.

Paul Leary joined Blackbird Vineyards, as President in 2006 and was instrumental in the
launch of Ma(i)sonry in 2008. Leary also established the Mendoza, Argentina partnership with The Vines of Mendoza in 2011 to launch Recuerdo Wines.  It’s no surprise; as a Napa Valley entrepreneur and senior executive, Mr. Leary worked previously at the well-known Duckhorn Wine Company, and is a current board director of the Napa Valley Vintners.   His focus is on niche marketing, client relationships and maximizing peer-to-peer referrals. “It’s up to us to create the experience and then to let our consumers tell the story,” Leary says.

Acclaimed winemaker Aaron Pott studied oenology at the UC Davis, working part-time in the research laboratory at Robert Mondavi Winery before completing his education with a master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France.  Pott eventually became winemaker and general manager of Château La Tour Figeac Grand Cru Classé St. Emilion before returning to the States where he held positions at Beringer as a winemaker for the company’s international brands and later worked as winemaker and general manager at Quintessa. In 2007, Pott formed “Pott Wines” and now consults for a limited quantity of notable producers, including Blackbird, as well as making wines of his own. As Blackbird wines indicate, Pott was named “Winemaker of the Year” by Food & Wine magazine in November, 2012.

The Wines: 
The word Merlot means “Little Blackbird” and the Blackbird wine portfolio focuses 100% on Merlot-Based Bordeaux Blend varietals (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc). The collection also features a unique, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon-based Rose, Arriviste, which can be served year round (think summer picnics and festive winter holiday parties). Arise is the well-structured red proprietary blend and every vintage of this Bordeaux-inspired blend made from the most exceptional fruit and blended to lithe, luscious perfection. The memorable label of Arise features blackbirds sitting on wires that if viewed as notes on sheet music make up the first line of the Beatles song, “Blackbird”.  The three other Blackbird proprietary Bordeaux blends, Illustration, Paramour and Contrarian feature grapes from the same premium vineyard blocks, but blended in different percentages; Illustration has the highest percentage Merlot, Paramour has the highest percentage Cabernet Franc, and Contrarian has a relatively even blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Be sure to also taste the Recuerdo wine portfolio which is a new venture being undertaken by the team producing wines from Argentina’s Mendoza region that will please your palate and your wallet.

The Credo: 
One expression that is shared by Blackbird, along with life Ma(i)sonry Napa Valley is ‘A life Aesthetic’ focused on the famous Napa lifestyle.  Everything that Michael Polenske and the team at Bespoke Collection does is at the hand of an artisan and offers ultra premium, unique and curated experiences.  Ma(i)sonry frequently hosts events that feature artisans, and Blackbird supports many local and national philanthropic organizations. An entire page on the Blackbird website is dedicated to connecting Blackbird fans to their “friends of Blackbird”, featuring a lengthy list of partners and affiliates, from private clubs to tourism and festivals to lifestyle brands.  For the coming year, the big focus at Blackbird is on their 10 year anniversary with the release of the special “Denary Cuvee”. The bottle featured blackbird wings in the shape of an “X” for the ten year anniversary, and is made from just a handful of the most top-tier barrels of grapes hand selected by winemaker, Aaron Potts.

Fun Facts and Unique Offerings: 
It was less than serendipitous that Blackbird Winery was founded in 2003, right before the movie Sideways, which notoriously led to a decrease in Merlot consumption in the US since the main character disparages the varietal, came out in theaters (2004). However, Michael Polenske was undeterred and chose not to change the course of the winery’s production and even infused a bit of humor into the situation, obtaining a license plate emblazoned with “f’ing merlot”.  While arguable the more popular crown preference is for Left Bank Bordeaux Blends which feature Cabernet Sauvignon as the “star” varietal, Michael had always preferred the Merlot-based Pomerol blends, and after tasting these wines, it’s easy to see how turn the Sideways theory over on its head. For anyone who loves Merlot, this is the premier destination for tasting some of Napa’s finest. It’s also a great place to visit for Bordeaux fans who can taste through the four proprietary blends and compare notes and preferences on the wines made with Merlot in varying percentages compared to the other two blended varietals, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc.

Visit Details: 
Guests are welcome to peruse Ma(i)sonry’s galleries seven days a week, from 11am - 4:30 pm with seasonal evening appointments until 9 p.m. Reservations can be made online here. Walk-in’s accepted based on availability and reservations for 6 or more guests are required.
To taste at the Oak Knoll Blackbird Vineyards House, reservations are required and very limited - call in advance to request availability. Contact Jonathan Henson at (707) 287-9799 or at Jonathan.Henson@Blackbirdvineyards.com.

Decantress Favorite Wine Pick: 2011 Paramour
I love this wine as I adore the somewhat herbaceous qualities of Cabernet Franc, which dominates this blend and gives it commanding structure, and the Merlot smooths out the wine giving is a sensual silky quality that is graceful and irresistible. The 2011 blend comprised of 71% Cabernet Franc, 19% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and oozes passion.  In winemaker, Aaron Pott’s words: “The 2011 Paramour offers exquisite aromas of blackberry, blueberry and tobacco. This authentic expression of Cabernet Franc showcases textured layers of chocolate and nutmeg, combined with fine-grained tannin and cedar overlay. The supple finish is round and balanced, providing persistent length of flavor. Paramour will continue to develop with time in the bottle for the next decade or more. The cooler-than-normal 2011 Napa Valley grape-growing season concluded in an expedited harvest. The outcome was a vintage with flavors developed at lower brix, resulting in truly elegant wines with European-style texture and great complexity."


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