Yesterday I took advantage of my new found freedom and made a road trip to Napa with The Sommelier. I realized what had been missing from my life for so long, and it wasn’t wine. More on that later.
The Sommelier is big on freebees. Generally, I could give a damn, I’d rather sit down, pay for it and move on than run around trying to find the guy, blah blah blah. Well, since I don’t know where my next paycheck is coming from, free was looking pretty sweet. First stop Sunshine Foods. Sunshine Foods is where all of the chefs of Napa County go to get their produce every morning. To me it was like going to Mecca. One of the owners had been in to The Sommelier’s restaurant. He didn’t have a business card on him so he gave her a post-it note that said “Lunch for 4” and had his signature. Well, he wasn’t around yesterday, but his floor manager looked and said “Yeah, that’s his scrawny writing” and comped us lunch. We had a sandwich called “The Bomb”. Holy crap, what a sandwich it was. On a crinkle roll it had tri-tip, avocado, bacon, lettuce and tomato. It wasn’t a taste of avocado, it was a thick layer. The tri-tip was fresh, moist and flavorful. They used that maple smoked bacon and it was thick sliced. It was one of the best sandwiches I’ve had in years. Not your Body for Life sandwich, that’s for sure, but for a free day, a spectacular offering. We also got a pint of their asiago pasta salad. It was just right. Pasta and olives in a very gentle cheese based dressing. If I had a choice in the future of stopping at Dean and DeLuca for lunch or Sunshine Foods, I’d go to Sunshine Foods, which is the point of comping a bartender lunch on the back of a post-it.
Next stop, Freemark Abbey. I had some wine to pick up there. I got a Bootleg Cab and a Petite Syrah. A couple of years ago, Freemark Abbey went into bankruptcy. I was very concerned about what was going to happen. It was followed by the winery being sold. That concerned me even more. I didn’t want it bought up by a big conglomerate like Constellation. Yesterday, I asked who bought it. It was Jess Jackson. This makes me happy. Jess Jackson is the Jackson in Kendall Jackson. You may raise your eyebrows, but you can’t argue with that reserve chardonnay that they make. There’s a wine you can walk into any supermarket, pick up a bottle for around $12 bucks and take it to a gathering and know that it will be enjoyed. It’s your go to guy for a summer wine. You can bring it knowing that you won’t cringe if somebody’s Aunt Julia pours 7-up into it, hell you only paid 12 bucks for it. Back to Freemark Abbey. I knew Ted Edwards and Tim Bell were still there, which was a good thing. Ted has been guiding Freemark Abbey’s program for many years, first as the winemaker and now the wine director. Tim Bell has been the winemaker for many years. The wine is still as consistent as it’s been for all the years that I’ve been in the fold. They (not Ted and Bill, but Freemark Abbey) had an entry in the 1976 Judgement in Paris, and they beat their French counterpart. They have been making solid wine without buying into the California “big” thing for years. First stop, a success. The Sommelier really liked the Viognier. We had a 1990 Bosche along with the 2003 Bosche. That wine just ages so nicely. The 1990 was elegant, still had good fruit, beautiful soft tannins and lovely mouthfeel. I had the whole $140 worth of love for it. I just didn’t have the $140.
Next stop Alpha Omega. I’d never been there although I’d seen their wines on wine lists and in stores. I will not skip over one of their wines again. They’re only two years old but they are doing amazing things. The place was a mess as they had just moved into their new tasting room and it wasn’t really finished. Mess aside, their wine list didn’t have a weak link. Winemaker Jean Hoefliger did not miss a thing. The chardonnay was an European style, which is what I like. I picked up some banana on the nose, which is unusual and kind of fun. Not on the palate at all. It was a gentle citrus, well balances with a hint of honey. Just a gorgeous little wine. Next up, the Rose. It is a Bordeaux styled Rose. They’ve just started doing these in California, or at least just started marketing them and I really like what’s happening. This had a white chocolate covered strawberry thing going on that was delightful. We moved on to the 2004 Cab. I would have bought this one if I had a job. Well balanced and well priced, the notes said Kirsch and marzipan. Jean Hoefliger is Swiss and insists on using European words to describe his wine. Having lived in Germany, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Cherries and almonds. There’s also a dried blueberry thing going on with this wine. Very gentle tannins for a beautiful mouthfeel. This thing will age beautifully. Jean Hoefliger was hanging around and took me to secret barrel No. E. He pulled out a taste for himself and then handed me the glass. It’s the 2006, 92% Cab. I said “I see where you’re going with this”. “Really?”, he beamed. “Absolutely, I can’t described it, but you nailed it.” He doesn’t know me from Adam and who knows if my opinion counts or not, but it was a fun exchange. We also had the Proprietary blend. To be called a Cab you have to have 70% cabernet sauvignon grapes. This has 69%. It was a little jammier than his other wines, but well balanced with tobacco on the back end. Not a miss in their line up.
Next stop Opus One. Someone in the know had stopped into the Sommelier’s restaurant and hooked us up with the full Monty. After fifteen minutes I knew what has been missing from my business life. The desire to excel. The corporation wants to excel on Wall Street without excelling in the market place. It may work in the short run, but it’s not possible for sustained period of time. I’ve spent the last year patching up slop from Bangalore and Roseville. Stuff that real title people who really knew what they were doing would never have done. But those guys are out of work. The procedure in Bangalore is to show any document that affects the property. I can’t tell you how many notices of mergers and self terminating documents I removed from reports. I can’t tell you how many times a paralegal asked me why it was shown when it didn’t affect the title. I can’t tell you how many creative ways I can answer that question without saying “because we’re stupid.” We spent 15 minutes in the lab with John the Enologist while Keith our tour guide explained the process that Opus goes through to select corks. Yeah, corks. Say you spend millions of dollars for the best grapes, you hand sort everything numerous times, every step of the winemaking process is done by hand and then your close this beautiful product with a crap cork and sell it for $180 a bottle. The customer opens the product and it’s corked. What does that do to your name? John the Enologist recognizes this and goes to great lengths to get these beautiful bottles proper closure. Their cost per cork is around $2 right now. His process for testing and selecting corks is very interesting. The corked wine rate per bottle is 30 to 1 industry wide. Opus’ rate is 4000 to 1. That’s impressive. Opus is an amazing project by the two giants of wine, Robert Mondavi and Baron Phillipe Rothchild. Not one detail is overlooked. Every single step of the winemaking process is perfected there. The building is as impressive as the wine. The thing I noticed was how immaculate everything was. Not a dust bunny or a missed corner to be had. They have one product. Opus One. The 2004 version is a Napa styled wine. It has that bigness going on, but it follows with a subtleness that’s interesting. We were lucky yesterday as they had a 2001 open. It ages beautifully and becomes, if this is possible, more elegant with time. They also had a 2005 open. It’s not released yet. We got a sneak preview. You’re going to like it, trust me.
It did my battered soul good to see excellence in practice in a business. This country has been so slipshod in it’s approach to anything in recent years that I wondered if any body cared if anything was done right the first time any more. It was nice to see something as large as Opus doing every single step methodically and correctly. It’s good to know that there is still a place in the world for perfection.