Thursday, July 29, 2010

One to Watch: Virage Vineyards

I stumbled across an interesting new producer by the name of Virage Vineyards that is apparently following in the footsteps of the defunct Havens Cellars. Normally Napa projects follow some basic formula: wealthy investor wants to make trophy wine, overspends on land and McChateau, hires many top consultants, ignores these costs, makes a small production cult-style Cabernet Sauvignon. This one's a bit different, though. An investment banker named Emily--as relayed via the Virage blog--tasted the 2004 Havens Bourriquot and was hooked. Fast forward a few years and she's put together a project with a sensible business plan geared to produce a Cab Franc-based blend from the same vineyards in Carneros Havens used before going bankrupt. I'm liking the idea already, and there's even a well-known Napa winemakers with experience in St. Emilion, Aaron Pott, helming the winemaking portion of the project.

Clearly this isn't going to be a cheap wine. Sourcing excellent fruit, hiring a winemaker and renting space at a winery is definitely not cheap. But there also seems to be a focus on balancing costs to produce a wine whose quality is commensurate to its price. That's a worthy cause, especially when the stylistic goal is complexity over pure power.

There's a nice post on the Virage blog summarizing a wide array of Napa Cab Franc-based wines. A lot of these wines, quite frankly, are out of a sensible price range as dinner beverages, though they probably are aiming for a different purpose anyway. But this tasting offers a nice window into the range of styles available from Napa. I think it confirms what I've suspected all along. From a stylistic point of view, the cooler Carneros based wines are more likely to bring the freshness and complexity I crave from Franc. The more expensive wines tend to be more heavily oaked, though perhaps this could integrate with time. Northern Napa Cab Francs with heavy oak and big bodies are probably not something I'll seek out as the descriptions seem as if they could apply to any ripe Bordeaux blend.


Emily Richer said...

Thanks Greg. Kind words.

We plan to release Virage Napa Valley at $45, and I will definitely offer case-pricing to get this wine JUST under $40/bottle for list members. Selling primarily direct-to-consumer is another way I'm keeping things balanced. (Plus I love talking to consumers and struggle to understand trade expectations.)

I like to call myself an investment banker turned right banker, but along the way I graduated from the CIA culinary program and put in 12 years in the wine business, as a strategic planner for wineries & growers. I started out studying, writing, and working with Karen MacNeil, who is fabulous, and who taught me to appreciate wine as a product of place.

As a food&wine junkie, and having a low alcohol tolerance (cheap date!), I often prefer expressions of cooler places --German rieslings and NZ sauvignon blancs, Sonoma Coast pinot, etc.

We 'virageistes' definitely seek to follow the cool-climate model you describe, aspiring to complexity...

I think you'll love the 2007.

Matt Mauldin said...

I never tasted the Havens Cab Franc. The closest to Carneros I've had a Cab Franc from is Gundlach Bundschu- I remember liking it but had tasted a bunch of wines that day. I'll look forward to following Virage and hopefully tasting soon.

Unknown said...

Great breakdown. It's definitely not a cheap endeavor that Emily has undertaken with Virage, but she certainly has the sensibility and practicality to make this a great wine and a profitable business venture. It'll be fun to watch!

Not sure if you've already seen this, but I had a chance to interview Emily about her love for right bank styled, Cab Franc blends. She's a sweetheart, making her an easy person to cheer for and support!