California, day 5, in Napa

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The final full day of our California trip was a little less frantic than the rest of the itinerary, with just one lunch visit and one dinner visit. This left some time for important things like catching up on emails, sleep, and beer at Ana’s Cantina in St Helena (somewhere I’d spent quite a bit of time at on last September’s Napa trip).

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Lunch was at Rutherford Hill, with John Terlato and winemaker Marisa Taylor. The Rutherford Hill project was originally a sort of cooperative, started by Bill Jaeger in 1976. Jaeger put together a consortium of about 20 growers in the Rutherford district, and they established a reputation for their Merlots.

The Terlatos had been representing Rutherford Hill, and after a while they saw that this was a project that needed some investment. By the mid 1980s the wheels were coming off a bit, and the Terlatos helped turn things around. The growers had begun shifting their best Merlot to other wineries because it was in demand, and so almost imperceptibly the quality of the Rutherford Hill Merlots had been going down.

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Then the 20 growers decided they wanted to sell. So, in order to protect their investments, the Terlatos decided to buy the winery. This was in 1996. The first thing they did was to sell off a lot of wine that they didn’t think was of the right quality. Tony Terlato had been dealing with growers in Europe and was used to telling wineries that if they want to participate on the world stage they needed to make better wine. So he said: the whole world will look at what we are doing here. It was vital that the first Terlato-era wines from Rutherford Hill were really good.

Subsequently, the Terlatos added further wineries to their portfolio. In 2000, Chimney Rock was acquired, and two years later Sanford. This gives them a nice spread of wine styles. In addition to these three properties, they also make wines under the Terlato Family Vineyards label.

The Rutherford Hill reds are pretty good, and they show that Merlot isn’t just a bit part player in Napa. It’s a variety that struggles with a sort of second-rate reputation, in part because of the role it plays on the left bank in Bordeaux. I also liked the Cabernet Franc. Of the Terlato Family Vineyards wines, the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was lovely. The trio of Devils’, Cardinals’ and Angels’ Peak reds are also pretty solid, and they aren’t crazy expensive.

Stefano Miotti

Stefano Miotti

Then, after some beer at Ana’s with Oz and Chuck, it was time for dinner. We ate at Ca’Momi, which as well as being a restaurant, is also a wine brand. The story here is a good one. Stefano Miotti (our host) and Dari de Conti moved to the USA from Italy in the early 1990s and set up a thriving wine consultancy business, specialising in cross-flow filtration technology from Italy. Having the consultancy business gave them an entrance from the back when it came to sourcing fruit for their own brand, which began in 2006.

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The food at Ca’Momi is excellent, and we had a lot of it. Pretty much the entire menu. And we tried quite a few wines, too. This is spot-on commercial winemaking. The Ca’Secco is a Prosecco taste-alike that is very convincing, primarily fashioned from Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc with a touch of Muscat. The Bianco and Rosso are both immediately delicious with sweet fruit. The Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel share the same fruit sweetness, and are very accessible. I really liked the handcrafted vodka, which is distilled from Napa Valley grapes and which has interesting, slightly grapey flavours and some nuttiness.

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