The Wine Life: What I Am Drinking Now…

12/29/2019 9:19:03 AM

THE WINE LIFE | What I am Drinking Now…Cedar Knoll | Dec 26, 2019 | By Stanley Browne | Original Article

Founded in 1881 by Henry Hagen, a young entrepreneur who headed west in the 1850s amid the Gold Rush, Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery quickly established itself as notable, serving wine to San Francisco’s finest and even winning a silver medal for Hagen’s brandy in 1889 at the World’s Fair in Paris. The winery, one of Napa’s first, occupied the southern end of Napa along Mount George, on some 450 acres of hillside.

Grape: 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc

Location: Napa Valley, California

Owners: Julio and Amalia Palmaz

Winemaker: Mia Klein

Approximate Retail Price: $54


Tasting Notes:

Color: Intense crimson with slight amber hues, reflective and opaque

Aroma:Hint of pepper and leather encompassing dark cherry and raspberry with an underlying tone of dark chocolate

Taste: Intense, rewarding palate with a graceful balance of fruit and tannins and a finish that will have oenophiles rolling their eyes

After Hagen’s death in 1895, his family failed to share his passion for winemaking, and following the 1919 onset of Prohibition, the estate and winery fell into disrepair. Though others subsequently lived on the estate, the winery and vineyards became all but forgotten.

In 1996, Julio Palmaz (known in cardiology for inventing the Palmaz coronary stent) and his wife, Amalia, bought the estate after it had been on the market for 10 years. Julio Palmaz developed a passion for wine while completing his residency at the University of California, Davis, and, with his wife, finally realized his dream after obtaining the estate – despite being informed that, of its now 650 acres, only 8 were allowed to be planted to vine. The Palmazes contented themselves with that, as they intended only on something quaint and “boutique.”

Fortune again smiled on the couple while restoring the estate’s house, beneath which they discovered a hidden wine cellar and tasting room. Sealed and forgotten for some time, it remained almost perfectly preserved. The many artifacts in the cellar included maps of the estate from the 1880s that verified the locations of vineyards planted by Hagen, which gave the Palmazes the opportunity to work with Napa County and replant those sites, expanding the total acreage under vine to 65.

With this expansion of the vineyards – whose 24 blocks now range across three separate elevations (400, 1,200 and 1,400 feet), all with varying microclimates – the Palmazes built a winery using both cutting-edge technology and preserved traditional techniques. A scientific marvel, the complete winery has earned acclaim as one the greatest accomplishments in winemaking in the world.

Basing their winery on the “gravity fed” concept (a method whereby wine transfers between tanks and into barrels using natural gravity as opposed to pumps, which can aggravate or “shock” the wine), they built an incredible 18-story facility underground, now lovingly referred to as “The Cave.” Its 100,000 square feet-plus make it the largest wine cave in the Napa Valley. The couple’s website boasts an elaborate description of the facility, complete with step-by-step photos and videos.

The second wine from what has become Palmaz Winery, Cedar Knoll pays homage to Hagen. The label pictures him, and the design comes from the original 1889 barrel brander (also found in the lost cellar). Only 1,000 cases were produced, aging 18 months in 100 percent French oak. The extraordinary 2016 vintage stands out as one of the best wines of the vintage, also making it a true value against some of Napa’s more prominent wineries. A classic Napa Valley Bordeaux style, it can be drunk now or laid down for up to 15 years.

Food Pairings: Beef of all kinds (especially grilled), charcuterie, stew, shepherd’s pie, sautéed mushrooms, and mushroom risotto with truffles would pair quite nicely with this wine, as would chocolate-covered cherries.

Certified Sommelier Stanley Browne owns Robust Wine Bar in Webster Groves.