GuildSomm: Directions in Napa Winemaking

In the time since I moved to Napa Valley nearly seven years ago, a great many things have changed. Shortly after my arrival, Robert Parker ended his decades-long tenure as the preeminent California wine critic and passed the reins to his then-heir apparent Antonio Galloni. A few years later, the pieces shuffled again when Parker sold a majority stake of The Wine Advocate, causing Galloni to start his own publication, thereby prompting Parker to return to California. Concurrent to all this, Jon Bonné’s work in the San Francisco Chronicle led to his groundbreaking book The New California Wine, which celebrated a shifting set of priorities among the Golden State’s emerging generation of winemakers. In Pursuit of Balance (IPOB) came next, traveling internationally to promote freshness and restraint in California wine (at least for Burgundian varieties) and bringing considerable attention to the topic of alcohol levels. Across the country and abroad, an interest in California’s older vintages swelled, which helped to excite many sommeliers who were otherwise disinterested in the region. A series of cold and/or wet vintages—2009, 2010, 2011—led many to declare that the “pendulum” of ripeness was indeed swinging back to a place of more moderation, but these were immediately followed by a string of hot and worryingly dry years that saw a return to the production of many ripe and richly concentrated wines. Around this same time, IPOB disbanded, and Bonné left both the Chronicle and the West Coast, causing many to wonder about the future of both movements.

Perhaps I’ve paid closer attention than most, but it seems that this debate over the true nature of California wine has been particularly heated, and more than a little partisan. Mostly, I’ve heard from writers and sommeliers, all of whom make their living by forming opinions about wine, and less from the actual winemakers, though they are arguably the ones with the most skin in the game. To draw out that perspective, I contacted winemakers Andy Erickson and Dan Petroski with a series of questions that delve into their personal experiences with California wine, their thoughts on the ups and downs of the last several years, and their hopes for the future.

Despite his disarmingly easygoing nature, Erickson is one of Napa Valley’s most lauded consultants (his client list has included Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Ovid, and Mayacamas) and the erudite Petroski mans the helm at Larkmead, one of California’s most storied estates. And while both are masters of the Napa Cabernet craft, their interests extend far outside the genre. For his own label, Favia, Erickson has worked closely with vineyards in the Sierra Foothills, and he can also boast years of experience with Santa Barbara’s Jonata. Petroski’s wanderlust diverges geographically from Erickson’s but is just as potent. His personal brand, Massican, was forged from his love of Friulian wine, and though he released his first actual Italian creation, Gaspare, last year, most of his Massican fruit comes from forgotten corners of Napa Valley and Sonoma.

Click here to read the full interview on the GuildSomm website.

– Kelli White

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