It is the first day of summer in the Napa Valley, and sometimes I want to pinch myself for having the opportunity to have lived here, and that I have resided in this beautiful place for over a year and a half now.
This valley is so packed with tourists for harvest, but if I were to recommend the time of year for people to come visit the valley, it would be now. The hills are still lush and vibrant green, the mustard flowers lining the vines in the vineyards are radiant yellow. The air is fragrant from the dogwood, apple and cherry blossoms. As the crowds have yet to arrive for the summer season, it is an exceptional time to have more one-on-one time at the local wineries, perhaps even meet with the winemakers, or family members who make your visit that much more of an intimate experience.
Last week, I had the opportunity to meet with someone in the valley who contributes their zeal of the winemaking craft to this famous valley. Thankfully there are people who exude such a passion, they remind you that winemaking after all, is an art form.
David Mahaffey is the winemaker for Olivia Brion. He had not yet arrived when we pulled into the graveled driveway at its gated entrance. It was just after ten, but still quite chilly. The vineyard assistant let us through so that we could have a walk around the property before David arrived. I stepped out of the car and quickly wrapped my sweater about myself. Under the oak trees I was shaded from the much desired sun and the damp breeze went straight through my bones. The property was so beautiful, the air crisp and fresh, I wanted to walk about, so I pretzeled my arms and hands about myself and took it all in.
On a very rough table outside under a small roof, which appeared to be the crush pad, was a previously finished bottle of wine, and right away I was drawn to it. The label is of a girl on a bicycle appearing as if she is racing a locomotive and her dog running alongside her. I was immediately excited that in a few short moments, I would have the opportunity to meet the person behind this label.
At about ten thirty, David arrives. He steps out of his car with his dog Olivia, a black poodle, shorted hair, with a little grey around her jowls. She resembles the dog on the label and greets with a slight nudge of her nose on my hand and rests, leaning herself against my leg. I love her already. David introduces himself with a welcoming smile and shakes our hands. His fingers are thick, strong and weathered, and have been hard at work all their lives, with a roughness that only comes from truly loving one’s craft. These are hands to be proud of. He gives us a couple of glasses and pulls out a bottle from the back of his four runner.
The first pour is the 2008 Pinot Noir. At first sip, the tannins are present as I am in this moment, yet gentle. But as our conversation continues, the wine displays a deeper character. There is a slight dusty-earthiness to this wine, with notes of strawberries you might have overlooked under some of the cover in your patch, still perfect for eating, but very ripe. The Pinot Noir grapes are grown southeast of Napa in Wild Horse Valley. This site sits 1,200 feet higher that the valley floor. This ideal location in the Napa Valley allows the Pinot grapes to delight in the southwestern cool breezes of Carneros and coastal Sonoma county.
He unlocks the cave door and we step into a thick wall of humidity. There are only about twenty barrels. Everything about this location, its ambiance speaks of someone who is not worried about aesthetics or hiding the real ‘earth’ behind the winemaking. Why stand in a formal tasting room separating myself from the art or artist? There is nothing to hide. The romance is in the wine. He allows us to taste the forthcoming vintage, still resting in barrel. The potential is apparent, with bright, fresh fruit, the seasoned oak adding just a slight hint of smoky-toast.
We step outside once again to revisit the 2008 vintage. Yes! This is wonderful. The tannins are soft now and the overripe strawberry wafts among your palate, with mouthwatering bing cherry. Olivia is getting restless and picks up a stick to bring over and play with. It is time to go, but I will remember this and will enjoy the 2008 Pinot Noir.Images © Olivia Brion