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'Zilla Wine and Tunes Pairing

The two essential elements of the CORKZILLA experience – Wine and music – in a pairing. Our signature feature will continue in 2013, but we've decided to take a break from the grind of producing thoughtful pairings on a monthly basis. Please look for an archive page highlighting our pairings from the past coming soon. Cheers!

What We're Listening to

Keith Richards, "Crosseyed Heart," Republic Records

Gary Clark Jr., "The Story of Sonny Boy Slim," Warner Brothers Records

Warren Haynes Featuring Railroad Earth, "Ashes and Dust," Concord Records

Jason Isbell, "Something More Than Free," Southeastern Records

Phish, "Live Bait Vol. 11" (free digital download)

Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, "Chasing Yesterday," Sour Mash Records

Neil Young, "On the Beach," Reprise Records

Massive Attack, "Protection," Circa Records

D'Angelo and the Vanguard, "Black Messiah," RCA Records

Brokedown in Bakersfield, "Live!," Little Sur Records

Ryan Adams, "Ryan Adams," Pax-Am Records

Rich Robinson, "The Ceaseless Sight," The End Records

Jack White, "Lazaretto," Third Man Records

The Wayne Shorter Quartet, "Without a Net," Blue Note Records

Reach out to CORKZILLA
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Thursday
Aug182011

A Long and Winding Wine Road - Spring Mountain

Editor's note: This is the first of two articles based on a recent CORKZILLA on-site visit. The second installment will follow next week.

SPRING MOUNTAIN ROAD, St. Helena, CA – The winding road that leads to wineries such as Terra Valentine and Pride Mountain Vineyards is worth the trip, with a few surprises along the way. Rising to the west of the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, Spring Mountain Road offers a different perspective on area wine-making, a far cry from the tour buses and large crowds of the valley floor.

The draw to Spring Mountain is twofold – CORKZILLA is interested in finding some nooks in Napa beyond the Route 29 valley floor madness and, frankly, we were inspired by the recent article in the June, 2011 issue of the Wine Spectator magazine that reviewed several wineries along the road.

Spring Mountain became a distinct American Viticultural Area (AVA) in the early 1990s, but locals have planted grapes here since the Civil War.

The wineries on Spring Mountain dispense a wide range of varietals, but the overall focus is on classic reds, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. In fact, in our estimation, the Merlot production here is among the best we’ve tasted in Napa (Admittedly, based on limited exposure – Neither co-founder of CORKZILLA is a big Merlot drinker).

Hopping in the CORKZILLA-mobile, we toured select wineries along the road. Our thoughts are as follows:

Pride Mountain Vineyards (By Ben Heskett)

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Sitting on top of Spring Mountain, Pride is an impressive 235-acre estate with intersecting hills of vines (Picture at left), underscoring its rise from small production cult favorite to 20,000-case industry powerhouse. A good history of the site and winery can be found here. The stars at Pride are the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Merlot, though a small production Cabernet Franc also impressed.

In addition, the winery makes a very interesting Viognier. Using no new oak, the Viognier has an good crispness, with a floral nose,  hints of citrus, as well as peach and apricot on the mouth, with a lingering finish. Of the reds, the Cabernet Franc was most interesting, but in both bottle and as part of some ad hoc barrel tasting, the Cabernet Sauvignons clearly shine here, with classic dark fruit notes.

What’s also impressive, from a business standpoint, is that Pride sells nearly 80-85 percent of its wines through direct channels (Tasting room, online, etc.), according to a winery representative, and does not have a wine club, choosing to offer all of its wines through an effective email list.

Paloma Vineyard (By Joe Colgan)

At CORKZILLA, we love hearing about a winery or bottle that has a feel-good story associated with it. Sometimes a good story can make a wine taste even better. The next stop on our Spring Mountain Road conquest was at Paloma Vineyard, which has a very good story to tell. The June 15th issue of WS made a stop at Paloma sound intriguing - "There is no tasting experience more intimate than Paloma's, in which proprietor Barbara Richards invites you into her home for a tasting on her back porch, overlooking 15 acres of vineyards she personally tends," the article says.

When we started to head over to Paloma, our friend Jake Avery of Pride Vineyards mentioned that Barbara likes to wear a pistol at her side, to keep her vineyards free of rattlesnake. It was safe to say we were very intrigued. Being named Wine of the Year by WS in 2003 just added flavor to the equation.

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Paloma (Vineyard and ever-present hummingbirds pictured at right) sits high near the top of Spring Mountain at nearly 2.2K feet. Merlot is their cash crop and it’s been labeled as one of the best in California year after year. The WS article didn't disappoint, as Barbara greeted us at the door of her home and graciously invited us to her back porch to talk about Paloma and the vines, while we tasted her wine. First off, the view from that porch makes your jaw drop. The exposure is mostly eastern with a commanding view of Napa Valley below and Howell Mountain beyond.

Starting back in 1983, Barbara and her husband Jim began Paloma long before the Spring Mountain AVA came into existence. Over the years they've developed and nurtured their small plot of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes into award winning wines that reflect the rich soils of this special wine region. After talking with Barbara for a little while about life above the valley, you start to get the impression that she is a living legend amongst the people of Spring Mountain. As Barbara directs the focus of the conversation to her vines, you start to understand what the WS article meant when they said she personally tends to the grapes. She looks after every cluster of every terraced row with her own hands. The way she speaks about her work is very impressive. There is a level of love and intimacy here for the grapes that is very rare.

As we sit and listen to Barbara, hummingbirds strafe our heads as they feast on one of the many feeders hanging off the porch. Barbara has poured us a 2008 Merlot, which has a small percentage of estate grown Cabernet Sauvignon. I personally have not had a Merlot I've enjoyed in quite some time and have veered away from the varietal in recent years. Paloma's Merlot was a definite nice way to be reintroduced to the breed. It's a big wine, extremely dark purple in color and fill of black fruits, tobacco and spice on the nose. The palette is very smooth with hints of chocolate. There is love in the bottle.

It's very quiet and cool on the mountain's top with lots of nice cold currents coming in from the nearby Pacific. It's a much nicer change to be up there during July than down on the valley floor. But, after leaving Paloma, the 'Zilla headed back down into the valley to recharge the batteries at Bouchon in Yountville (Dish at left). We will continue with the rest of our Spring Mountain exploration in our second installment, comprised of Terra Valentine and final thoughts, next week. 

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