After a little time to clean up I headed over to Hartwell Estates. To meet with their winemaker. I’m a bit of a wine nerd so I was actually pretty excited about being able to have this opportunity. The winemaker turned out to be a live wire and had poured me some of his Sauvignon Blanc practically before I finished shaking his hand. I admit to not knowing much about Hartwell but the instant I smelled his first wine I knew I was in for a treat. It just had an incredible nose but even better (at least for me) was the amazing acidity and minerality that I love and don’t often equate with Napa white wine. We tried the 2009 which didn’t even have a label yet. It seemed a little shy at the moment. The 2008 Sauv Blanc Estate was amazing though. It was a lot like the first wine except more structure. It had seen more time in oak and there was this amazing creaminess that transitioned seamlessly into the acid and then seamless again into minerals. Very cool. They do half barrel and half stainless steel and use a lot of cement for fermentation. I mentioned one of my favorite wineries, Wind Gap, which also uses a lot of cement and he was excited because it turned out he was friends with the winemaker there whom I had met on a recent trip.
We stepped outside and sipped some of the cabs including the one before he took over and the one after. He talked about how he was studying the vines and trying to figure out how to get better tannins by stressing the vines the right way before veraison. It turns out this can be accomplished through things like cutting water and introducing cover crops. Fascinating! He is using an amazing amount of technology to do this which was also interesting but the most interesting aspect was his passion for finding ways to make better wine! We then went back into the barrel room for an amazing tour. First was special wine club barrels from 2009. A cab and then a cab blend. They were still quite young and have vibrant fresh flavors. Then it was on to the 2010 wine which had only been in the barrel a few months. It was almost raw tasting and completely different than anything I’ve had before with flavors like burnt caramel. There were definitely hints of things to come though. Then it was on to some cab franc with extreme vegetables on the nose and then a barrel of Petite Verdot which smelled exactly like smoked meat or sausage. Unbelievable! After that we tasted some Merlot including some harvested from the same block only two weeks apart. This was quite interesting since they were so different. Finally we had some Merlot that had some cab and Petite Verdot in it. This was also interesting as even a small amount of these other wines really changed the wine adding a fantastic complexity.
My time at the winery came to an end too quickly but the winemaker handed me a bottle of the 2009 and asked me to give it a little time and then get back to him. Again, an amazing experience that far surpassed what I had hoped for!
Last was a quick check in with the Chef back at the restaurant. His plan was to have me work on multiple facets of the same dish during my stay in the kitchen and come away with a recipe and the know how to execute the recipe. Sounded good to me!