Napa Valley produces some great wines by owners and winemakers with a strong desire to make a name for themselves. On the one hand you have the old-timer large scale investment-intensive prominent wineries such as the Robert Mondavi, Trefethen and Sterling Vinyards and on the other, the small artisan model producing minute quantities of superlative wines with utmost care and passion, writes SI contributor, Sonal Holland, who met one such producer couple – Shari and Garen Staglin of the Staglin Family Vineyard Estate. Pictured: Shari and Garen in the Staglin Family Vineyard. Photo: Eric Risberg
A small winery in the Rutherford bench – a growing area with a reputation for producing some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon grapes in the world – the Staglin Family Vineyards have close to 51 acres of land under cultivation. The total production is about 6000 cases, admittedly a third of what is produced by Château Lafite and Margaux, and not quite the global demand to match theirs. Nearly 90% of the production is domestically consumed within the US, but I sensed from our discussion that the Staglin Family were keen to expand their global footprint particularly in Asia, the fastest growing market for the top wines of the world.
Garen and Shari ran us through a presentation which showed beautiful pictures of their 24,000 sq.ft. large underground winery, as well as close-up shots of their vineyard practices. There is no doubt that the family believes in uncompromised quality which is clearly reflected in their organic viticultural practices, unabashed pruning and thinning yields to just over two tons per acre and selective hand-harvesting over multiple runs to ensure optimal ripeness of grapes.
Encouraging clone and rootstock diversity allows them vast selections of different varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Sangiovese, to blend and make the final wine. Michel Rolland, the famed oenologist and master blender has been engaged as a Consultant with the Staglin Family since 2000. The top blend is labelled under the Staglin Family Vineyard flagship brand and the second wine is marketed under the ‘Salus’ brand.
I was both amazed and humbled to learn that the profits received from the sale of Salus wines go towards charitable causes. The Staglin family has been deeply committed in their philanthropic efforts and have so far raised over $135 million through the annual hosting of The Staglin Music Festival, proceeds of which go towards Mental Health Research.
This information had me eager to taste the Salus wines, which are being imported by Vishal Kadakia of The Wine Park and are currently listed at very competitive prices at the Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai, where we were had a tasting session that evening.
We tasted first the Staglin Salus Chardonnay 2007. As a stylistic expression and to lend further longevity to the wines, their Chardonnay wines are not put through malolactic fermentation which is apparent from the fact that the wine is nervy at the core but remains lively and rich on the outside with an oily texture. The wine needed a little time to open up in our glasses and started to exhibit some sweet yellow fruit as it warmed up, with a hint of oak-derived butterscotch and nutmeg. It is an overpowering wine that needs strong flavoured food to temper it on the palate.
Next we tasted the Staglin Salus Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. A very inviting nose of deep black fruits and sweet spice intertwined. On the palate, the wine seemed a bit early to taste. The tannins from the generous use of new French oak seemed right up front leaving the rich dark fruit little scope to show off. A fleshy wine that needs meaty food with which to be enjoyed. But overall, the wine exhibited a typical expression of what Californian wines represent today – big, bold and beautiful and this particular one had a definite touch of the earthy Rutherford dust!
I would have loved to try the Staglin first label wines, but alas, they are not yet being imported into India. For that, my plan is to visit the Staglin Family Vineyard on my next visit to Napa Valley – an hour’s drive from San Francisco and for which I have a special invitation. I am indeed lucky to be in this profession!