10 2012on May
at 2:35 pm
I love the spring. It is the time of year when the grapes start emerging from their dormancy and we get our first indications of what the season will hold. Spring is by far the busiest time of year for vineyard folks. I know that many people think harvest is the more hectic, but I will let you in on a little secret… Harvest is actually a lot of fun. It is merely a lesson in logistics and managing crazed winemakers. I digress.
I am really happy with how well our insectary cover crop blend has grown this spring. A combination of warmer weather and just the right amount of rainfall has led to a beautiful display of flowers in our vineyards.
We use this cover crop to attract beneficial insects to help keep pests at bay. Since we started using this blend several years ago, we have not had to spray for any unwanted pests. An insectary cover crop is a must in any organically farmed vineyard. The blend we used is made up of Persian clover, white yarrow, coriander, baby’s breath, rose clover, tidy tips, crimson clover, California bluebell, California poppy, Chinese houses and birdsfoot trefoil.
The vines are growing extremely well, and it looks like there are many flowers that, if all continues to go well, will turn into many clusters. Dare I say it, there is great potential for the season, and, wait for it, I am happy.
If you have any free time over the next few weeks, please come to the winery for a visit ; the scenery is beautiful and the weather is going to be lovely.
Have you ever wondered how Far Niente’s beautiful gardens came to be? We took the opportunity to capture the gardens on video at the height of their springtime splendor and interviewed Proprietress Beth Nickel about the inspiration to plant and develop extensive gardens at Far Niente.
Beth’s interview was shot in front of a colorful display of blooming azaleas.
Keep an eye on our Facebook page or YouTube channel for the video. We look forward to sharing the story of the gardens—a fitting backdrop for the beautifully restored Far Niente winery—with you. In the meantime, perhaps you can join us and experience the gardens—and our Napa Valley Cabernet and Chardonnay—for yourself!
Tags: Beth Nickel
27 2012on April
at 8:36 am
Last week our crew went back to school on a field trip to visit the Robert Mondavi Institute for Food and Wine at UC Davis. Our former enologist had rejoined the world of academia to get his PhD and was able to give us a personal tour of the teaching winery (amazing!) and the sensory science laboratory. But best of all, we got to test our noses and participate in a little sensory analysis, too!
The Far Niente winemaking team and cellar crew pose by Robert Arneson's Bookhead installation at UC Davis.
Twelve black glasses containing various aroma standards were set out on the lab benchtop for us to sniff and try to identify. There was strawberry jam, floral (crushed up blossoms), orange, medicinal (Vick’s vapor rub), apple, cloves and various others. We took turns sniffing through to familiarize ourselves with the aromas and descriptors as well as to “calibrate” the group.
We were then led into a corridor with private sensory booths. Each dimly lit booth had the twelve black glasses and a computer screen. Our task was to identify each standard blindly. The computer prompted us to move from glass to glass and click on the aroma descriptor that best described what we smelled. It was not as easy as you might think. As a group, our most common mistakes were mixing up lemon and orange and strawberry and blackberry jams. (Me – I missed apple!)
While we had fun testing our noses and getting some good laughs and the UCD lab, sensory science is a very important area of research for the wine industry. It helps us to translate the chemistry of winemaking into practical terms – What does this wine smell like?
Tags: UC Davis
28 2012on March
at 3:18 pm
Do you remember the movie, “Almost Famous,” starring Billy Crudup and Kate Hudson, about a high school kid who got his chance following a rock band on assignment with Rolling Stone? He was in love with a groupie who was in love with a real rock star, and just couldn’t seem to get her attention.
Well, we received a lot of attention with our own “Almost Famous” experience at Far Niente recently, replete with rock stars, of the culinary persuasion. Almost Famous ChefSM celebrated its 10th anniversary in the Napa Valley, where it crowned the winner of its national cooking competition, chosen among semifinalists from cooking schools around the country. The judges included culinary rock stars like chefs Eric Ripert, Jean Joho, Tony Mantuano, Gary Danko, Michele Richard and our own hometown star, Bob Hurley. Editorial stars like the chiefs of Saveur (James Oseland) and Bon Appetit (Adam Rapoport), also served as judges.
Chef Gary Danko's station
At Far Niente, we hosted the group for an afternoon devoted to culinary family traditions. The “Already Famous” chefs shared their families’ culinary stories, while the guests enjoyed cooking demos and wine tasting in the caves, followed by a lunch of the demonstrated dishes paired with our Napa Valley wines.
Chef Eric Ripert and associates at lunch
Although it was a rainy afternoon, our day was brightened by the stars in our midst and the incredible food and wine enjoyed by all.
19 2012on March
at 1:04 pm
People often share the story of their first taste of Far Niente wine with us. My first time was many years ago during a formal tasting at the private club where I worked in Anaheim that had Far Niente Chardonnay on the wine list. I remember how the flavor was so distinctive that it stood out head and shoulders above the rest.
I also remember the first time I visited the winery. I had recently moved to Napa to oversee the special events at another winery in Oakville and had the opportunity to visit Far Niente on a trade tour. In those days, the winery was not open to the public. My tour included a group of artists: a landscape architect, a florist/interior designer and a painter—all big food and wine lovers. I am an old nurseryman myself so you can imagine our excitement when we first approached the ornate iron gates. As we drove through the dappled shade of the woodland garden at the entryway, we realized that we weren’t in Kansas anymore—or, I should say, in the flora from the parts of California we were familiar with. We passed dogwoods, azaleas and rhododendrons; redwoods, forsythia and ferns, oh my!
When we drove by the old stone retaining wall crowned with ancient-looking olive trees, the beautiful chateau loomed overhead. You can see the winery from the highway, but nothing can compare to seeing the details and textures of the walls made up of fieldstones and bricks that seem randomly, almost whimsically placed, supporting the slate roof edged with verdigris copper flashing. After parking, we slowly walked up the flagstone path under the canopy of the massive, old oak trees. I remember stopping to pick up an unusual acorn from the stairs. The pointed body of the acorn was black and the cap was a light tan. None of us had seen a Black Oak acorn before, so we filled our pockets with nature’s souvenirs.
At the top of the steps, we met our guide, Katherine, who welcomed us warmly and we headed up the hill to the highest point on the property to begin our tour. We strolled down into the caves, visiting the wine library, and eventually working our way up to the Carriage House to view the vintage automobile collection. In my youth, I had restored a 1963 Dodge Dart convertible with a slant six under the hood, but nothing compared to the 1961 red and white Corvette that I fell in love with at first sight. The only way Katherine was going to pry us from the cars would be the promise of wine yet to come.
We walked back up the path, taking in the fragrance of the unusual “Southern garden” plantings and entered the winery’s Great Hall where the heavy oak table was set with an array of glasses pre-poured with 2 vintages each of Far Niente Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. As we sat down to our tasting, the breathtaking view off the balcony almost distracted us from the flavor nuances in the wines. After we all discussed what culinary creations would best pair with the aromas and essences in the wines, she brought out the golden nectar called Dolce. Soon we were beside ourselves with dessert ideas for dinner that evening so we ordered a bottle to go. As it happened, we were celebrating a big birthday, and what better way to cap off the night than with a glass of Dolce!
Years later, I was hired to help launch a visitor program for Far Niente when they decided, after so many years of requests, to offer the public to visit by appointment. I am privileged to sit at the entry of our Great Hall and greet those lucky individuals who come to experience our wine estate and unsurpassed hospitality. As I approach my eighth anniversary with Far Niente, I will always remember my first time visiting the winery, and I smile as I watch our new visitors stroll up the path, pausing to pick up an acorn, or stopping to smell the sweet perfume of the Osmanthus bushes.
A behind-the-scenes peek at Far Niente and the fine Cabernet and Chardonnay we produce here in Oakville.
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