Last week I had the opportunity to enjoy lunch with one of California’s most well regarded winemakers. Mike Trujillo is the president of Sequoia Grove and has been making wine in Napa Valley for thirty something years. He’s also a cool guy. I met Mike, two representatives from Kobrand, the Sequoia Grove supplier, and four other media-types for lunch at Coconuts on Fort Lauderdale beach.
It did not suck.
First of all, I think winemakers in general are cool because (a) with the exception of one Mollydooker event, they usually make stuff I want to drink, and
(b) I am envious of people that can grow things, or know when to pick produce that other people have grown, or do pretty much anything related to growing a piece of fruit. I have no such skill. I silently groan when people bring over plants, as I know they have been sentenced to death just by entering my house.
Conversation was flowing, stone crabs and king crab legs were ordered, and the Chardonnay was poured. We tasted the 2011 Sequoia Grove Napa Valley Chardonnay. (WARNING: Wine Geekiness ahead…) This wine starts with a whole cluster press, meaning they leave the grape cluster intact when they press it. Once it goes through the whole winemaking process, it is aged in oak for ten months, on lees. (Lees are, essentially, residual yeast that settles to the bottom of the tank after fermentation. It can help integrate the oak flavors, as well as add subtle flavors to the wine.)
Moving along to the next wines, everyone had ordered their own entree. Fish tacos, steak salad, and copious amounts of mahi-mahi were the order of the day, as was discussion of grape growing, barrel usage (French? American? New? Old?), the saga of how Mike became the president of Sequoia Grove, and a hilarious tale of how he spent loads of money on new equipment immediately upon taking the new position.
We talked about Karl Lawrence wines, which was a side project of his for many years. I just had a 2006 and was glad I have another one in the cellar. The chatter continued with discussion of wine descriptors and stupid terms used to describe flavors or
aromas, and how different people taste different things. Case in point: As we tasted the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Tonella Vineyard barrel sample, I wrote in my notes “dark berry fruits; earthy” just as someone else at the table exclaimed “Violets! I get loads of violets!” This wine will be aged 22 months in barrel before it is released, so it still has a little time to come together.
During the course of the meal we tried barrel samples of the 2012 Cabernet Franc (and blended it into the Cabernet Sauvignon), the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon from bottle (this has a bit of merlot, petite verdot, cabernet franc and malbec blended in), and the 2008 Cambium Bordeaux blend. Apparently, the name for the Cambium wine went out for suggestions. The winning name was not acceptable to Mike, who then called a staff meeting, ordered pizza and lots of beer until they came up
with a suitable name. Cambium is the layer under the bark of a tree, or the under layer of a vine.
As all of the desserts were being described, Mike decided to order “one of each“, as if I didn’t like the guy already. Meanwhile, the next thing I know, the largest ice cream sandwich I have ever seen was set on the table. Seriously, the thing was cut into quarters and each quarter was twice the size of a normal ice cream sandwich. But there was also cheesecake, key lime pie, and a chocolate cake-thing that made me momentarily forget I was on a diet.
Sequoia Grove distributes their wines nationally, and the Chardonnay and Cabernet can be had for between $26-35/bottle. The Cambium is around $125/bottle. Pick some up, it is tasty stuff.