Thursday, May 20, 2010

A. Faustini 2006 Secret Veil Napa Valley Cabernet

For my Wines of California class in the Viticulture program at Las Positas we each did a review of a favorite wine. I chose A. Faustini 2006 Secret Veil Napa Valley Cabernet. I like to try wines from small producers who create hand crafted small lots and I also like to try wines from vineyards at higher elevations. My choice for this report was a combination of both.

The wine is made by Antony Faustini who works as a Product Manager at Cisco, the world’s largest vendor for Internet equipment. Like many people in high tech Anthony yearned to explore his passion and took up wine making in 2005. A. Faustini Winery uses Crush Pad in San Francisco to process their wine and they are opening a tasting room in Napa Valley at a new shared facility near Yontville that will host several tasting rooms for small wineries. This strategy works well for producers who want to limit their expenses as they gain experience and grow production and build awareness for their wines. I made the trek on BART and Muni to their logistics center in San Francisco to pick up my bottle and got a look around. They had cases of wine to the rafters from many small lot producers.

I know Anthony as I also work at Cisco as a Product Marketing Manager. Anthony’s wife Michelle is a sales manager at Cisco and also my Facebook Friend. When she saw in my timeline that I was attending winery events she wrote to me about their wines. They also have a Facebook Fan page for their wines that I joined along with a few other Cisco colleagues.

In April Michelle wrote to me that Anthony was going to be pouring at the SF Vintners Market at Ft. Mason in San Francisco. The San Francisco Vintners Market is the first wine tasting and buying event in the Bay Area. Over 200 wineries from all over California were pouring their wines so I managed to wrangle tickets for myself and a friend Jamie (who is also taking the class) and we went and tried many fine California wines and met Anthony and tired his Hidden Veil.

I talked with Antony about his wines at the event. He said the wine was made from 100% Cabernet sourced from Ink Grade Vineyard, in the Howell Mountain AVA, and Beckstoffer Dr Crane Vineyard, in St. Helena. I asked Anthony why he didn’t make the wine a vineyard specific wine from Ink Grade Vineyard or at least a Howell Mountain AVA. He said that the Howell Mountain fruit was so intense that without blending it would not be approachable and would take many years to age. He wanted a wine that could be enjoyed sooner, so he blended with some valley floor fruit to mellow the wine. As a result of this blending from two vineyards in two AVAs the wine is labeled as simply Napa Valley, however given the large proportion of Howell Mountain grapes it had a lot of Howell Mountain fruit character.

When I tried the wine the Howell Mountain flavors were evident. It had a deep dark red color and an intense aroma. The tannins were prominent as was the fruit. If the tannins had been any more intense I might not have enjoyed the wine as much, so the blending worked. As it was the 2006 drank quite well in April 2010. The wine was specially processed in the “My Cult Cab” program at Crush Pad, which takes their custom wine service to the highest level. It begins with their top-end Cabernet Sauvignon sources includes special processing including rigorous fruit sorting to remove imperfect grapes, extra “saignee” (bleeding of juice) to concentrate wine, fermentation in new French oak puncheons and extended maceration. The wine was aged in new French oak, including barrel rotation and finishing barrels. The oak influence of this wine was apparent, but well integrated and added to the character.

Anthony didn't make the wine alone, although he was involved in the process and he sees to all the business details. For the wine making he worked with Kian Tavakoli as the consultant winemaker. Kian is a graduate of the viticulture program at UC Davis and as worked with Anthony since 2005. Kian most recently was the winemaker at Clos Du Val where he ran their Bordeaux varietals program - including their highly-acclaimed reserve bottling. Before joining Clos Du Val in 1996, Kian spent four years learning at art of Cabernet winemaking at Opus One and has over 10 years of winemaking, operations and viticulture experience. His experience showed in the quality of this wine as it was well balanced with fruit, tannins, acid and alcohol all working to create a great tasting wine.

The Howell Mountain AVA is an American Viticultural Area located within Napa Valley AVA. Howell Mountain is located in the Vaca Mountains on the northeast side of Napa Valley and overlooks the town of St. Helena, California on the West and Pope Valley on the East. Howell Mountain AVA was the first sub-appellation of Napa Valley when it was approved as a designated American Viticultural Area in 1983. Most vineyards in the Howell Mountain AVA are planted between 1,400 feet and 2,200 feet above sea level, well above the elevations in Napa Valley that are most affected by the cool fog and winds from San Pablo Bay. The mountain does get cool breezes directly from the Pacific Ocean, and the relatively high elevations result in a cooler climate than on the valley floor. The soil in the appellation is volcanic with excellent drainage. This makes for small berries with a high skin ratio, which is where the tannins come from, as well as the dark color and rich fruit flavor.

A majority of grapes for this wine came from the Ink Grade Vineyard, in the Howell Mountain AVA. The vineyard was planted in 1990 and spans 200 acres of mountainous terrain above Pope Valley on the East side. The Howell Mountain region produces wines that are richly tannic, with excellent acidity for aging. This is one of the most visually exciting vineyards as much of the vineyard is terraced and it is well-tended. The vineyard is planted to a quad trellis that produces about 2 to 2.5 tons per acre. This is also one of the more technologically advanced sites, using "stress modules" to determine ripening which enables you to do multiple picks during harvest to achieve optimal ripeness. The vineyards grapes go into some of the most sought after Bordeaux style blends being produced in California.

I’ve traveled past this vineyard on Ink Grade Road which goes between Pope Valley and Angwin. It is a paved one lane road that is bumpy and is barely graded as it follows the terrain up and down the hills. The vineyard is visible from some places along the road although the hilly terrain makes it difficult to see. I went with my Mini Cooper club and we had a great time Motoring on this road, but I would only recommend it for the adventuresome driver. Just watch out for the Minis as we like to bend the rules and rule the bends.

The town of Angwin is in midst of the Howell Mountain AVA. It was named in 1874 for Edwin Angwin who ran a resort on the land the town now occupies. There are many wineries in the vicinity of Angwin as well as many vineyards. Angwin is home to a large community of Seventh-day Adventists, who founded a local private liberal arts college known as Pacific Union College. This is somewhat ironic as they don’t drink, or even dance, but they do keep a tidy town.

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