Wineries prepare for ‘Premiere Napa Valley’

Preparations for Premiere Napa Valley, the main Napa Vintner trade event have started, and Catherine Seda explains the elaborate process involved.

napa-valleyIn early December, winemakers from top Napa Valley wineries could be seen entering the Napa Vintners’ trade association offices on Library Lane in St. Helena and departing an hour or two later with black teeth and a slip of paper in their hands. Following day a different group of winemakers repeated this ritual; same black teeth, same slip of paper. Had you caught this activity the week before, the only change was that the pearly whites stayed white.

These comings and goings proved to be part of the preparations for Premiere Napa Valley: the much-anticipated Napa Vintner trade event where retailers, restaurateurs and others with liquor licenses come to taste and purchase wine lots which no one else in the world will ever own – unless that purchaser decides to sell them, that is.

While Premiere does not take place until February 2013, the Napa Vintners will tell you, planning starts at least 16 months out.

The part of the planning puzzle that took place in late November and early December the year prior, is the pre-tasting for the wines that will be included in Premiere’s Multi-Vintage Perspective. On the Friday before Premiere’s main attraction – the Barrel Tasting and Auction – a walk-around three-vintage tasting takes place. These are Napa Valley wines that best express not only the vintages being showcased, but Napa Valley itself.

Guests attending the Vintage Perspective event in February will also taste the wines blind; the greater goal of the Napa Vintners with this tasting, as Patsy McGaughy in their offices explained, is to “tell a story about these vintages and let the guests form their own opinions”. The best way to do that is without the influence of labels or vintage praises and stigmas.

Following the tasting, a discussion with industry opinion leaders takes place, giving those in attendance an eagle’s eye look at the Napa Valley vintages and their resulting wine styles.

This year it is the 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintages which are being reviewed for selection in next year’s Perspective tasting. All of the Napa Vintner’s 400 plus winery members are invited to submit Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and they must present one for each of the included vintages.

The three vintages are tasted side by side at the Vintner offices against those from a dozen or more other wineries. The Chardonnay tastings are conducted first; this year they took place in one day, over two tastings sessions. The Cabernet Sauvignon tastings followed with four separate tasting sessions.

The wines are rated on two different levels. There is the group rating which uses a 100 point scale. While each winery has submitted three wines, one from each of the vintages, the taster will give one score to that unknown winery on the 100 point scale. Its score will relate to how well the wines represent the vintages (which the taster does know) and how well that wineries’ group of wines represent Napa Valley.

The second rating is a ranking against the other wineries. If there are 14 wineries’ wines being reviewed that day, the ranks would range from one, the best, to 14. This second score is particularly useful as a tie-breaker, in the event the 100 point scale rankings are too close.

Nowhere outside of the Napa Vintner offices does a full list of the final selected wines exist. Each taster, as they depart a session, is given a sheet of paper with the list of wines included during their session, along with that taster’s personal notes.

The wines honoured with inclusion in the Premiere tasting won’t be announced to the public at any time. The wineries themselves will be notified in January, but they cannot make any announcements. The trade guests at Premiere will be tasting the wines blind and they must not be given any clues as to which Napa Valley wines are under the blinding bags.

While anyone in attendance that day can talk about their favourite finds and what was revealed about the vintages being showcased, the point of the Vintage Perspective Tasting is not, as the Napa Vintners noted, a wine contest. Still, we wine lovers are a curious lot, and we look forward to hearing more about the Vintage Perspective as the event unfolds in February.

For more information on Premiere Napa Valley, visit napavintners.com.

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