An Amazing Estate
On May 18, 19, and 20 Joseph Phelps Winery had their 2012 Insignia Release Party.  In case your new to wine, or have been living under a rock, Joseph Phelps Winery is one of the world’s finest wine producers.  Founded in 1973 by construction magnate Joe Phelps, the winery has in the four decades since become one of the great gems of the Napa Valley as well as a trend setter in winemaking, grape production, club member hospitality, and product branding.  Perhaps the most profound impact JPV has made is in the practice of Biodynamics used in their production of grapes. The concept of Biodynamics was first described by Dr. Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, educator and philosopher in the 1920s.  Most if not all of today’s organic farming practices can be traced back to Steiner’s work.  In the 1980’s, Joseph Phelps became pioneers of sustainable ecology based viticulture in the Napa Valley.  Their profound success has inspired many producers in Northern California to follow suit.  While touring the estate it was obvious that these practices were also applied to the winery and wine making facilities as well.  It became quite obvious by the small footprint of this facility that no stone was turned unless it was absolutely necessary.  It almost appears that the vineyards and winery were “supposed” to be there.  Notice in the picture above how the vineyard seamlessly integrates with the knoll of oak forest to the west and pine forest to the south-west.  The Estate truly is its own ecosystem.  With one glance from the back patio you can tell something very special is going on here.

And Now…  The Party
So now that you caught me geeking out about biodynamic viticulture, let’s move on to the reason for this post..  The Party.

This, folks in the wine bidness, is how to throw a party!  The weather was perfect, a nice 80-81 all weekend with little wind.  The members were ushered to the top of the hill in luxury coaches and immediately greeted with an H’orderve tray and a nice glass of their Saint Helena Sauv. Blanc. This was not by accident as the first food table was a wonderful dim sum flight of shrimp, vegetable, and pork offerings.  Each paired perfectly with the Sauv. Blanc and also worked rather nicely with the Freestone Chard and Pinot.  Plenty of wine and food stations abounded throughout.  The upper level featured a stunning Paella complete with a very talented flamenco guitarist.  Other food offerings were grilled chicken (great pair with the Chard and Pinot), grilled steak (Insignia!), pulled pork sliders (Pinot and the fantastic Syrah) and two types of oven fired pizza.  Tasty desserts were also on hand paired with their highly acclaimed Eisrebe (ice wine).

The food and wine were served to the members by the best staff in the business.  All were very courteous and were right on point to ensure every guest had a great time.  The folks pouring the wine were very knowledgable about each of the offerings and were very passionate about their wines.

Why We’re Here:  Insignia!

Ok, so the party was great but what about the Insignia???  Well..  here we go:
JPV poured 3 vintages of the Insignia.  The 2008, 2009, and the 2010.  This was specially bottled right from the barrel for the members to taste.  Let’s start with the 2008 and move our way up..

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2008
DdV: 97
WS: 94
WA: 97
Price: $200.00
Blend: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot
Source: Napa Valley, California

Everything a true Napa Bordeaux style blend should be.  Rich, elegant, and yes even glamorous (there I said it).  French roast coffee and dark blackberry greet you on the nose with more dark berry, dark cherry, cassis, and plum coming through on the mid palate.  Nice graphite and hints of mineral on the very very long finish.  Exceptional balance and big ripe tannins will only get better with age.  This is a top cellar candidate yet really shines now in 2012.

Joseph Phelps Insignia 2009 (available in the fall)
DdV: 98
WS: n/a
WA: 93-96
Price: $200.00
Blend: 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Petit Verdot and 4% Merlot
Source: Napa Valley, California

Same as the 2008 but this is bigger with just a touch more elegance even though it’s very young.  We gave this a slightly higher mark in back to back tastings.  Exceptional!

So..  how about the 2010?
Many pundits have cast a harsh shadow on the 2010 Napa and Sonoma vintages due to the nutty weather.  Ridiculous amounts of rain late along with late frosts, an early heat wave and a cool foggy summer does point to trouble.

Insignia fans should not be worried in the least.  This first showing indicates no let down from the previous two fantastic releases.  Time will tell but this wine came off big despite the concerns with the cool weather and ripening issues that accompany it.  I would assume the production may be more limited but can’t confirm that.

Icing on the Cake – The Music

There are two things that can ruin a perfectly designed wine event:
1. Rain
2. Insipid syrupy “smooth jazz”

It has truly confounded us for decades as to the prevalence of smooth jazz at Napa wine events.  This routinely takes the form of a solo piano player or even worse, a band full of Kenny G wannabe’s.  Kenny G is, in our opinion, the single greatest abomination to music and all who play it well.  Having to stomach a band full of people aspiring to be Kenny G is torture at its greatest evil.

Here’s where Joseph Phelps got it right.  Not smooth jazz but up tempo make you want to shake your groove thing BLUES!!

The band was The Hummingbirdz and these guys really brought it big time.  They had great vocalists and a solid rhythm section.  What they also had was two incredible soloists.  The harp player and lead guitar player went off the charts both individually and trading solos off of each other.

The members went nuts over these guys and we did too. The band played lots of older blues standards as well as some new stuff but most were played up tempo with tons of energy.

A+ to JPV for booking this band.  Another win win.  Check them out at http://www.thehummingbirdz.com.  We hope to see them around the valley again.

Notes on the Other Wines

You can’t go to a winery like Joseph Phelps and not come home with some goodies, so here’s some quick takes on the other wines..

2009 Joseph Phelps Pinot Noir, Freestone Vineyards
In 1999 JPV acquired vineyard property in the Sonoma Coast AVA and began planting Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  As our readers know, we love Sonoma Coast Chards and Pinots.  The JPV Freestone vineyard is not far from our very favorite Sonoma Coast producer Radio-Coteau.  This pinot is very reminiscent of the La Neblina Pinot with rich dark cherry, raspberry, cranberry and a perfect hint of mineral.  We score this an easy 93.  Outstanding wine and a fair price at $55.

2009 Joseph Phelps Chardonnay, Freestone Vineyards
The other fine offering from the Freestone Vineyard.  This is a big bold Napa style with nuanced Sonoma Coast grapes.  Complex and elegant.  Lucious honeysuckle and citrus on the nose with hints of taglio, mint, and more citrus with just the right hit of oak.  Another 93 from us for this fantastic Chard.

2010 Joseph Phelps Sauvignon Blanc, Saint Helena
Vanilla, citrus, and green apple notes all come together in this fantastic Sauv. Blanc.  My personal favorite for this vintage.  If you want to pair with some crab, shrimp or lobster, here’s your perfect wine.

Cabernet and Syrah
The Syrah is incredible.  Sourced from Carneros where hot and cold do battle every summer.  A perfect location.  We won’t go on as you can’t get it unless you’re a member.  The Cabernet is also amazing.  You can get this one at wine shops and markets usually for $60 or less.  If you see it, buy it.  Nuff said…

Folks, we have been to a great many wine events, club member extravaganzas, and release parties but this one was by far the best.  Many of the members said as much.  Bill Phelps and his team should walk a little taller after this great event.  I know the members did judging by all of the big smiles boarding the coach. But only until next year…  Now they have to top it!  That is some pressure…

For more information on Joseph Phelps Winery:

For more information on Biodynamics:

For more information on why Kenny G sucks: