I’ve done retrospective articles before, and for those I often turn to Google searching my name and the subject so I can refresh my memory and share links. Today I feel reflective without Google and want to share some of my favorite memories, those that involve the first two Napa wineries that I covered as press over a dozen years ago. (If you’re looking for wine reviews for these two fine places, search this blog or Google!)
In looking for a winery to write about I was immediately attracted to Del Dotto Vineyards as the tasting room looked so grand, and there was more than one location. I called the winery, told them I was a wine blogger and asked for a press – aka FREE – tasting. They asked me which location and I remember answering, “whichever you think might like press” as I really had no clue what I was doing.
My first tasting at Del Dotto – and every tasting after that over the years – was with their esteemed winemaker Gerard Zanzonico. Gerard had a fascinating story, coming from Chateau Montelena during the time of the Judgment of Paris, and winemaking for other Napa wineries while gaining a wealth of experience before his decades at Del Dotto. But what slayed me was his accessibility to this new blogger. He spent several hours with Eddie and me, using a wine thief to extract samples from probably 60 barrels – barrels made from oak all over the U.S. and Europe – as well as clay pots. Subsequent visits included time with Dave Del Dotto, visiting their other properties and of course, more sampling. The wine was as grand and memorable as were the experiences these fine gentlemen extended to us.
Gerard always teased me about my blog, asking questions about who would ever read it, with a sly smile, while admitting that he appreciated the press and critics – and of course his high Robert Parker scores to name one. One other memory I’ll share involves Dave Del Dotto and when he sat with us as I took meticulous tasting notes. He nodded yes as he looked over my shoulder, he noted chocolate too…then I turned to query him as my WSET instructor queried me so long ago, “What kind of chocolate Dave? Dark, milk, chocolate covered cherry, brownie…?” To which Dave returned to the wine to further identify, and in my memory he laughed as well.
Fast forward to today. My visits have temporarily ended at the winery, as I wasn’t able to secure an appointment last year. No matter, as I’ve since followed Gerard and am now tasting his wines – albeit without him for the first time – that he now makes from his home in Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, California. So far I’ve tried every vintage of his Syrah, Chardonnay and Nebbiolo. We plan to follow Gerard on social media and purchase his wines from LMA, a Baja distributor until I’m a wino no more.
At the LA Wine Fest over a decade ago I met home winemaker Gary Warburton and his Chateau Pacific – bottled at his home in Manhattan Beach – wines. We struck up a conversation that day (he was a dentist and I worked part time for one at the time – now we’re both retired) that turned into a friendship. I went to his home in Manhattan Beach for bottling parties, and soon, would be introduced to his son Shane and daughter in law Suzanne’s Napa winery Phifer Pavitt at a private fundraising event.
After that, while planning my first trip as press to Napa, I reached out to Suzanne Phifer Pavitt for a tasting appointment. She also extended an invitation for us to stay in her guesthouse. (This would be on the same trip I first visited Del Dotto.) The wine at the time was Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon, they would later add more reds, a sparkling and a Sauvignon Blanc made by Gary.
Suzanne impressed us with her southern hospitality, warmth and charm. She was the type of vintner I had never encountered before, and never would again. One story she shared with us, after a few repeat visits, I will always remember this way: A fellow southerner came in late to the tasting room (with or without an appointment) and Suzanne gave him the same experience she gives all of her guests. After his lengthy stay she asked if he cared to purchase some wine and he replied, “one”. Oh boy, she may have thought, all this time and he only wants one bottle. Then he edited his response: he wanted one full pallet of her only wine at the time, Date Night Cabernet Sauvignon. Charm should always pay off this way.
For several years Gary and I would meet up locally, often over lunch with him toting his latest Phifer Pavitt Sauvignon Blanc for me to review. He eventually began to spend more time in Napa and less in Manhattan Beach so now I just order Phifer Pavitt wines when the winery calls me to talk about their newest releases. We have fond memories of the last dinner we had with Gary and his wife Terry at the restaurant at Auberge du Soleil, where Gary introduced me to one of their new wines, fried Kale chips and my first Espresso Martini. His wine and their company were the highlight.
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in the first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Proof Awards, Cellarmasters, LA Wine Competition, Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.