“Trying new things”

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I met Mike Farmer a few years ago at the recommendation of another wine writing friend. I had asked this friend, challenged her rather, to point me to a truly unique, exciting wine experience in the Napa Valley, and after some thought she had rightly suggested I reach out to Mike. Mike made wine at Opus One for decades, at Robert Mondavi before that. Today, along with his son, Lucas, Mike makes Euclid, a small production label of exceptional quality due to Mike’s decades of experience, expertise, and attention to detail.

A few days ago I shot mike a quick email, mentioning that I was in the Valley this week, and hoping he might be around. He got back to me right away with the following message:

Hey mark, are you available this evening at 6 pm? I am doing the 15 vintage tasting to prepare our tasting notes with a few friends as well as tasting older vintages to see how they are aging.

The idea of tasting wine with Mike again was extremely appealing, and the idea of meeting people that an amiable lifelong veteran of the Napa Valley calls friends equally so. After figuring out my mess of a schedule, I was thankfully able to make it work. There was just one hitch: writing tasting notes with winemakers. It’s easy when you’re by yourself, as I typically am, writing about a wine that most people have never had and therefore are unlikely to call you out on if you’re off. It’s far more difficult sitting in a room full of experts tasting the same wine and then discussing it.

“Do you get sort of a savory, habanero and pineapple remoulade with like, maybe a sprig of rosemary and some white pepper on the mid-palate?”

“Mmmmm, not really.” (Read: Who invited this bozo?)

“Maybe just a little, but I’m not sure that’s what it is.” (Read: No. Get out of here, weirdo.)

All the same, the idea of helping Mike to author the notes that he would eventually send out to his wine club members was a fun one, and a chance to try something new. I couldn’t pass up the chance to see him again.

I arrived at Mike’s house right at six. Though we email from time to time, we hadn’t seen one another in a few years, and the handshake quickly transitioned into a hug. Also present at the table was Bob Mueller of Mckenzie-Mueller Vineyards and Winery, where Mike sources some of the fruit for his wines, Cheryl Zammataro, a former colleague of Mike’s from Opus One, and Manny Martinez, who sells French oak barrels for Tonnellerie Boutes & Garonnaise. It was instantly evident that in addition to a love for wine, they shared Mike’s affable and easy-going personality. Mike explained the rubric he had set up for the tasting, and together we got to work… er… “work”.

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It started out a bit quiet, the sound of air being sucked over the lips and across the roof of the mouth to aerate wine predominant amongst sounds, but as the wine opened up, so did the people, and soon the conversation began to flow. Much of the talk was of the world of wine, of course. We would taste through a series of wines, make our notes about color, aroma, taste, and balance, and then collectively report back to Mike who took further notes in preparing what he would eventually type up and share with the world. I love listening to other people describe wines, because I inevitably learn a great deal. Descriptors like “canned cherry pie filling” aren’t ones I readily employ in my writing, and yet that is indeed a very precise flavor and a terrific descriptor for what appeared on the palate on one of Mike and Lucas’s Cabernet Sauvignons.

Together, this formidable group of wine industry insiders talked about everything from when the grapes were picked in a certain vineyard or a certain vintage to what they expected to see, or not to see, from the smoke from last year’s fire. Interestingly, there was a lot of talk about barrels. Of course, Manny is in that industry, and in fact Lucas, Mike’s son and partner, was unable to join us because he, too, was out selling barrels. I knew, of course, that barrels were important to making great wine, but I hadn’t until last night heard anyone speak with quite the level of reverence and conviction as Mike and his friends. Talking to Cheryl about their time together at Opus One, Mike said thoughtfully: “That 2005 had no heartbeat. The barrels made that wine.”

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When at last we had finished, we loaded up in cars and drove across Highway 29 to Bistro Fume’ (or is it Fume’ Bistro? — I can never remember), and had burgers. By then, after four days tasting wine in the Napa and Sonoma Valleys, I needed a beer. We also shared a terrific bottle of J Schram 2007 vintage sparkling wine from Schramsberg, provided by Cheryl’s husband who works there, and a bottle of Mike’s exceptional Syrah, vintage 2014. Incredible wine. I don’t know if I was a tremendous help to Mike last night, but I certainly enjoyed myself, and I think I got out of there without using one of those “fresh-cut garden hose” descriptors that would invariably turn me into yet another urban legend of pretentious tomfoolery in the sommelier and wine writing world.

The few times I’ve tried Opus One, I’ve been truly taken with it. It’s definitely world famous for a reason. That said, these days it costs over $250 retail, so if you’re looking for a pro tip, take this one: The guy who made it for over two decades makes his own wines now, and you can buy his Cabernet Sauvignon for a hundred bucks, his Syrah and Merlot for far less, and all of them are incredible. If you’re looking for that truly unique, exciting wine experience in the Napa Valley as I was a few years back, I suggest you check out euclidwines.com. I suspect you’ll find Mike, and his wines, as charming as I do.

Cheers to great new wine experiences,

Mark

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2 responses to ““Trying new things”

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