Pinot Grigio ... And More
I have been involved in the wine business for four decades now. I have seen the business go from bulk to premium, premium to super premium, and on to the silly and ridiculousness of “ultra” and “extra” premium. Or whatever platinum or other ore that comes next.
In all that time, the most unusual and interesting statement I have ever heard came from Mike Moone when he was president of Beringer (then owned by Nestle, the European chocolate folk). I had asked him what sort of direction Nestle had given him, thinking that their Old World mind set might yield something interesting. Little did I know.
“What they asked me,” he said, his words measured and exact, “was this: What will the president of Beringer, a hundred years from now, thank me for having done now?” What an extraordinary mandate to have in your pocket. What that allowed Moone to do was to purchase a substantial swath of excellent vineyard lands along the Central Coast and to re-roof the former Chateau Souverain (which Beringer then owned; it’s now owned by Francis Ford Coppola) . . . with slate!
Since then, Moone has moved a bit south in the Napa Valley, acquiring the old St. Andrews Winery on the Silverado Trail just north of Napa in 1995. He and his partner – George Vare, an equally veteran wine man (Geyser Peak) – renamed the cellar Luna Vineyards and replanted the 20-plus acres of estate vineyard to Pinot Grigio, having the prescience to see that that variety would do well in the cooler south county clime and that, well-grown, it might curry favor with the newly reformed American white wine palate. (And, as it happens, go remarkably well with curry dishes.)
“It’s a labor of love,” says Moone, who spends much of his time on the golf course these days. “I just write checks now,” he says with a laugh. “When I was able to bring MaryAnn Tsai over from Beringer it allowed me to take a back seat. She’s smart as hell, really upbeat and fun to work with. Heck, she took Beringer from a hundred million in sales to a half a billion! She and I have even started our own, high-end Cabernet label together: Moone-Tsai.”
Luna’s president and CEO, Tsai is a Harvard Business School grad who worked for Moone at Beringer before joining him at Luna. “When I first came to Beringer in 1989 – I had lived in France for a year and worked in consumer products for six years – the wine industry wasn’t really looking for MBAs,” says Tsai. “But Beringer – and the wine business – needed a new business plan, and I was happy to run brand marketing there for a dozen years.”
Tsai lauds Luna as being focused on hands-on production values from vineyards to bottling. “If you are going to be focused on quality at this luxury level, you have to be able to see to every detail personally. That’s the beauty of this category: We get to connect with our consumers on an individual, personal level, whether it’s at the intimate tastings in our elegant tasting salon or at our sophisticated and personal blending seminars. People love to sit and chat with the winemaker and better understand the choices that he made creating each wine. We have several small lot wines that are sold only at the winery and to our club members.”
Pinot Grigio 2008 Napa Valley ($18): Sweet grapefruit and lemon fruit that bounce all over the place. The texture is soft, long and inviting, and there’s an almond-like nutty nuance that rounds things out nicely. Soft shell crab would be good. “Most of the fruit is whole cluster pressed to retain acidity,” says winemaker Jim McMahon, who has been with Luna for three years. “About a third of the fruit goes through malolactic to add richness to the mouth feel; aging about twenty percent of the wine in French oak does the same. A little Chardonnay [five percent] gives the wine better balance.” Fully sixty percent of Luna’s 30,000-case production is given over to Pinot Grigio.
Merlot 2006 Napa Valley ($40): Lots of berry (boysenberry to be specific), with cassis for complexity, a bit of oak graham, and a firm and lingering texture. This would do justice to smoked salmon, but then I’m a bit partial to smoked salmon.
Sangiovese 2007 Napa Valley ($25): Lots of fruit working in this wine, from strawberry and cranberry to blackberry and blueberry. There’s plenty of tannin to keep the fruit from leaking away and squandering its identity. I’m going with comfit of duck here. You with me?
Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 Napa Valley ($55): Inky-black in color, with tightly-knit iodine and licorice spiciness and black currant fruit. Solid tannin around the edges. Think game birds or venison if you’ve got the chance. Or an old recipe pot roast, with potatoes cooked in the juices. Yep, that would work.
Luna Vineyards is located at 2921 Silverado Trail, Napa. The tasting room is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Phone (707) 255-2474, or check them out on the web at lunavineyards.com.
[Hinkle is the author of nine wine books, two of which earned him the Wine Literary Award. An avid baseball player, his work may be viewed at RichardPaulHinkle.com.]