On the Trail

Lunch, and a Trip to Dominus

Trey Beffa

A small gathering at Spruce in San Francisco was the location of a lunch introducing a new label in Napa. This was not just any other new label. This was a new project founded by Christian Moueix of Dominus, Chateau Petrus and many other well-known Bordeaux properties. Named Ulysses, the ranch is located about 1 mile north of Dominus. Having eyed the property for years, when the opportunity arose to purchase it Christian jumped on it.  The property is forty acres with thirty planted to vine, and 80% of the vines are newly planted by Christian and his team. Similar to Dominus, the property is mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvingon with a bit of Petite Verdot and Cabernet Franc as well. Surprising to me, Ulysses with only use 40-50% New Oak. The fruit is what they want to showcase with this wine. 

Before the lunch we tasted the 2012, 2013, and 2014 vintages. The 2012 is scheduled to be released soon and the good news is K&L will be getting the wine. The bad news is the wine, at least initially, will be very limited. Production for the 2012 is around 800 cases. 2014 will see a jump, but still well under 1500 cases. The quality obviously is extremely high despite coming from mostly younger vines. The 2012 leads off with hints of mocha and coffee, which is followed by plum, red fruit, spice and a lingering long finish. The texture is supple and this wine drinks surprisingly well right now. Being the first vintage, I would expect the demand to be extremely high. Price point should be just a shade under the Dominus. More to come as we get closer to the release so stay tuned! The lunch by the way was fabulous! It was my first time at Spruce and I was very impressed. A nice little treat with lunch was the 2010 Belair Monange from St Emilion and the 2000 Trotanoy from Pomerol. The Belair Monange is a terrific wine and if you see some buy it. It will over deliver for sure. The Trotanoy was a bit advanced and softer than I would have guessed. It may have been an off bottle but it still was very pleasant to drink. Thanks to Christian Moueix and his team for the invite. 

The next day I had a chance to visit Dominus. Lucky for me it was a 75 degree, crystal clear late February day. Dominus is truly a special place. Completed in 1997, the winery gets as much attention for the architecture as it does for the wine. The offices which sit on top of the winery have amazing views of the Napanook Vineyard. It is a far cry from my cubical in Hollywood with no windows and little ventilation (jealous!). The property no longer has any Merlot. Christian believes it is too hot in Yountville to properly grow the grape, so it's now is planted to roughly 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc. 

In the early 1990’s, Dominus was doing quite a lot of replanting of the vineyards. In 1994, they created “Napanook”: a label which featured the young vine fruit that was coming from the newer plantings. As these vines have gotten older, the second wine has gotten stronger and stronger. The wine has taken a huge jump in quality thanks to the maturity of the vines used in the blend. The 2012 Napanook is a delicious cabernet that shows a medium body, lovely spice, cedar, red fruits and a long, fresh finish. The 2012 Dominus is also surprisingly open and drinkable. This wine can be enjoyed right now with a bit of air. It shows a wonderful purity of fruit, with a rich, round middle that feels voluptuous in the mouth. The texture is almost creamy, while the finish shows plenty of ripe tannins. Overall, it's a superb example of the winery and a perfect candidate for mid-term cellaring.

The 2013 was tasted last. One of the first people to taste the wine at the property, we felt pretty special. Bottled in the fall, this wine is scheduled for a release in the summer of this year. I hesitate to even mention the 2013 as I do not want to take away from the extremely high quality of the 2012. Christian describes the 2013 as “a once in a lifetime” vintage. The wine already has three 100-point scores from the most well-known wine writers in the country. The label will take a step back in time and use the portrait label they used similar to the labels of 1983-1990.  Personally I would rank it as one of the greatest young Napa wines I have ever tasted. But, again, I hesitate to mention that (wink, wink).

-Trey Beffa