The standard question I ask of the locals I meet here in the Napa Valley is “what is the best red wine here in the area that I have never heard of?” I always get some interesting answers. Many times I already know the label mentioned, but often times I don’t. In every case I write the names down and follow up with some google-based research later.
When we attended a wine dinner back in June, and asked the question, the respondent gave me two names. One was Wicker, which I wrote about several installments ago. The other name given to me that evening was Anomaly Vineyards. Naturally, that became my next quest.
Within days, we were at the Napa Humane Society fundraising event, and one of the silent auction items was a tasting for six at Anomaly. Recognizing karmic influences when I see them, we immediately snatched this up. We knew we had four guests coming to visit in August, so this would be perfect. A call to Seth, the son of the owners, quickly established our tasting on my day of choice.
Last Saturday we drove to St. Helena and found the winery a few blocks west of highway 29, tucked among vineyards and residential parcels. We walked down the driveway toward a cute two-story stone building (a third story was beneath the ground) and awaited the arrival of the owner, Steve Goldfarb, who walked all of 20 yards from his house next door.
Steve and his wife Linda had been living in Berkeley for years and commuting to their jobs at Steve’s law practice in San Francisco. When the commute finally evolved from 20 minutes to two hours, they decided they needed a change of scenery. Frequent visitors to the Napa Valley, they decided in 1997 to venture up north and take a look around. Trespassing through open acreage in St. Helena, they peered over a fence at a piece of land they admired, and soon that parcel became their home. They had no intention of becoming winemakers; they simply longed for the beauty and the serenity of this gorgeous valley.
(At this point, I must point out that any similarities between the Goldfarb’s story and ours are merely coincidental and no assumptions should be made about our future path.)
Although they had no intention of making wine, their property came complete with six small rows of grapes. And, contrary to their wishes, when summer came, those vines bore fruit. “You must turn those grapes into wine!,” the neighbors said. Not knowing the first thing about making wine, they bought a book. And when the grapes seemed ripe, they took scissors to the vines (yes, scissors) and harvested. Eighteen months later they had 30 cases (not even two barrels worth) of Cabernet. Lacking permits, they could not sell it, so they gave it away to friends and neighbors. Everyone complimented Steve and Linda on their wine, but they were savvy enough to know that no one would have the gumption to criticize a free bottle of wine from St. Helena.
But then the wine was entered into a blind tasting at Dean & Deluca, and soon they had a knock on the door from one of the judges. Encouragement was given, finances were considered, and before you could say “writ of habeus corpus” this lawyer had become a winemaker.
Land was purchased, grapes were planted, and plans were made. Knowing that the new vines would take 5 years to mature, they used the time to acquire permits and licenses, and build the small building that would house their wine-making venture. During this time the Goldfarbs were told that neighboring Sulphur Creek, coming out of the Mayacama range, used to flow through the property, meaning the soil was rich with layers of rock, gravel, soil and nutrients. Steve and Linda purachased a couple of lots and planted some vineyards, and during this time started producing wine. All of a sudden the “accidental vintners” were in business.
A tour with Steve is like no other tour anywhere in the valley. Usually son Seth gets to handle these chores, but during our visit Seth was otherwise engaged, so Dad had to get out and press the flesh. If he hadn’t become a winemaker, Steve could have been a great storyteller, because the tone and timing of his narrative during our walk in the vineyards was outstanding. “Self-deprecating” would be a good way to describe it.
The vineyards were gorgeous last week, full of fruit, but still waiting the warm days that will add color and sugar to the grapes. The neighboring vineyards are of high pedigree, belonging to Spottswoode and Del Dotto. Steve pointed out one of his vineyards, which was the only one in the area planted diagonally compared to all the others. When you visit (and you will), be sure to ask about this vineyard. And give him a hard time. And tell him I told you to.
Eventually we made it back to the beautiful stone building and went downstairs into the cellar. There we found a couple of barrel rooms, where the wine ages, which also led to a tasting room, and Steve’s private cellar. Currently Anomaly makes about 880 cases of one Cabernet a year, so a tasting at Anomaly is not a time-consuming event. However, we were fortunate to have purchased a special auction package, so we got to taste TWO vintages of the Cabernet, with accompanying chocolate and olive oil tastings.
Steve poured the 2007 and 2008 vintages for us, which we tried with three different strengths of chocolate. While I am not a wine reviewer, I loved both these wines, especially the 2007. It was well-balanced, boasted some great tannic structure the way I like it (even for still being relatively young), and was full and smooth in my mouth. It’s totally drinkable today, but oh….. I gotta wait. It was $95 a bottle, and I bought a few. (Note: the winemaker notes describe this wine thusly: “The nose exhibits scents of brown sugar, espresso, and fresh beignets.” All I can say is, there was no powdered sugar on MY nose after I drank this wine. But it was delicious.)
The 2008 was also a beautiful wine, not as tannic, but quite smooth for such a young wine. Being the new kid, it was only $85 a bottle, and I bought a few of those, too. You may want to schedule a dinner at our house about 5 years from now, because we will be drinking these wines about then.
After the tasting we got to poke around Steve’s cellar, and admire the great Bordeauxs and Cabernets he has collected. (Definitely one of the perks of making wine is trading with your brethren.) At this point our tour was running late, new visitors were waiting, and our lunch reservation was imminent. We paid for our purchases, picked up some olive oil (which Steve’s brother makes in Italy) and said our goodbyes. We are sure to return to visit our new friend Steve in the very near future. And I suggest you do the same.