Presentation counts. We’ve always known that, and from the beginning, we’ve sought to make our meals beautiful and artfully presented, as well as memorably flavorful.
A kindred spirit who shares this philosophy is Quintessa wines. We serve Quintessa’s Rutherford Red, which is a wonderful red blend that pairs well with the steak that
populates our menu. But it also has one of the most elegant bottles in the wine
business. An embossed Q is molded into the shape of each bottle, and the label
has a gorgeous picture of Napa Valley’s wine country in full color. It’s as pretty as a painting – and as elegant as the contents.
We’re highlighting Quintessa as one of many vineyards with whom Eddie Merlot’s shares
a special relationship. We recently interviewed Charles Thomas, the Director of Vineyards and Winemaking, on the process of creating Quintessa wine. Charles has worked for Quintessa for four years, and he makes the call as to when to pick the grapes and how much Cabernet and how much Merlot is in each vintage. Our interview is below:
How much Merlot and how much Cabernet is in each bottle of Rutherford Red?
“From vintage to vintage, it varies according to what is the best expression of the vintage,” Charles says. “We’ve had recent vintages that are only 70 percent Cabernet to vintages that are as high as 94 percent Cabernet. It varies because there are seasonal flavor
differences. Once you have a vineyard planted, there are a number of things you
can do that will affect quality. It’s a question of what you’re doing during the growing season, what the weather gives you, and how you respond to what the weather gives you. Ultimately, mother nature decides what our vintage will be.”
How do you assess the grapes?
“I taste for a living,” Charles says. “When I’m walking a vineyard, I’m tasting the grapes and examining the vines. The picking decision is ultimately made by taste. There’s a two-week window, seven to 10 days on either side of when we pick, when I will push it later or pick them earlier depending on flavor. I begin tasting the grapes nearly a month or so before picking, depending on the block.”
What’s considered good weather for growing Cabernet?
“For Cabernet, you’re looking for moderately warm weather. The drier the summer, the better, generally speaking, from a disease-management perspective. I say that, even though it has rained an inch in the past three days here (in mid-May). We can handle that now this early in the season. It can get to 90 or more degrees here in the summer. In
the summer, it’s cool at night, only 50 to 55 degrees typically.”
Your vineyard practices biodynamic farming. Can you explain that?
“It’s an adaptation of organic farming with a little bit more rigor to it. You look at the property as a total life system, and not just the crops but everything around it, both plants and animals, considering the property as a whole, and understanding how they
interact. Best practices take the whole system into consideration.”
Do biodynamic farming practices grow better tasting grapes and make a better wine?
“An average grape grower who goes biodynamic will be a better grape grower, and will have grapes that will taste better. That’s because they will be out in the vineyard more often and watching more carefully. You have no safety net. So that right there pushes you be a better grower. Part of biodynamic is doing things on a rigorous schedule. There
is always a temptation in agriculture to put things off. Ultimately, an average
grower who converts to biodynamic will have better fruit. There are things about
the discipline that will make you a better grower.”
Tell us about the Quintessa 2007 Rutherford Red, which is
what we are currently serving.
“It’s a terrific vintage, a classic vintage by anybody’s definition of Napa Cabernet. The weather was not too hot not too cold. Some years, when you’re walking out in the vineyard, and you’re tasting grapes, you’re thinking, ‘This could be a terrific vintage if things continue to go well.’ 2007 was that kind of year. The Cabernet Sauvignon was especially successful. It had the suppleness you normally get from Merlot, and so the 2007 vintage had the highest percentage of Cabernet we’ve ever produced. It is 94 percent.”
What would you recommend to pair with it?
“I’d go with steak for sure. Duck
too. I’ve seen some chicken done with the right sauce and it can stand up to it.
Red meat is an easy match, and even some vegetarian dishes such as portabella
mushrooms are substantial enough to work well with Cabernet.”