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PostHeaderIcon This Wine Packs a Punch

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Napa Valley, with its peaceful winding roads, grassy hillsides, turreted castles and often hoity-toity Tuscan-style villa wineries, is ground zero for destination fine wines. It's famous for places such as Chateau Montelena and its vast grounds,  Tres Sabores, with its wine cave, and chateau-esque Beringer Vineyards, which officially kicked off the Napa wine tourist industry when it celebrated the end of Prohibition in 1934 with public tours.

But the combined hard work of wine-making, including climate, growing practices, and the guiding hand of the winemaker, isn’t just done in wineries that produce hundreds of thousands of bottles of wine yearly and make millions doing it.

Wine-making is also done in small cellars or in cold, shared warehouses on residential streets throughout the region. There are no gift shops or luxurious water fountains on the grounds. In fact, there are rarely any grounds at all. The winemakers don’t come from family money but rather have day jobs and a staff of one, maybe two, including a cousin who helps out from time to time. Like the speakeasies of the Prohibition Era, they like to keep their secret, their secret. Though unlike the establishments of the 1920s and early 1930s, their secret is completely legal. And a whole lot of fun.

Punch Vineyards is one such secret. Owned by Berkeley native Lee Nordlund, Punch’s Cabernet Sauvignon has competed with the proprietors of those villas since its first vintage in 2007 by consistently scoring high marks by industry critics. Punch’s 2012 Chardonnay selling out in a month this year shows an emerging cult following.

A visit to Punch Vineyards cellars in a residential Napa neighborhood shows Nordlund’s and his wine-making is more microchâteau-- referring to a place making deep, fine modern wines in small lots, mostly in the Right Bank of France, than garagiste, a term for hobbyist home-based winemakers derived from the Bordeaux region producing vins de garage or “garage wine.”

Wine barrels stacked to the rafters and the heady smell of wine aging in flavorful French oak greet you as soon as you walk into the cellar. When you taste, unadulterated black and purple fruit lingers on the palate.

Its 45 barrels of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc and  Chardonnay are lined up in the 3,200-square foot cellar Punch shares with other wine-making tenants.

“We put all of our money into the bottle,” said Nordlund, “Not real estate.”

That money buys sought-after grapes because Nordlund and his winemakers are industry insiders.  Punch’s director of wine-making Miguel Caratachea, who earned an enology (wine-making) degree at UC Davis, and consulting winemaker Steve Lagier understand the reward of pristine fruit that gives each Punch varietal clarity and depth. They have access to lesser-known vineyards, or they know when to be the first to swoop up fruit at famous vineyards before bigger vintners can claim it. Punch also seeks out grapes grown on sloped vineyards at higher elevations, with hillside climate and topography leading to more intense fruit.

“Pure fruit gives an impression of sweetness with a finish that is crisp and long,” said Nordlund, who likes to have fun by teasing about the trend of “oak-a-hol.”  Some winemakers mask wine blemishes by overly-imparting toast and other wood flavors from new oak barrels or using overly ripe fruit or adding sugar during fermentation – equaling higher alcohol. Though their customers may claim to like a “strong” wine, the fruit doesn’t necessarily shine.

Punch puts on the gloves with its fruit-forward balance. At a benefit for the Family Service of Napa Valley late last month, Punch, at $35 a bottle, was tasted next to Opus One ($235 per bottle retail), Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve ($135), and Staglin Family Vineyards ($190). Nordlund said Punch was perceived of similar quality and smoother textures than some of these labels.

Nordlund knows – he has worked for and learned from some of these labels. His experience includes positions at Robert Mondavi and Beringer Estates, along with acting as the estate director of Mount Veeder Winery and Franciscan Estate. Punch wants to make fine wine accessible to all – now selling its Cabernet Sauvignon by the six-bottle half-case. (Punch is usually only sold by the full case). Single bottles can be found at Beltramo’s in Menlo Park and select Andronico’s. Punch's motto is made "By Insiders, For Insiders."  For more information about Punch, go to www.punchvineyards.com.--LM


Leslie Mladinich, a 20-year industry veteran, is a former full-time newspaper reporter whose most recent freelance writing and editing includes blog and newsletter articles for UC Berkeley Haas School of Business. She has a growing wine background from sensory analysis, Wines of California, and viticulture classes completed at UC Davis Extension and Las Positas Community College in Livermore. In addition, she pours in the tasting room at Mitchell Katz Winery. Find more of her wine writing at www.ofwanderandwine.com and journalism and professional communications work at www.lesliemladinich.com. This is her third contribution to allnewsnoblues.com.


Last Updated (Tuesday, 08 April 2014 15:18)


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