Alpha Omega Meeting
On Wednesday morning of last week(Aug 12th, 2009) Matt and I had the chance to sit down with Jean Hoefliger the lead winemaker and the general manager of Alpha Omega winery in Napa. To start Alpha Omega is in a great location on highway 29 in Rutherford, just a couple of miles south of St. Helena. They have recently opened a new tasting room which we were impressed with both in terms of architecture and the general feel inside.
The winery itself is much as you would expect with the vines surrounding the tasting room and some construction still going on, the one point of interest is definitely the fountains that they have between the tasting room and highway 29. It really is a beautiful location and the tasting room is situated in such a way, and slope, that you don’t notice highway 29 while you are there.
After arriving and meeting Jean he took us into a side room which had a long table with seats for approximately 10 people, leather chairs, rustic orange chandeliers which we later found out had been installed that morning and place settings for the three of us.
We spent the next 90 minutes or so talking with Jean about his wine-making philosophy, the history of Alpha Omega and how our two companies could work together in the future.
It was definitely a fascinating conversation especially because Jean’s passion for his work definitely shined through and he was completely at ease talking about everything from why they use only naturally occuring yeast, to how he was recruited to Alpha Omega, to his like for new ventures.
Our conversation was intermixed while tasting their 6 different wines, so I’ll go over conversation first and wine second.
A couple of things especially stick out in my mind:
*Alpha Omega uses only naturally occurring yeast in their wines. Instead of using one type of industrial yeast they allow their wines to spend more time in barrel (100% French because the grain is finer and imparts a more even flavor) in order to allow the 7 types of yeast that occur naturally on grapes to work without an outside addition.
* He tastes each wine daily as it is barrel to check and make sure it is being blended appropriately, it is definitely a more hands on approach then most winemakers use.
*98% of wine sold in the USA is consumed within 48 hours of purchase. Although this isn’t hugely popular in winemaking circles, he understands this fact and needs to create wine that will be good when consumed immediately as well as aging well when cellar-ed.
*Specifically in regards to both the Proprietary Red and ERA, asked what the blend was exactly. Interestingly Jean said he wasn’t sure off the top of his head because he never wants to think that he made the perfect wine a couple of years ago and now he needs to try and duplicate it. Each year will have a different blend because different fruit gives different results.
As for the wines:
I thought everything offered would stand the test of time, some notes on the 4 wines which stick out in my mind to this day:
Chardonnay Napa Valley 2006: By far the best Chardonnay I’ve ever tasted. I typically find the varietal too acidic but this was quite smooth and the flavor combinations which I found to be unique really did shine through-specifically honey and almond. When we got into the car we were wondering why we didn’t bring home a couple of bottles. To give you an idea of the winemakers taste he said he would bury this wine in the vineyard and drink it in about 15 years. I’m not sure I’m quite that patient.
Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006: I thought this was simply put an outstanding wine. It is quite masculine because you do get a sense of pepper as well as cherry. The three of us all remarked that this would be an outstanding Cab to pair with a slice of grilled meat. We took home two bottles of this wine.
Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley 2006: To me, if you want to see what Alpha Omega does differently in their winemaking then many of the other wineries around the world, you need to try their blends. To start the wine is a beautiful purple color and on the nose you really can easily pick up red cherry. On the tongue the wine is smooth and overall it comes across as balanced. I would gladly drink this by itself, or with a meal. We took two bottles home with us.
ERA: Ok, so yes we did taste the $160 a bottle ERA. Did it live up to expectations? Yes it did, it is the smoothest wine I’ve ever tasted. The three of us all agreed that it is perhaps a more feminine wine then the others we tasted, most likely because it has a much higher amount of petit verdot, which incidentally is Jean’s favorite wine grape. Matt and I didn’t take a bottle home but would certainly buy a couple of bottles for a special occasion, especially if our wives and mother in law would be drinking because we know without doubt that all three of them would love the wine. I did especially enjoy the wine as well, frankly if we weren’t allocating funds to our business purchases we would have loved to bring home a few bottles and cellar them for a while.
Lastly we were able to talk with Jean about moving forward with a business agreement between our two companies. We are extremely happy to say that we will be featuring an Alpha Omega wine in one of our first shipments. Jean was very gracious and shared our opinion that having a long term partnership between our two companies would be good for both of us moving forward. I can’t say that at Uncorked Ventures we disagree, we’re very happy to add Alpha Omega to our growing list of partner wineries.
At the end of the day, this was a great meeting for Uncorked Ventures and we can’t thank Jean Hoefliger and the staff at Alpha Omega enough. We’re looking forward to working a day of harvest with the staff in the next few weeks.