PHOTO BY SCOTT CHEBEGIA
Napa Valley is synonymous with cabernet sauvignon, and seemingly every one of the nearly 500 wineries here produces a cab. That single grape variety, however, can be expressed in dramatically distinct wines based on where in the valley it was grown. Now, one ambitious tasting room is showing just how much difference terroir can make.
Oakville Wine Merchant, which debuted in February in the 19th-century Victorian building on State Route 29 that houses the wine history museum 1881 Napa, recently inaugurated its “Embark on a Journey Throughout the Valley” tasting. This experience offers guests the chance to sample same-vintage cabs from 12 of Napa Valley’s 16 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs), all in one sitting. The wines are sourced from a network of Napa Valley producers, with several of them made in-house, under the property’s 1881 Napa label.
“We are focusing on the vineyard location, the attributes of the physical soil, and what they’re doing to that wine,” says Ali Madrid, Oakville Wine Merchant’s tasting room manager. “When we set—in crazy fashion—all 12 glasses in front of you, we’re doing that with the intention of allowing you to explore the entire valley.”
The presentation starts with lighter wines and works up to ones with bigger texture and more tannins; on a map of the region, that roughly translates to a progression from the valley floor up the mountainsides. “You’re really going from brighter, tarter characteristics to coffee and fig [notes],” Madrid says.
“It’s always fascinating how geography affects agriculture,” says Daniel Rodriguez, a Sonoma resident and sommelier who is in attendance at the same tasting as Hemispheres, with his wife, Kasey Kuchinski. (One tasting can be split between two people.) “The Oakville cab has much more of that eucalyptus characteristic, whereas Coombsville, Oak Knoll, not so much.”
If this sounds like a lot of wine, well, it is. The experience lasts two hours, and according to Madrid, no one has finished all of the glasses. “You don’t even feel how intense it gets toward the end,” Kuchinski says, “until you go back to the first one.” $175, 1881napa.com