August 13, 2009
When we visited Argentina in March of this year, we were amazed at the number of new wineries and more amazed at their magnificence. It seemed no expenses were spared in creating architectural wonders, luxurious gardens, and winemaking rooms with the latest high-tech winemaking equipment. These wineries were created to dazzle and to make the finest wine possible. Two examples of these Argentine wineries are Bodega Salentein and Bodega Andeluna. Both of these wineries are spectacular in every aspect and owned by very rich men.
A couple of week ago, at a wine blogger conference, the bus that I was assigned took us to a winery that I had never heard have before, Palmaz Vineyards. It’s located east of Napa at the southern end of the Vaca Mountains at the foot of Mount St. George. Once I saw the winery from the outside, I almost felt like I was back in Argentina. It was similar in character to the new wineries I’d visited there. This is a winery where no expense has been spared. It is truly a marvelous wonder.
The owners as it turns out are from Argentina, Julio and Amalia Palmaz. Julio is the M.D. that developed the stent device used in Angioplasty. Their son Christian runs the winery operation, and their daughter Florence is the marketing director. It was Florence that greeted us and took us on a short tour and gave us these details. The winery has four levels but so big that the entire winery is equal in size to an 18-story building. It took 6 years to build the winery so that should give you an idea of the details and cost of building this facility. The vineyards are planted at 400, 1200, and 1400 ft elevations. The vineyards are predominately Cabernet Sauvignon, and three Bordeaux varieties of Merlot, Cab Franc, and Petite Verdot are used to blend with the Cabernet Sauvignon. There is some Chardonnay, Muscat Canelli, and Riesling that is sold only at the winery and is made in very small amounts. Curiously, the Riesling is called Johannesburg Riesling. I was told once by winemaker Stu Smith that there is no such grape, “It’s just plain Riesling.”
If you want to visit this winery, it is open by appointment only and the cost is $60 per person for a tour and tasting. This winery is for the high-end wine consumer. The Cabernets starts at $100 per bottle and if the white wines are available they are priced at $45. The only wine we were able to taste was the $100 Cabernet. Unfortunately, I am not able to judge or say anything about this wine. There were about 18 wine bloggers and because of the logistics we sat outside on a hot but beautiful terrace to hear three speakers and taste three wines (the other two were from Viader Vineyards and Madonna Estate). By the time we sat and were able to taste, the sun had brought the wine temperatures too warm to evaluate. What a disappointment!
My final thoughts as I left the winery were the same as Salentine and Andeluna in Argentina. Is it possible for theses wineries to make a profit selling wine? Here at Palmaz they make so little wine that it does not seem possible. Is this just a rich man’s hobby?