Sun 31 Jul 2011
As CEO of Merryvale Vineyards from 1997 to 2009, Peter K. Huwiler developed contacts with all sorts of growers and owners of top-quality vineyards and wineries in the disparate regions of Napa Valley. As president and CEO of Napa Station, he draws on those contacts for grapes and wine that make up the small range of products offered by Napa Station, a family concern that he operates with his son Peter Huwiler II, who handles sales and marketing. Huwiler, originally from Switzerland, left a worldwide career in the restaurant business to work in wine, first for Stimson Lane in Washington, then, beginning in 1990, as head of national accounts and exports for Kendall-Jackson. Napa Station, so far, is almost minuscule compared to what is now Ste. Michelle Wine Estates and K-J; total production for Napa Station is about 10,000 cases annually. There’s still a connection with Merryvale; Napa Station’s winemaker is Faith Armstrong-Foster, who is married to Sean Foster, Merryvale’s senior winemaker. Armstrong-Foster was previously assistant winemaker at Frank Family Vineyards; she also has her own label, Onward. The Napa Station wines are very well-made, clean, balanced and harmonious, and prices are reasonable. Deriving grapes from as many as five growing areas of the Napa Valley, these wines strive, it seems, for a sort of authentic “Napa Valleyness” in terms of ripeness and structure without being identified with a specific region like Rutherford or Howell Mountain. Oak is managed very carefully, and as far as I am concerned, Armstrong-Foster could give lessons to many winemakers in California that seem to throw oak at their wines with reckless abandon.
These wines were samples for review. Image of Faith Armstrong-Foster from napastation.com.
The Napa Station Sauvignon Blanc 2009 draws grapes from three areas of Napa Valley: Oak Knoll (predominantly), Carneros and Rutherford. Most of the wine remains in stainless steel tanks for fermentation and aging, though 18 percent goes into neutral — meaning used several times — French oak barrels for four months. No malolactic process occurred, so the wine retains considerable freshness and immediate appeal. The wine includes 2 percent semillon grapes. The color is medium straw-gold; bright aromas of apple and roasted lemon curl around elements of pear and melon and ginger, with touches of grass, dried thyme and tarragon. A lovely texture that nicely balances moderate richness with pert and sassy acidity delivers flavors of lemon and pear that open to hints of leafy fig and a finish that combines a note of grapefruit bitterness with burgeoning limestone minerality; here, one feels the slight sway of burgeoning spicy oak. A pretty suave and sophisticated sauvignon blanc for the price. 13.5 percent alcohol. 1,610 cases. Very Good+. About $15, representing Good Value.
Again, as with the Sauvignon Blanc 09, there’s no new oak in the Napa Station Chardonnay 2008; the wine is made primarily in stainless steel (73 percent) with the rest aging six months in one- and two-year old French barriques. Twenty-three percent of the wine goes through malolactic, lending smoothness and touches of lushness, yet the balance leans toward crisp acidity and a scintillating minerality. The color is moderate straw-gold with a tinge of green; the nose is bright and clean, an attractively fresh amalgam of green apple, pineapple and grapefruit pungent with cloves, lime peel and limestone and a fleeting nuance of Chablis-like gunflint. While it’s quite dry, this chardonnay rolls across the palate like money, offering tasty lemon, peach and baked pear flavors as it simultaneously builds the case for spicy wood and spry acidity. It’s dense and chewy for an inexpensive chardonnay, with more lime peel and a note of grapefruit skin on the finish. A really well-made chardonnay for the price. 13.5 percent alcohol. 1,615 cases. Excellent. About $16, a Great Value.
The Napa Station Merlot 2008 is a blend of 77 percent merlot, 21 percent cabernet sauvignon and 2 percent petit verdot, sourced from three areas of Napa Valley but mainly Los Carneros. The wine aged 22 months in a combination of small oak puncheons (which is to say larger than the standard 59-gallon barrique) and French barriques, 22 percent new. The color is dark ruby with a violet rim, meaning where the surface of the wine touches the glass when you tilt the glass away from you. Intense and concentrated aromas of black currants, cherries and raspberry are permeated by hints of cedar and tobacco, a little toasty/caraway quality and a touch of briers and brambles. This is firm, savory merlot endowed with finely knit, velvety tannins, vivid acidity and a deep graphite-tinged minerality joined by a plethora of foresty/underbrush elements; an hour or so mellows and smooths it out nicely and brings out the spicy black fruit/black tea flavors. Drink now through 2013. Alcohol content is 14.5 percent. 525 cases. Excellent. About $22.
Presently, the Napa Station Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is defined by structure. The wine is a blend of 88 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 9 percent merlot, 2 percent malbec and 1 percent petit verdot; the Huwiler boys draw these grapes from five Napa Valley areas: Rutherford, Oakville, Stags Leap, Atlas Peak and Carneros. The wine aged 20 months in small puncheons and French barriques, 21 percent new. A reflection of a year that produced deep, intense and concentrated cabernets, the Napa Station Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 is quite substantial, a wine packed with dense tannins and all the elements of walnut shell, dried porcini, forest and underbrush that indicate the necessity of additional time in the bottle, say two years, to become more approachable. Even tasted 24 hours later, this wine asserted its compositional prowess and its dominance over fruit, though I bet if you opened a bottle tonight and served it with a great medium-rare steak, a porterhouse for two, say, hot and crusty from the grill, you would be quite happy. 14.5 percent alcohol. 2,525 cases. Very Good+ with Excellent potential. About $23.
Classic Medoc in style — that is to say, it feels like Left Bank Bordeaux — the Napa Station Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 is the wine to drink while waiting a year or two for its cousin from 2007 to gentle down and learn company manners. Slight differences in origin and production: As a grape source, Atlas Peak is dropped in favor of Howell Mountain; the composition is 87 percent cabernet sauvignon, 8 percent merlot, 4 percent petit verdot and — where did this “unclassic” dollop come from? — 1 percent petite sirah; the wine aged 22 months in small puncheons and barriques, 23 percent new. The color is dark ruby with an almost opaque center; nicely-defined aromas of black currants and cherries, with cedar and thyme, black olive and a touch of bell pepper set the stage for a well-balanced and integrated cabernet that displays lively acidity, firm but pliant tannins (embodying some dusty, graphite-like minerality) and macerated black fruit flavors bolstered by a flourish of spicy oak. No edges, no surprises, but thoroughly enjoyable; restaurants could sell the hell out of this wine at $10 in by-the-glass programs. 14.5 percent alcohol. Production was 3,450 cases. Very Good+. Price not available; to be released Sept. 1.