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One of the highlights of my trips to Napa is to sit down and taste with winemakers. Touring a winery can be interesting as you can get a sense of the land, people that work there and culture in the wine. The winemaker is the soul behind the wine, in many cases the one person that really represents what is in the bottle. Sure, many can leave the expression up to terroir and let the vine produce what it can produce, then have a "hands off" approach in the winery. Philippe Melka is one of those persons where you can taste his involvement. His wines are always elegant with precise flavors, precision and high quality. That is why so many wineries seek him out for his consulting services.
French born, Philippe learned about winemaking in Bordeaux. He apprenticed at Château Haut-Brion and Cheval Blanc before moving to the Napa valley. He has long résumé of wineries where he has produced award-winning wines like Quintessa, Lail, Vineyard 29 and many more. I met him at the 16 acre, family-owned Gemstone vineyards in Yountville. Philippe is a busy man, especially the weeks around harvest. He said he eats about 2 pounds of grapes each day and is usually on a sugar high. He has to go through withdrawal the days following the crush.
I sat down with him and tasted two of my favorite reds in Napa Valley, the 2009 vintages of Gemstone Red wine and Gemstone Cabernet Sauvignon
*2009 Gemstone Estate Red Wine *
Blend: 71% Cabernet Sauvignon, 21% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc. Appellation: Yountville
Vinification: Double-sorted; whole-berry fermented for 35 days using native yeasts; bottled unfiltered and unfined
Cooperage: A combination of Ermitage, Taransaud, Francois Frères, Baron; 67% French new oak
Aging: 17 months
Production: 1,200 cases
Philippe’s tasting notes: "Our 2009 Estate Red Blend offers intense aromas of violet, sweet spice and ripe red fruit. These notes mingle with licorice, cherry pit and darker fruit flavors on the mid-palate. The long elegant finish layers cream and vanilla upon the rich fruit tones and smooth tannins. This wine will age for a minimum of twenty years but is lovely and approachable now."
2009 Gemstone Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Blend:cabernet sauvignon 97%, petit verdot 3%
Vinification: double-sorted; whole berry fermented for 35 days using native yeasts; bottled unfiltered and unfined
Cooperage: 21 month new French oak (65%) Ermitage, Taransaud, François Frères, baron
Production: 500 cases
Philippe’s tasting notes: "Our 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a muscular yet refined wine. On the nose it offers concentrated dark fruit and mineral notes. The palate yields dark fruit characteristics such as black cherry and cassis, mingled with cocoa powder and spice. The tannins are fine and well-integrated. It has good structure, lovely acidity and a freshness and vibrancy that make it very approachable now. It will age for a minimum of twenty years."