Richard has worked for some of the biggest names in the American wine industry, like Robert Mondavi, and now oversees winemaking for Clos Pegase, a 450-acre estate vineyard in Napa Valley. We discussed his approach to winemaking, issues facing the industry, and of course, tried some of his wine during our meeting. It was a fascinating conversation, and Richard will no doubt leave the attendees at the Winemaker Dinner impressed with his knowledge, his enthusiasm and the wines that he makes. On a side note, he is of the opinion that Syrah is the most under-utilized grape in California and raved about the Syrah that Clos Pegase makes. It is, however, only available at their tasting room and to wine club members.
The two wines Richard brought with him were the 2009 Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley. The Chardonnay was more yellow than clear in color with hints of citrus, melon and vanilla on the nose. The thing that impressed me the most about this wine was that it didn’t finish in an overly oaky way. Instead, the 2009 Mitsuko Chardonnay left a hint of something more akin to toasted pecans lingering on the pallatte. It was a nice – and surprising - finish to a well-balanced Chardonnay. If you have any friends who have been turned off to Chardonnay because they have had so many overly oaked, overly buttery ones, this wine would be the perfect antidote.
We discussed everything from the role of a winemaker – Richard sees himself more as a caretaker ensuring that the grapes reach their full potential – to issues facing the wine industry - both in Napa and globally – to his thoughts on the Virginia wine industry. His prediction is that as the locavore movement continues to gain in popularity, locally sourced wines will become more and more popular, too. Napa is starting to pay attention to Virginia wines insofar as their reputation is growing, though it is difficult to find Virginia wines in California. Still, the state’s potential is luring talented people from California back East. Clos Pegase’s former cellar manager is now at Hillsborough Vineyards in Loudoun County.