Sunday, April 20, 2014

Naked Vine Double Barrel -- Waterstone: The Winery that Wasn't There

Sometimes a winery can be just a load of grapes and a plan.

Estate winemaking, especially in well-known areas like Napa Valley, is an expensive proposition. Land is expensive, as can be cobbling together a winemaking infrastructure. Equipment, tanks, barrels, bottling lines, storage – the list of expenses goes on and on.

Winemakers with good relationships, however, can take advantage of their connections and start an operation of their own. That’s what winemakers Phillip Zorn and Brent Shortridge are attempting to do with Waterstone Winery – a winery that doesn’t exist as a brick-and-mortar place.

Zorn and Shortridge source the grapes for their various wines from growers that they know around Napa Valley and assemble the various blends for the wines in Zorn’s kitchen. They rent time and equipment at other wineries to put together their finished product. According to the Waterstone website, the pair attempts to “develop balanced wines of varietal character through intelligent sourcing…rather than the accumulation of land and facilities.”

Thanks to the good folks at Folsom & Associates, I received a pair of bottles from Waterstone to sample. What sort of wines does this phantom winery produce?

Waterstone 2012 Carneros Chardonnay – The notion of balance in a Napa wine is something I’m still getting used to. Many of those wines are strong and in-your-face. That’s not so much the case with the Waterstone. This is a much more mellow wine than many oak bombs I’m used to from Napa Chardonnay. The nose is fragrant with apple blossoms, oak, and a little bit of a toasted, yeasty undertone. This chardonnay is about as far from buttery as you’ll find. Instead, there’s a distinct mineral character that connects green apple and pear with an oaky backbone, although not as much oak as I thought there’d be after getting a whiff. The finish is oaky and fruity, with a slight astringency that fades a bit as the wine gets a little air. It’s a fairly solid middle-of-the-road chardonnay if you’re looking for something on the lighter side. Alongside a cheese and apple board we had as a snack, it was OK. It retails for $18, which may be just a tad high.

Waterstone 2011 Carneros Pinot Noir – I could have clacked out (or, more accurately, copied) the first few line of the Chardonnay review for this pinot noir. Again, this is a much more restrained glass of pinot noir than I expected from Napa. The nose, full of plums and cherries, had me ready for a big wave of fruit that didn’t materialize. Instead, a well-constructed cherry cola flavor (without sweetness) dominates the palate, along with a light trace of tannin that lingers for just a bit on the palate before deepening on the finish into long smokiness. It’s got one of the longer finishes I’ve had in a pinot in quite some time. The Sweet Partner in Crime deemed it “delicate and really pretty.” With a dinner of pork chops and citrus-flavored lentils, it proved to be deliciously food-flexible. According to the winery’s notes on this wine, the 2011 growing season was a very challenging one for their sources. If that circumstance led to the balance and focus of this wine, I hope they took good notes – because whatever technique they used worked wonderfully. We really enjoyed it. Retails for $22.

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