Saturday, May 29, 2010

VinRoc Wine Caves-Digging Deep on Atlas Peak

It’s been over 15 years since I drove to the top of Atlas Peak in Napa valley. Back then I was pulling a horse trailer and going to three day events at the Wild Horse Ranch facility just below the peak. But last Sunday I drove up to visit the wine caves at VinRoc, a small boutique winery run by Kiky Lee and Michael Parmenter.

The area has changed a lot over the years. There is more development in the way of homes and oddly enough, a Pet cemetery at the lower end of the road. But as the road climbs higher and higher up the mountain it remains relatively open and unspoiled. Just past the ranch where I used to take my horse, nestled below the mountain peak, is VinRoc. The views across the valley from the estate are jaw dropping and the birdseye view of the open ranch land below is spectacular.

VinRoc is relatively new venture but the vision Michael and Kiky have had for the grounds and their wines have been in the works for over a decade. Their small micro vineyard, planted just below the home and cave, is only five acres and they currently produce three wines: the signature VinRoc Cabernet Sauvigun, a special red blend called RTW for Red Table Wine, and a Granache-Barbera Dry Rose under the Enjoie label.

The winery reception room and main residence are nearing completion and we were given a tour by Kiky, the mastermind behind the design. The main home is open and spacious with thick stucco walls that offer insulation from the hot summer days and cool nights. The structure is well integrated into the land. It almost looks as if it just sprouted up organically after a wild winter rain. It’s deep grey color and stone roof blend seamlessly into the rocky landscape, the gentle curves like open arms giving a warm embrace to the valley below.

Outside under a pergola overlooking the vineyard, we tasted some of the Enjoie label Rosé. It’s color was a light salmon and it had a delicate bouquet of violet and plums. Drinking it made me forget the cold wind and I could almost imagine it was a warm bright day. I always appreciate wine for the sense of place it brings to the table and the Rosé reminded me of an afternoon in Provence. Then Michael showed me the back of the bottle which mentioned how a sunny day in St. Paul de Venice at La Colombe D’or had inspired them to create their very own rosé for the summer table.

We also tried a 2007 cab/merlot blend called RTW, for Red Table Wine. The RTW had chocolate, plum and black cherry notes, with a smooth finish. After our picnic in the wind, we retreated to the caves to tour the facility and sample the 2006 VinRoc Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to housing the barrels and wine making equipment, the cave also has many clever artistic touches by Kiky. The Atlas Peak AVA has volcanic soil, primarily tufa from material that has been ejected into the air and scattered about the land and most of the Cave was carved from tufa as well.

The VinRoc winemaking approach is based on super micro management. They literally make the wine by hand a ton at a time. By working in small batches each section of the vineyard can be harvested at it’s peak and optimal maturity. You can watch a video here made by a Japanese TV crew and hear Michael explain the process. Note: Michael's part is in English the rest is in Japanese.

The VinRoc approach to wine is one of patience and it seems to be working. We tasted the 2006 Cabernet and although it seemed a bit closed at first, it warmed up nicely with notes of dark berries, cedar, graphite and spice. I would have liked to try several more glasses, but the drive down Atlas Peak road was still waiting for me. I did buy a bottle of the RTW and Rosé for further tasting at home.

If you get the chance, I strongly suggest you give VinRoc a call and make an appointment to visit the caves. Michael and Kiky exude a relaxed, unhurried attitude that makes you want to hang out with them all day. Their great enthusiasm for the winemaking process is paired with a “Wow, this is pretty darn cool!” sense of awe and wonder. And their genuine respect and gratitude for what they have is reflected in their personalities and through their wines.

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