Sunday, January 27, 2013

Plume 2010: a wine that punches above its weight

In the fall of 2011, Tony Stewart, the president of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery, partnered with Californian Dan Zepponi to create a brand called Plume Napa Valley.

The first release was about 1,150 cases of a 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, virtually all for the western Canadian market. To the delight and perhaps to the partners’ surprise as well, that first release is sold out.

The 2010 vintage, about 2,000 cases, is just arriving in wine stores in British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. The partners now think they will be hard-pressed to keep the brand in stock until the 2011 vintage – not yet in bottle – is ready.

“It has been so successful in Canada that I have not moved it down here much,” Zepponi says, speaking of the California market.

However, the 2011 Plume Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is 4,300 cases and the 2012 is about 5,000 cases. Zepponi will finally have enough of this fine Napa red to start selling it in his own backyard as well.

The partnership came about several years ago. Zepponi, a member of an old and prestigious wine family in California, spent two years in the Okanagan as president of Mission Hill Family Estate Winery.

At the time, the Stewart family was thinking of investing in the Australian wine industry. Zepponi convinced them it made more sense to invest in California. In addition to launching Plume, the partners last fall bought the Valley of the Moon  Winery in Sonoma, a winery almost as large as Quails’ Gate.

The initial strategy has been to use the Quails’ Gate distribution network in Canada to sell the California wines. Valley of the Moon and its associated brands don’t yet have a foothold in Canada but that will come.

The first two vintages of Plume were made in custom crush facilities in Napa. The partners have now leased a winery for Plume and engaged consultant winemaker Scott McLeod. Before hanging up his consulting shingle, McLeod spent 18 years ad winemaker and vineyard manager for Francis Ford Coppola’s Rubicon Estate. Both he and Zepponi have the right connections to get superb grapes for this wine.

Here is my note on the 2010.

Plume Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 ($29.99). This is a wine that overdelivers. It begins with aromas of cherry, cassis and touch of eucalyptus. On the palate, the texture is opulent, with flavours of cherries and black currants mingled with chocolate. On the finish, there are appealing spicy hints of cloves and liquorice. The ripe, round tannins give the wine an easy accessibility now but I would not hesitate to lay some down for a few years. 91.


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