Sunday, March 10, 2013

A tasting of Signorello’s Padrone

Photo: Ray Signorello Jr., Vancouver's Napa winemaker

In 1983, when winemaker Ray Signorello Jr. was 20, his father took him to Europe. It was an experience that shaped his career in wine.

In particular, there was a dinner at a fine Paris restaurant where they shared a 1945 claret from a good Bordeaux estate; clearly, Ray Signorello Sr. knew that 1945 was Bordeaux’s vintage of the century. In fact, he was so impressed that he paid $50 a bottle for the entire restaurant stock of that wine, some three cases, and had it shipped back to North America for subsequent enjoyment by the Signorello family.

These days, the family does not need to go nearly so far for fine wine. Signorello Estate Winery on the Silverado Trail in Napa produces truly first-rate Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. The flagship wine is a Cabernet Sauvignon called Padrone (Italian for patron or boss). The name was chosen in tribute to the elder Signorello, who died in 1998.

Padrone is a very limited production wine, ranging from a low of 125 cases to a high of 650 cases, depending on the vintage. It sells for $170 a bottle in British Columbia.

Ordinarily, a collectible Napa Cabernet like this might hardly ever be offered in British Columbia. Fortunately for wine collectors in British Columbia, the Signorello family moved to West Vancouver shortly after Ray Jr. was born in San Francisco in 1963. Even after developing a winery in Napa, the family never moved back.

Numerous Vancouver charities thank their good fortune that Ray Jr. lives in West Vancouver. They often hit him up for wine and, often, he comes through. During the recent Vancouver International Wine Festival, he provided some of the wine for the Gala dinner and he hosted vertical tasting of 10 vintages of Padrone. The tasting spanned vintages from 1997, the first, to 2009, which is about to be listed in British Columbia.

It even included the 2003 vintage, the rarest of all Padrone vintages because Signorello Estate Winery was among 95 California wineries that once stored their wines in a facility called Wine Central, a former submarine repair base. In the fall of 2005, an arson fire destroyed $250 million worth of wine including 15,000 cases of Signorello wines. Four cases of Padrone survived because they had remained at the winery. Since then, Signorello has built its own storage. The arsonist, who was trying to cover up a wine version of a Ponzi scheme, got a 27-year jail term last February.

It says a lot about Ray Jr.’s generosity that he would even include the 2003 Padrone in the tasting. Indeed, the winery does not make Padrone in every vintage, only in the best years, so there will always be gaps in verticals. “We make as little Padrone, or as much, as the quality allows,” Ray. Jr. says.

The Signorello family got into the wine business because, in the 1970s, Ray Sr. bought 100 acres on Silverado Trail – a very good Napa address – and planted an assortment of varietals. Initially, the intent was to sell the grapes, since Ray Sr. was fully involved in other business ventures in Vancouver.

The grape crop was so bounteous in 1985 that the Signorello family had to start making wine. A winery was built the following year.

In 1990, by which time Ray Jr. was fully engaged in the wine business, they rationalized the vineyard, planting primarily the red Bordeaux varieties. They were fortunate in their timing. Vines that had been planted in the 1970s and 1980a in Napa were found to have been planted on roots that were not resistant to phylloxera. By 1990, the industry was using rootstock that is resistant to phylloxera.

Those who find Padrone out of reach have other options for tasting Signorello-made Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery’s Napa Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is listed in British Columbia at about $100 a bottle. As well, Edge Winery, which Ray Jr. helped start in 2001, has a $30 Cabernet Sauvignon in the British Columbia market.

In most vintages, Padrone has been a blend of 75% to 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small percentages of Merlot and Cabernet Franc completing the blends. Recently, Signorello has decided to drop Merlot from the blend. “It is not that it is bad,” he says. “It is just not adding anything to the blend.” Cabernet Franc, on the other hand, stays in the wine in top years.

However, the 2009 Padrone, soon to arrive in British Columbia, is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. It was also one of my favourite wines at the tasting – and believe me, it was tough pick favourites. This is a bold wine, with aromas of spice, blackberry, cherry and vanilla exploding dramatically from the glass. Rich in texture, the wine delivers all those flavours along with red liquorice and spice on the finish. I expect it will peak about 2019 and then hold for many years. 95.


At March 10, 2013 at 9:41 PM , Blogger wine student said...

well written article John - great backstory


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