NAFCU Services Blog

Apr 01, 2013 by David Frankil
Categories: Out of the Box

Great Strategy and Great Wine

Originally posted on CUInsight.com

No, this is not a post about how strategic discussions can be improved with fine wine, although that is probably true, and it would be fun to test the hypothesis. This post is about the best of both worlds, and combining a vocation with an avocation.

I love my job, which often involves thinking strategically on behalf of credit unions and with our Partners, and have also become a fan of wine, in particular California Cabernet. My chance to blend the two and share with all of you as well is coming at the NAFCU CEOs and Senior Executives Conference (Sonoma, CA, April 24–26, 2013).

NAFCU Services sponsors a welcome reception every year at this Conference. Given that we are in wine country, we wanted to do something special that would be a more interactive and interesting experience than just having house wines for a “typical” reception. We’ve all been to plenty of them, where you grab an anonymous glass of non-descript wine and look for the next hors d’oeuvres tray.

So we’ve arranged for six of the best that Napa and Sonoma have to offer to join us for a reception to allow attendees to sample exceptional wines and meet the winemakers too. Each one is unique in their own stead, with a focus on mountain wines (Howell Mountain and Spring Mountain) and a superb set of Sonoma Pinots. These wineries offer tastings to the public by appointment only, and it is unusual to be able to sample them all in one place.

Each has their own story that has become (or is becoming) a part of Napa and Sonoma lore. For example, we have a “ghost winery” built by Chinese railroad workers in the 1880s, with thirty inch thick stone walls and a three story gravity flow winemaking system; a vineyard established by the famous “Body by Fisher” auto carriage family; and two smaller operations of far more recent vintage, one founded by a wine aficionado who decided to start his own winery after spending three weeks on vacation in Italy and France, and another by two tennis buddies.

Fisher Vineyards is also famous for a very different reason—their winery dog is an Akita named Sake with his own Facebook page, who was ‘Mr. May’ of the 2012 Wine Dogs calendar.  Apparently Akitas are known for their herding instincts, something my wife Allison discovered first hand on a visit there last year. We were with a small group, and Sake seemed to think Allison was in particular need of guidance, and physically herded her to make sure she stayed in line and kept up with the group as we walked through the winery and vineyards. The wine was wonderful, but I think that Sake provided Allison’s highlight of the day!

I would be remiss if I did not note that the CEOs and Senior Executives Conference offers much, much more than just an opportunity to sample fine wines. The conference offers a fantastic lineup of speakers, including management guru John Spence talking about leadership, Peter Sheahan on finding market opportunities, and Fred Becker on the state of the credit union  industry, among many other fantastic speakers. So I hope you can join us in April!

The Wineries:

  • Seavey—In 1981, William and Mary Seavey restored a prized, historic 1871 mountain slope vineyard in Conn Valley, on the far side of Howell Mountain. Their 200 acre estate embraces the original rustic stone barn as its winery and visitor center. Their wines have received extraordinary recognition. As Robert Parker himself said, “The most underrated great Cabernet produced in Napa Valley…with perhaps the best second label wine in Napa, the Caravina Cabernet…keep in mind I have Seaveys going back to 1990 in my cellar.” Seavey will be pouring their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon (96 points from Wine Advocate) and their 2009 Caravina Cabernet (92 points from Wine Advocate).
  • Ladera—A former “ghost winery,” this Howell Mountain gem features a three-story winery building with thirty inch thick stone walls  built by Chinese railroad workers in the late 1800s. Jean Brun, a native of Bordeaux, and Jean V. Chaix, whom he met in Napa, first planted 20 acres of Medoc grapes on Howell Mountain in 1877—among the first to plant vineyards up on Howell Mountain instead of on the Napa Valley floor. The winery fell into disuse, and when Pat and Anne Stotesbery acquired it in 2000 they retained as many of the original architectural elements as possible in resurrecting it, including a unique gravity-flow winemaking system through all three stories of the original winery. Today, Ladera’s Cabernets routinely receive mid-to-high 90s scores from numerous wine publications. Ladera will be pouring their 2009 Howell Mountain Cab and their  2009 High Plateau Cab.
  • Sojourn—Sojourn Cellars began in 2001 as a collaboration between two tennis buddies who discovered a mutual passion for great wine and the things that tend to go with it—good food and good company. Craig Haserot and Erich Bradley utilized Erich’s experience as an assistant winemaker at Arrowood Winery to produce distinctive, handcrafted Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and small batch bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon from extraordinary vineyard sources. Sojourn Cellars wines are sold on allocation to their mailing list members and a select group of restaurants, retailers, and distribution partners. Their four 2011 single vineyard Pinots scored 96, 95, 94 and 93 respectively from the Pinot Report, and they will be pouring their 2011 Sangiacomo Pinot Noir (96 points) and 2011 Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir (95 points).
  • Fisher—Many of us are old enough to remember seeing the words “Body by Fisher” on General Motors cars. In 1973 Fred Fisher, whose grandfather started the carriage company “Body by Fisher,” and his wife Juelle Lamb Fisher founded Fisher Vineyards, nestled on the western face of the Mayacamas Mountains, which divide the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. Today, Fred and Juelle are joined in the family business by their three children, Whitney (Winemaker), Robert (General Manager) and Cameron (Marketing), and their Akita, Sake. From these vineyards, estate grown, single vineyard Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon are produced. Fisher wines regularly receive scores in the 90s from numerous wine publications. Fisher will be pouring their 2009 Coach Insignia Cabernet and 2009 Mountain Estate Cabernet.
  • VIADER—Pronounced ‘via-dare,’ VIADER is a leading Napa Valley first growth wine estate established in 1986 by Argentine-born Delia Viader, who also holds a doctorate in Philosophy from the Sorbonne University and pursued advanced business studies at three American universities including MIT. VIADER Vineyards are located on the steep rocky slopes of Howell Mountain, 1200 feet above the Napa Valley floor, approximately 3 miles northeast of St. Helena. Their organically farmed hillside vineyards follow a unique and distinguishable design layout that maximize sun exposure; pioneering high density planting “non-terraced and at a very steep angle. VIADER produces outstanding Howell Mountain Cabernet and Cab blends—VIADER will be pouring their 2009 VIADER Cabernet  (94+ points from Tanzer).
  • Dacalier and Five/Five wines—The term  ‘Garagistes’ (gar-uh-zhē-stuh) was originally used in the Bordeaux region of France to denigrate renegade small-lot wine makers, sometimes working in their garage, who refused to follow the “rules.” It is now a full-fledged movement responsible for making some of the best wine in the world, and Dacalier-Five/Five is a prototypical example of the genre in Napa. After a three week trip to France & Italy in 2006, Dave Smigelski and his wife made a pact to come back to the states and make their own wine. Many of us have had the same thought, but Dave has actually been able to do it, and at an exceptionally high level. In addition to Rhone blends, Dacalier (through a second brand, Five Five Wines) makes Cabernet from some of the highest quality vineyards in Napa—Black Sears and Ink Grade on Howell Mountain and Gerlach Ranch Vineyard in Napa (Ink Black Cabernet, Five/Five Sydnee and Simone).  Dave will be pouring his2009 Dacalier Ink Black, 2009 Five/Five Sydnee and 2009 Five/Five Simone.
  • Lynmar Estate—Situated on a unique and picturesque site with rolling vineyards in the Russian River Valley, in Sebastopol, CA, Lynmar Estate first began making small amounts of extremely well received Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the early 1990’s. Dating back to 1971, their vineyards have some of the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines planted in the Russian River Valley, and they are meticulously tended—each of their 89,292 vines is manicured by hand 10 times a year. Their state-of-the-art, gravity flow winery and caves are an ideal environment for making and aging ultra-premium wine. Lynmar will be pouring their 2010 Susanna’s Vineyard Chardonnay (96 Wine Enthusiast, 91 Wine Spectator), 2010 Monastery Chardonnay (94 Wine Enthusiast, 91 Wine Spectator), and 2009 Quail Hill Chardonnay(91 International Wine Cellar).

Post written by David Frankil, President, NAFCU Services Corp.

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