We ended our Thanksgiving holiday celebration with a bottle of 2004 Bremer Family Napa Valley Claret, and as we sipped it, we could hear Laura Bremer telling us at lunch that “We make wine we like to drink.” We also recalled her expressing the hope that we would “also enjoy them.”
There is something rewarding about drinking a wine made by someone with whom you have formed a personal relationship. We were with Laura Bremer at her family winery near St. Helena last September, where we sampled a range of her Bordeaux-style reds, her Zinfandels, and Chardonnays, all grown on the rugged slopes of Mount Howell. The reds averaged five and six years of bottle age and were approaching their peak maturity. Under the Bremer oak trees, tasted with an assortment of California cheeses and French-style charcuterie, her wines supported her belief that 32 to 36 months of barrel age impart an added complexity.
Wine almost always tastes good when tasted in the winery, with the producer. There is something magical when, as with the Bremer experience, the sun brings a sparkle to the glass, the breeze suggests the Pacific coast a few miles away, and the hostess is on hand to tell how the winery was virtually carved out of the mountainside in 1891.
But a good wine also shows well when you get it home and open it in a heated room, away from the exotic setting of its origin, in a wintery darkness, and the producer is hundreds of miles away. So it was last night, but Laura’s voice was still present: “We harvest only when the grapes are near perfect, regardless of what the calendar says.” We could still hear her explaining the bureaucratic exercises the state and county put her through when her family took over the winery in 2003.
Our claret was a silky blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (45%), Merlot (43%), Cabernet Franc (11%), and Petit Verdot (1%). It transported us to the upper reaches of Howell Mountain and a convivial lunch with a producer of high quality wine.
Throughout our holiday wining, we reconnected with old friends — Georges DuBouef, Michel Chapoutier, and Laura Bremer — all of which made our festive meals much more pleasing. Personalizing wine adds an extra enjoyment to its consumption, something not really possible with most other beverages.