Friday, April 6, 2007:

With holidays looming, and many wineries closing their doors for the day to give employees a day to prepare for their own culinary delights… off we went.

This time, Jose joined Honey Airborne and me for a final day in Napa Valley at two PS I Love You member wineries: Robert Biale and Judd’s Hill. We also had another person joining us at Biale: Jack Heeger of the Napa Valley Register. It’s very comforting to a publicist to have a wonderful working relationship with a professional journalist. For me, Jack’s the kind of man that listens to the stories I tell him. Many of them have touched his heart, and he’s been off and running. This story about Honey just delighted Jack. He instantly saw the human interest aspects, and was captivated by what the PSILY folks were willing to do on her behalf.

Biale’s spring vineyard

The same held true for Dave Pramuk, one of the four partners at Robert Baile Vineyards. Dave’s been a strong supporter of PS I Love You since its very beginning. This year, Dave is PS I Love You’s president (very active in all that we’re doing). So, it should (and does) make sense that when he heard what I wanted to do for a returning soldier on a Petite Sirah pilgrimage, he opened his doors wide… As I expected.

We sat outside at Robert Biale, on their back porch. A slight chill was in the air, as early Napa can be when fog blankets the valley from the night before. Dave’s totally attuned to this phenomenon, so the winery has heat lamps on their back porch. We were very comfortable, as we tasted the Biale’s wines.

Dave’s got a gift with words, writing the Biale stories. His newsletter for 2007 describes “Vintage 2005,” and is subtitled Full Throttle in the Bottle. This is NOT an exaggeration; and, best describes 2004 where we started. The 2004 Biale Royal Punishers is a Napa Valley Petite Sirah. Wouldn’t it make sense that Honey’s favorite was this beautifully crafted 50-50 blend? It has 50 percent of its grapes coming from a PS vineyard; the other 50 percent comes from an old Napa field blend. Big, bold, and chewy… The irony? Of the three wines we tasted, this one was from Biale’s library; i.e., it’s sold out! Wanting to share an older vintage with Honey, Dave dug deep for us, and it became hard for Cheryl to move toward anything else.The next wine we tasted was the 2004 Robert Biale Thomann Station Petite Sirah, Napa Valley.

This one was my favorite of the two, as the silky tannin structure was cleverly disguised under layers of black fruit. It just slid to the back of my palate; and, while the juice simply disappeared, the flavors lingered and lingered. By the time we tasted the 2005 Old Crane Ranch Zinfandel, Napa Valley, it was a great complement to the chocolates that Dave served… and a great final touch to our meeting. Remember, all this while, Jack was asking questions and writing furiously. He’ll have his own story in a while, and I can hardly wait to read someone else’s perspective. We said our goodbyes, and headed off to our next and final stop of the day, Judd’s Hill.

As we drove to meet the Finkelstein family, I explained to Honey that she was about to meet one of the most dear families in Napa. I’m honored to be part of their world, having first met Art Finkelstein as Black Coyote’s winemaker. Since I write for Black Coyote Chateau Black Coyote, I had to research Art’s background in order to craft a biography on Art for Black Coyote’s press kit. This is when one digs really deeply into what’s already written, for someone like Art, because he’s been a successful winemaker for quite a while. What I learned is that it’s nearly impossible to separate Art from his wife Bunny in most of the writings, as they’re so closely linked.

Judd’s Hill was named for their son Judd Finkelstein, which further demonstrates how tightly knit this family is. With the addition of Judd’s wife Holly Finkelstein, the unit is pretty complete. As members of PSILY, I’ve been interfacing with them at an even deeper level… And, as I said, it’s an honor. Jack Heeger was also invited to this meeting, because it would give him more time; and in this case, more opportunity. Jack brought along the Napa Valley Register’s photographer, Lianne Milton, who clicked away.

Holly met us as we all arrived. She took us through the wine cellar, explaining their micro crush facility, and what it offers those who work in partnership with Art and Judd for crafting their own barrel(s) of wine. It made me so excited, that I now want my own barrel of wine… That’s definitely something for the future, as I think that one over… My own label? The ideas are rushing through my head, as I’m sure it’s been for all others who have happened upon Judd’s Hill. It’s a fairly novel idea for most of us; however, it’s been what Art has done all along, since leaving Whitehall Lane; fulfilling the dreams of others who want to be vintners, but not necessarily winemakers.

Once we finished our tour of their new winery (they’re having an open house next weekend on April 14), we were taken into their tasting room, which is actually a dining room. Here is where the concept of wine being liquid food is finally taken to a place that it belongs. Judd’s Hill presents a very interesting way to enjoy their hospitality. Their tasting room manager is also a highly acclaimed chef. Pat Burke takes great pride in his Bar-b-que talents and has received many prestigious awards as a result. We dined on spinach salad, and smoked Bar-b-qued chicken (that just melted in our mouths, and yes, I had seconds!) We began the meal with Judd’s Hill first rendition of a white wine, Judds Hill Sauvignon Blanc. This one has been crafted as a meal complement, since Chef Pat’s on board, and a white wine most always leads one’s palate into the world of food and wine. It was very tasty, being well crafted and balanced. This meal together began the camaraderie that was to be our next hour and a half in a delightful luncheon.

Bunny and Honey sat next to each other during the meal. Bunny had so many questions for her, as we all do. I’m finding that everywhere we go, everyone is trying to understand what our soldiers are experiencing. Without being part of a war, we’re lost in knowing how it feels, but we’re willing to listen in order to gain insight. And, Cheryl’s pretty insightful; not about war politics, because… as she says… she’s not qualified to be a spokesperson. But she does talk about where she’s been and what she’s done, which is administrative support for soldiers’ documentation. While not in a combat situation, there’s always present danger… Bunny listened intently, while her eyes sympathetically watered more than once.

We next enjoyed both the 2003 Judd Hill Petite Sirah and the 2005 Judd Hill Pinot Noir. By now, I’ve learned to sip and savor the Petite, and then enjoy the other options. Cheryl’s mission was to come to California to enjoy Petite Sirah, and she hasn’t wavered. Even with other options available to her, she is wholeheartedly dedicated to her mission, and I’m not going to stand in the way of that!

There is no truer Petite Sirah pilgrimage than what Cheryl is on… and this was just Week One. Next week, she’s off and running through Sonoma County’s Healdsburg! As I wrote yesterday… Mañana there will be more to explore, through the eyes of our PS Pilgrim on her quest to enjoy all that Petite Sirah has to offer!