It's Time for Wine and Other Things
An Evening with John and Carrie Schwartz
Monty and Sara Preiser
July 11, 2017
The drive up Atlas Peak Rd. into the eastern hills of Napa is not easy. Lots of curves and narrowing roads make it difficult for a driver to enjoy the scenery – but for the passenger the beauty of the Napa Valley spreading out below is a vision not soon forgotten. On this early evening, we were headed up the mountain to dine at the estate home of Amuse Bouche owner (and much more) John Schwartz and his wife Carrie.
For those not familiar with the Schwartzes, or for those who know only of John's ownership of the ultra-premium Amuse Bouche, we have to say we shared your shoes until our visit. What we discovered was a couple enjoying the finest things life can offer, yet carving out time for what makes that life worth living.
John – the city boy - “amuses” himself by producing various ultra-premium wines, a Bourbon, and caviar. He is a consummate marketer who makes certain every product has an intriguing back story, and while he has been wildly successful, his charitable projects speak to a higher goal.
Carrie – who likes “the land” -- oversees the 90 acre estate ringed with vines, flowers, baby cows, goats, horses, and sheep, all with the environment in mind. For example, the baby cows are fed with goat's milk, the goat's eat most anything and graze the fields, and the chicken coops are on wheels so they can be moved throughout the property for more equal fertilization (fresh eggs are a bonus). Carrie also hand makes goat cheese of distinction.
Yet perhaps the best compliment to this talented couple is their charming daughter and son, Rebecca and Sam, with whom we were able to spend some time and discover how bright, attractive, and career oriented they are.
Our first stop was in the observation tower, where an unparalleled view of the Valley floor 3,000 feet below was spectacular. John says that on a perfectly clear day you can see Lake Tahoe. From the tower to the VIP tasting room, where NBA teams and other celebs of note might come to relax, play a little poker, and drink some of the planet's finest wines. Here we were served three of John's beautiful wines as an accompaniment to a Yellowtail Jack Crudo topped by John's Napa Pearls caviar, which is harvested by C-section from sustainable sturgeon – most of the fish live (www.napapearls.com).
2016 Pret a Boire (roughly “drink me now”) Pink Dog Rose Napa Valley – 35% Syrah and 65% Grenache, watermelon and strawberries are the flavors of note. Created in a sense to honor the late George Rodrigue, who painted the “Blue Dog” on the 2006 Amuse Bouche, winemaker Heidi Barret shows a deft touch for this varietal.
2005 Richard Peterson Brut Rose Yountville – owned by Amuse Bouche (as is Richard's Pinot Noir below), these Bubbles are indeed made by innovator and icon Richard Peterson. Bright with understated fruit and a toasty finish, it was perfect with the caviar.
2015 Coup de Foudre Ma Cherie Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley – made by Kent Jarman, this reminded us of a fine White Bordeaux. Aged in oak, it retains good acidity, shows off tropical notes, and is a good fit for a wide range of dishes
From the VIP room to the lovely terrace for a multi-course dinner prepared by private chef Gina Robertson (remember that name). While the Schwartzes were already generous beyond necessity in the VIP room, their hospitality was even more remarkable during dinner, which featured glazed pork belly with grilled stone fruit and a white bean puree to kill for; Texas Wagyu beef with purple potato mousse and tri-color pole beans; and a smoked black pepper ice cream with Bourbon reduction (Ben and Jerry's should add the flavor to its line). The singularly flavorful veggies were from our hosts' Au Sommet Farms.
As night fell, the colors of the sky became almost a kaleidoscope, changing and interacting seemingly in pattern against the mountains in the distance.
We soon discovered that we were at the center of what was becoming one of the finest wine tasting evenings of our 25-year-in-the-industry career. It is, to say the least, unusual for one vintner to open a dozen wines of this quality and price through an evening. You have seen some above. Here are more (in no particular order).
2013 Coup de Foudre Cabernet Sauvignon Calistoga – another of Kent Jarman's gems, the blending grapes come through and add noticeable cherry and tannins. A wine for the moment, or for the future. Goes well with pork, beef, or game.
2014 Les Bouquinistes Napa Red Wine – Kent again at the helm, and each component is designed to tell a story as this is the beginning of a series where John Schwartz will honor a noted piece of literature each year. In this vintage he partners with the New York Times' Nicholas Kristof to highlight A Path Appears, co-authored by Sheryl WuDunn. This narrative encourages the world's citizens to develop a global conscience. A portion of Les Bouquinistes wine sales benefit a charity featured in A Path Appears.
2014 Richard G. Peterson Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands – minerals and mushrooms permeate this dense offering that may well last 25 years.
2014 PharaohMoans Grenache Paso Robles – one of the biggest surprises of the year for us, winemaker Guillaume Fabre's dense, dark, silky tannin wine is like the utility baseball player – almost indispensable as it will pair beautifully with most anything.
2014 PharaohMoans Syrah Paso Robles – full bodied (seemingly achieved with ease by Fabre), with all the characteristics (tar, rose petals, satiny mouth) you might expect from a top Syrah. Comment: Owned by John and Chef Bryan Ogden, these wines are packaged in a patented pyramid box.
And last but not least in the wine category, three truly iconic and sought after labels. We had hoped to taste one or two this night, but being served five was again over the top in the annals of the “care and feeding of your guests.” The first, Amuse Bouche Red Blend, marries collectible wine and collectible art, and is a joint venture with star winemaker Heidi Barrett and John Schwartz. A Merlot/Cabernet Franc blend in the Pomerol style (think Chateau Petrus), each label features a different painting. For example, the 2015 artwork entitled Le Pique-Niqueby is by world renowned chef Jacques Pépin. Recent artists have included LeRoy Nieman, Edmund Ian Grant, Guy Buffet, and Tony Curtis.
We also partook of three vintages of Au Sommet (At the Top), the quintessential Atlas Peak, west Vaca Mountain range label. Owned by only John and Carrie, they still had the “smarts' to engage Heidi is the winemaker.
2014 Amuse Bouche Napa – usually between 85-89% Merlot and 11 -15% Cabernet Franc, the deep cherry aromatics lead into chocolate, then other berries, and finally to fine leather before a long finish of all the above is surrounded by smooth tannins.
2013 Au Sommet Vaca Mtn Range – not unlike other Cabs of this vintage, this one is nowhere near its best, though it is quite enjoyable now. Blackberry and currants surround silky tannins and a lengthy finish. Made for cellaring, so re-visit in 2024.
2014 Au Sommet Vaca Mtn Range – purple and black are the colors of the day here. Purple fruits, black fruits, and black pepper, that is. Surprisingly ready to drink immediately, we think a hold for 5-6 years will be even better. But buy enough to save some for 10, 15, and 20.
2015 Au Sommet Vaca Mtn Range – the newest release and a delicious harbinger of a vintage short on quantity but high in quality. Fewer grapes led to a dense wine combining blue and red fruits with a mocha finish. Hard to tell right now in what direction this wine is going as to longevity.
The final wine of the night, Vin Perdu from Amuse Bouche and winemaker Heidi, is both fun and a value. Composed of 46% Cabernet Franc, 23% Petit Verdot, 18% Cabernet Sauvignon and 13% Merlot (the varietals and percentages change each year) from the Amuse Bouche, Fantesca, La Sirena and Au Sommet estates, each vintage features a patented flip lenticular label that moves in order to tell a story. This is a technology in which lenticular lenses are used to produce printed images with an illusion of depth, or the ability to change or move as the image is viewed from different angles.
2014 Vin Perdu Napa Red – sweet cherry/chocolate throughout. A wonderful end-the-evening wine. The art on this one is a reclining Bacchus whose glass moves from dripping grapes to appreciative lips.
To end this unique and fun evening? Why not a well crafted spirit?
Lone Whisker 12 Year Old 93.8 Kentucky Bourbon (www.LoneWhisker.com) – Named for a slightly injured hound (“Whisker”) John Schwartz and Kent Jarman found near a wrecked vehicle on the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky, this is a smooth concoction, with malt, oak, vanilla, and caramel all showing a presence. The only disagreement here was whether a wee dram of water (Scotch-like) served to open up any extra flavors. Of course, a perfect pairing with the ice cream that was drizzled from this very bottle.
So our thank you goes to John and Carrie on many levels. For the fun, the hospitality, the education, the visuals, the stories, the tastings, the food, and the fun. Oh, we said fun twice. Well, maybe that's right. It was double what we expected.