We wrapped up our circuit of winery tours in Napa with Palmaz. This place had a certain intrigue that reminded me of some of the old James Bond movies I have seen. At the gate, we followed instructions and dialed #0000 to ring the office. With a camera trained on us, our identities were confirmed. We were buzzed into the gate and instructed to park on Level 3. The person on the intercom also made it a point to ask if we would have any difficulty climbing stairs.
As we drove up the switchbacks to level 3, we were awed as the four-level, 18 story facility was revealed. It was hard to discern where the winery ended and the mountain it was built into began. After parking, we soon understood the emphasis regarding climbing stairs. We realized we would have to climb an imposing 4-story stairway, straight up to Level 4 where we would enter through the same doors that the fruit enters the winery at harvest.
Through the double doors on Level 4, The outer stone facade of the building gave way to pristine polished floors that lead to a shiny stainless steel destemmer, triage conveyor and press. From there, our tour followed the winemaking process through the facility..
After the grapes are pressed, the juice is separated into 24 separate lots, each with its own fermentation tank that set upon a rotating track that allows the tanks to be moved into position over an opening that leads down to the next level in the winery. Wine is never pumped at the Palmaz Winery. All the movement of juice is by gravity. The design of the winery was conceived to allow the wine to flow downward throughout production, with each successive step taking place on the level below. As our tour progressed, we moved downward through the winery on a shiny, stainless elevator, complete with a camera mounted on the ceiling that watched our every move.
Gravity flow is the keystone of the winemaking philosophy at Palmaz. The theory is that when wine is pumped, the rough treatment disturbs its molecular structure. Thus, a wine moved throughout the winemaking process by gravity is pristine and the flavors that develop are an unadulterated expression of terroir. The “no pumping” philosophy is taken to extreme as even during bottling, the wine is gently moved by exerting pressure with inert gas from within the barrel to push it into the bottle.
It is not surprising that the winemaking philosophy at Palmaz Winery was conceived by Dr. Palmaz, the inventor of the Palmaz heart stint. From grape to bottle, cutting-edge technology is employed with surgical precision at each step of the winemaking process. If winemaking is an art form, this is certainly modern art!
After all the intrigue, we sat down at a beautifully prepared tasting paired with small bites. Of course, everyone was anxious to see if all this technology would make a difference. In order, we were offered a Chardonnay made from fruit sourced from Beckstoffer and Hyde Vineyards, Cedar Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the second wine of Palmaz, and a 2007 and 2008 Palmaz Estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Estate Cabernets were complex and silky-smooth.. Our tour guide alluded to the idea that Palmaz doesn’t want people to have to wait to enjoy their wines. With this in mind, consumers that desire a premium wine ready for consumption on release might give Palmaz a try. The Cedar Knoll Cabernet, a true second wine of the estate, was a solid performer and should prove a great value to those who enjoy the Palmaz style. The Palmaz Chardonnay, a project of the women of Palmaz, exuded the same silky sexiness as the Cabernets. It was creamy, with enough oak to balance the fruit.
With our mission of intrigue complete, we left Palmaz with the feeling we had experienced something special. Everything about our visit was first-class and we were treated as VIPs. The wines that we tasted were pure, silky, and approachable; certainly due to the fact they are neither shaken nor stirred. Fortunately, you don’t need security clearance to try the wines for yourself. Enjoy!!