Napa Valley Masterclass with the Guild of Sommeliers

Hello wine lovers! I’ve been busy sharing my love of wine with others and learning as much as I can by going to classes and wine seminars-a-plenty!

On April 15, 2015 I attended a Masterclass with the Guild of Sommeliers at Catalyst in Cambridge, MA. Matt Stamp, MS was the instructor, who is the Education Director for Guild of Sommeliers. Living in Napa Valley himself, Matt Stamp has a wealth of knowledge to share and I was really glad I took this class! It started at 10am and was going to involve tasting 18 wines in 4 flights in 3 hours. Oh my!


First, a whole lot of education about Napa. Napa Valley is known for its incredible Cabernet Sauvignons, which typically aren’t very cheap. The price tag of Napa Cabs, however, start with the land. An acre of top quality Cabernet Sauvignon land can run between $300,000 – $500,000! Add in the vines, the labor, the winemaking, etc., and you can see how the price is reflected once it gets down to the bottle.

Napa Valley is small in size but big in quality and diversity. It only supplies 4% of California wine, and 4/10 of 1% of the world’s wine. 45,000 acres of Napa Valley are under vine. In comparison, 90,000 acres of Bordeaux are under vine. Napa is 1/8 the size of Bordeaux!

Although the area of Napa is small, the climate and elevation varies a great deal in just a short distance. Although it is a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters, it varies greatly from north to south and from valley to mountain top. The temperature variation is vast, and there is a great marine fog and inversion, as well. The valley floor experiences an incredible diurnal shift, which results in broader style wines that still have great acidity because of the cool nighttime temperatures. The soils can vary greatly, as well, because there are hillside stream soils, which are thin, stony, and not too weathered, there are alluvial fans, which are shallow, more drained, and of single geological origin, and then there are fluvial soils, which are found near the river and the base of Napa Valley. They are more clay heavy, deeper, and of mixed geological origin.

The strengths of Napa Valley include a Mediterranean climate, complex soils, grape growing and brand history, proximity to San Fransisco, food and tourism culture, international recognition, and great wines! Disadvantages of Napa Valley wines are the costs, including the land, labor, farming, fruit, and the finished wine. There is also a reputation in Napa of sommeliers vs. critic scores. And of course, there is the wine vs. the wine lifestyle.

After quite a bit of very interesting lecture about Napa Valley, it was time to taste 18 wines.

Flight number 1- The Whites


Flight 1
2012 Schramsberg “Blancs des Blancs” 100% Chardonnay SRP: $38
– this was a sparkling wine that showed a nice tart apple and was relatively high in acidity. Nice and crisp!

2013 Massican “Annia” (Napa Valley AVA) 44% Friulano, 36% Ribolla Gialla, 20% Chardonnay SRP: $28
– this wine was aged on the lees, saw no malolactic.

2013 Farella Sauvignon Blanc (Coombsvilla AVA) 100% Sauvignon Blanc SRP: $20
– guava juice, sulpher, I got heavy notes of onion on this. I was not a fan! This did see some oak.

2012 Lail “Georgia” Sauvignon Blanc (Totem Vineyard, Yountville/Napa Valley AVA) 100% Sauvignon Blanc SRP: $120
– herbaceous, high acid, this I liked MUCH better than the first SB. (Considering the price, now I see why! LOL)

Flight 2 – Chardonnay

Now this was a very cool flight to taste because they were all Chadonnays, so we could really see the differences in each vineyard.

2012 White Rock Chardonnay (Napa Valley AVA) 100% Chardonnay SRP: $34
– dry, tart green apples, high acid, old oak, lemon and pear. This is a great produced of classic style Chardonnay.

2004 Stony Hill Cardonnay (Spring Mountain District AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Wente Clones SRP: $42 (current vintage)
– dry, nutty on the palate, almond, sour apple/pear, high acid, old oak. They look toward Chablis as a model for their winemaking. They’ve been making wine since the 1950s. Almost entirely white wines (they also grow Riesling). Not much use of malolactic.

2007 Mayacamas Chardonnay (Mt. Veeder AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Shot Wente SRP: $80
– Founded as Fisher & Sons winery in 1890, became a ghost winery during prohibition. Mayacamas reds are known for being huge reds and aging for 30 years. This is a riper style vintage than the 2004 Stony Hill we just tasted. It was fermented in concrete, then moved to uprights for 6 months, then moved to barrels for malolactic fermentation.

2011 Kongsgaard Chardonnay (Carneros, Hudson and Hyde Vineyards/Napa Valley AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Wente Clones SRP: $110ish
– strong vanilla, butterscotch, high acid, lots of new oak. Carneros fruit from (Lee) Hudson and (Larry) Hyde Vineyards. John Kongsgaard known for the death and resurrection of the wine: press, ferment, all brown juice for like a year. Then he clarifies the wine and brings it back to life (sulfur). He is known for going to the grape growers and telling THEM how he wanted them to grow the grapes, not the other way around.

Flight 3 The Reds


2013 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Napa Valley AVA – St. Helena & Rutherford) 77% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Syrah, 1% Carignan SRP: $30
– very dry, high acid, high tannins, cherry, plum, spice, black pepper. 20% new American oak. Frog’s Leap produces really good wine at really big production. Fresh and exuberant, this comes from fluvial soil.

2012 Storybook Mountain “Eastern Exposures” Zinfandel (Napa Valley AVA) SRP: $55
– jammy, blackberry, raspberry, big, bold, everything a Zinfandel should be. High tannins, high acid, dry, nicely balanced. 20% new American oak. This is my kind of Zin!

2012 Lagier-Meredith Syrah (Mt. Veeder AVA) 100% Syrah SRP: $48
– black fruit, earth, minerality, bone dry. High in pH. Blue and black fruits, smokey, savory tones. Peppery, green olive.

2010 Matthiasson Red (Napa Valley AVA) 55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot SRP: $90
– Oak Knoll fruit (Dry Creeks alluvial fan), green peppers, herbaceous, coffee. Dry. Steve Matthiasson co-wrote the Lodi Green rules.

Flight 4 – The Cabs


2011 Corison “Kronos” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: $150
– black pepper, red fruits, black fruits, cedar. This is a traditional Napa Cab. This vineyard was planted in 1971 as Petite Sirah, then was grafted into Cab Sauv. This vineyard is still very old school as far as beig a widely spaced vineyard.

2011 Spottswoode “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena AVA) 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot SRP: $150
– red bell pepper, deep blue, black fruit, very dry, high acid and tannins. A pitch perfect classic Napa Valley Cab.

2011 Realm “Farella” Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: $150
– bone dry, high acid and tannins. This is the iconic cult style of Cabs.

2008 Diamond Creek “Volcanic Hill” Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain AVA) Mixed planting, predominantly CS SRP: $175
– First winery in Napa to label Cab as a grape on the label. Has a minerality to it. Austere tannin on the finish. Great representation of a mountain Cab.

2001 Robert Mondavi “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville AVA) 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot SRP: $125 (01 price)
– dry, still tannic even though it is a 2001, oak is still present. Still has decades of aging. Robert Mondavi’s first vintage was in 1966.

1997 Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: N/A
– eucalyptol (has a string of eucalyptus trees next to vinyard) = airborne terroir. This vintage is at the end of its life. First vintage was 1966.

I’ve got to tell you, 18 wines in a couple of hours… wow. My senses were pretty much shot after that. That was a LOT of aroma smelling! I had a Traveling Vineyard tasting to conduct that night, and on my way to my hostess’s house, all I could smell was a strong vanilla aroma from new American oak! LOL It was embedded in my nose and brain! Fortunately I’ve become a master at tasting, swishing, and spitting the wine, so I’m no longer ingesting the wines and getting buzzed. Of course when I go back and look at the prices of some of these wines, it makes me sad that they haven’t been fully enjoyed and just spit out! At least I know they’ve gone to a good cause… the learning of and appreciation for the beauty of wine.


So my knowledge quest continues and my continuous studying for the next level of my CMS goes on. Meanwhile, my Traveling Vineyard business has been going wonderfully. My team continues to grow (I have 9 wonderful wine babies now) and I am on the brink of earning my incentive trip to Cabo! Our New England regional meeting is this Sunday, which is going to be super exciting, so I will be sure to write a blog about all that fun and excitement! Drop me a line sometime or come chat with me on my Facebook page at!