Spring Break–Mumm’s the Word

As many of you know by now, my wife’s parents live in the far East Bay area of Northern California and we visit quite often. While the kids get to hang out with their cousins (my wife’s brother also lives in the area) and get spoiled by their grandparents, my wife plays her role of the dutiful middle child to perfection. There are some perks for me as well, which includes being able to ride my bike (I keep one at my in-laws house) on the slightly dangerous roads of Eastern Conta Costa County (it is pretty clear to me now that they do not see a lot of people who combine lycra and shaved legs out there).

I also get to go to wine country quite a bit.

So I can’t really complain (but I still do, of course).

Last week, my wife and I decided to have a mini-escape to Napa for the day. We rarely go to Napa anymore, since I find the stories and wine more compelling in neighboring Sonoma County. This time, though, some friends were going to be joining us and I had lined up a tasting at Mumm Napa.

Opinions on Mumm Napa seemed to be mixed. I believe their wines are largely appreciated, and I consider their sparkling wines to be close to the standard in the Valley. Perhaps it is not fair, but I compare domestic sparklers against the “Mumm Yardstick.” That is not to suggest that all other sparkling wines fall flat when compared to Mumm, but rather I use Mumm (at least at some level) as my reference point for quality bubbles outside of Champagne.

Detractors point to Mumm’s sheer size (they produce around 400,000 cases of wine every year) and the number of times the winery has changed hands (although founded by the G.H. Mumm Champagne House in 1983, Mumm Napa has been bought and sold numerous times by the large beverage conglomerates, and is currently owned by Pernod Ricard, which, coincidentally, also owns G.H. Mumm in Champagne). But through all the relatively recent changes there has been a constant: the winemaker, Ludovic Dervin, has been at Mumm since 2002. I guess it might be considered a bit of an oddity in the valley that a winemaker has stayed for over a decade despite the winery changing hands numerous times, but it has resulted in remarkably consistent quality.

Our host pouring with the expansive Valley as a backdrop.

Our host pouring with the expansive Valley as a backdrop.

Our guide for the day was Eric Colalella, who directs many of the private tastings at Mumm. As Eric’s personal story unfolded, he quickly became a hero of mine–he moved to Napa just two years ago from Western Pennsylvania with his wife. Neither had a job lined up, but they had been spending almost all of their vacations in Northern California, developing a deep passion for wine. One day, Eric told his wife that they were no longer going to spend their vacations in Wine Country–he wanted to move there.

And they did.

Eventually, after sending out dozens of applications, he got a job at Mumm, working his way up, driven by his love of wine and desire to learn. Eric first took us on a tour of the facility, which I had never seen despite my many years as a club member (Mumm was one of the first wine clubs that I joined back when I was living in Marin County, and I would always stop at the tasting room when I came up to the Valley).

The tank and blending room at Mumm.

The tank and blending room at Mumm.

We eventually moved to the terrace, which has a beautiful view of the Valley, to taste through a few wines. Eric had set up a mini blending session for us–something that I had done only once before, and not with sparkling wine.

In the traditional method (i.e., the “Champagne Method”) of making sparkling wine, the first step is to produce a still wine, which is then bottled with some additional yeast and sugar, causing a second fermentation in the bottle, creating the sparkle. For our blending exercise, Eric had grabbed a couple of bottles of the still wine (a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir) from the first step of the process–wine that was intended to become sparkling wine, but had not yet gone through the second fermentation.

the two still wines among all the flutes.

the two still wines among all the flutes. (That water glass remained dry…)

We first tasted the still wines, and then started blending them together in different proportions. With each step, Eric poured one of Mumm’s sparkling wines that had roughly the same ratio of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that we had just created with the still wines. The whole exercise was fantastic, first tasting the individual elements and then understanding how each influences the overall whole was incredible.

But we were not done.

Eric then pulled out multiple vintages of Mumm’s prestige cuvée, the DVX (named in honor of Mumm Napa’s founder Guy Devaux), which we sampled as we took in the view of the Valley. We went through at least eight different DVX vintages, each of which was spectacular.

You no doubt have noticed by this point, that there are no tasting notes for any of the wines that we tried with Eric. At first, during the blending, I was so enthralled with the activity, I simply forgot. Once I remembered, I decided against taking notes–there are just times when the whole experience is greater than the sum of the parts.

And this was certainly one of them.

I have always been a fan of Mumm’s wine and that morning’s (and early afternoon) tastings underscored my sentiments several fold.

Many thanks to Eric–one could not ask for a better host.

One of the several DVX wines we tasted--you just can't go wrong with DVX. Outstanding.

One of the several DVX wines we tasted–you just can’t go wrong with DVX. Outstanding.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
This entry was posted in Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sparkling Wine, Wine, Wine Tasting, Winery Visit. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Spring Break–Mumm’s the Word

  1. Beth says:

    I’ve lived here 15 months and still haven’t been to Mumm, but I am an industry club member at Domaine Carneros (30% off, hard to beat that deal) and have really enjoyed their wines, especially their late-disgorged Brut and Brut Rosé, Le Rêve, and the vintage Brut Rosé. I will get myself to Mumm one day soon.

    Like

  2. mrsugarbears says:

    Fantastic title! I’m super jealous of this experience. I’ll put this one on the bucket list.

    Like

  3. Jerry Gorby says:

    My friend, Jim, sent me this article about MUMM NAPA. I was very impressed with the
    experience with mixing the wine. My wife and I are going to visit NAPA Valley in two
    weeks and want to visit the winery. Of course my friend Jim will be there too!!

    Like

  4. dwdirwin says:

    Aww- this made me nostalgic about my time at Mumm! Sounds like a great experience and I’m glad I got to hear the story, since someone’s husband monopolized the conversation that evening…

    Like

  5. I really enjoyed reading about your blending and tasting experience! The blending part is something I have never heard of (still being a learning NOOBIE.) Many thanks for the continuing knowledge. 🙂

    Like

  6. Stefano says:

    I totally agree with your opinion about Mumm Napa. I find their basic Brut Prestige version to be among the best value US classic method sparklers, together with Gruet’s Blanc de Noirs.

    Like

  7. Looks like a wonderful day!

    Like

  8. Nice post! I had trouble with tasting notes on our winery tours in South Africa, so I stopped writing and instead set my cell phone to record. It somehow made the tasting experience feel less like business. Blogging can kill something we enjoy if we’re too obsessive (and piss off our spouses…)

    Like

  9. NK says:

    Sounds like a great experience. I’m looking forward to getting back to CA wine country soon. Have you done the Calistoga Cool Bike Tour? It doesn’t require lycra and shaved legs (I’m a cyclist, too, by the way) but there is something about cycling the back roads and drinking in between.

    Like

  10. jeffeckles says:

    Sounds like a great experience. I have not had the opportunity to go through something like this yet either. Thanks for sharing your time there with us.

    Like

    • I really wish more wineries would do something like this. The other time I did it was at Archery Summit where they broke out the different clones of Pinot, the graduated cylinders, the whole shebang. It was an incredible experience!

      Liked by 2 people

  11. Josh says:

    Nice entry! We stopped in at Mumm briefly last spring and enjoyed even our short tasting. The DVX vintages we had were all great too but those prices were a shock as they were many of the places we went that weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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