For me, one of the biggest differences between living in Philadelphia and Houston is how often I have lunch with winemakers. In Philly, I would be invited to maybe a handful of lunches (or dinners) a year when a winemaker came to town and wanted to meet with members of the local press over a meal and their lineup of wines.
Here in Houston? There are probably twice as many. Per month. Sure, most of that is rooted in the fact that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is tyrannically ruled over by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB), the second-largest purchaser of wine in the U.S. (I believe they have been passed by Costco). That means as a winemaker, there was only one entity in the state that you have to impress: the PLCB.
In Texas, they have this novel concept of competition and, as such, winemakers need to find ways to appeal to a broader audience. One way is for a winemaker (usually through a PR firm) to invite a few local scribes to an area restaurant and discuss the maker’s wines, have a bite to eat, and hopefully cajole at least a few in attendance to wax poetically about the wines on one platform or another.
For me? I am not a huge fan of such events for the simple reason that I do not believe in the “working lunch” (or dinner, for that matter). Meals are a time for sustenance and good cheer, either with family, friends, or both.
I do succumb more often than not, however, since many of the PR folks have become friends and I have a severe inability to say no. Thus, a few weeks ago, I headed to the Tasting Room in Uptown Park here in Houston to meet with Weston Eidson, the owner-winemaker for Montagu Wines and Silver Ghost Cellars in Napa Valley.
While it is not all that unusual to find that the owner of a winery lives out of state, I think this is the first time that I have encountered a full-time winemaker who does so. Weston lives with his wife and three young children near Dallas, Texas (since I am now a Houstonian, I tried really hard not to hold it against him) and “commutes” several times a month to Santa Rosa, California to make his wines.
While waiting for our lunch to arrive, Weston, who looks like he might be all of 27 years old, stated that he had been around wine his entire life and after a rather brief career in consulting, in 2012 he decided to go out to California and work a harvest. While there, he discovered some fruit for sale, but not just any fruit–it was from the Bacigalupi and Matthiasson Vineyards, two of the most respected names in the state.
That was the beginning of Montagu Wines, which he named to honor his great-grandfather, Lord John Montagu, who was a pioneer in the English automotive industry. The Montagu line are all single vineyard-designated wines, mostly Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa Valley, but he also makes a Pinot (from Bacigalupi) and will soon have a sparkling wine.
2017 Montagu Pinot Baciagalupi Vineyard, Russian River Valley: Retail $60. About 350 cases. Bing cherry and a touch of earth. Quite fruity on the palate with nice acidity and great balance. Very nice. Excellent. 91-93 Points.
2017 Montagu Cabernet Sauvignon The Baren, Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $95. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. Beckstoffer George III Vineyard. Whoa. Pine trees and dark red fruit. With a sweet menthol-oregano note that is super sexy. The palate is fruity but also a bit austere-the tannins are big, bold. Whoa. This certainly needs some time maybe 5-10 years. But by then? Yowza. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
2017 Montagu Cabernet Sauvignon Sage Ridge Vineyard, Rutherford, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $150. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. More mocha and subtle red fruit on the nose. Whoa. Big, brawny, whoa. Intense fruit, incredible depth, and the finish lasts forever. Whoa. Outstanding to Extraordinary. 96-98 Points.
OK. The Montagu wines were fantastic. Close to mind-blowing. And for what they were, the prices were certainly reasonable. But forget about them (obviously, I don’t mean “forget” but they are made in relatively small quantities and are only available through the wine club).
The real story here is the Silver Ghost (way to really bury the lead, eh?). And I do not mean that the name comes from his great-grandfather’s favorite car (remember, he was one of the automotive pioneers in England), the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.
The real story is that this might be the single best under-$40 Napa Cabernet I have tried. Ever. And it is widely available in the U.S.
2016 Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $35. 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot. A bit dark in color with blackberry and some tobacco. The palate? Whoa. $35? You have to be kidding. Excellent. 92-94 Points.
2017 Silver Ghost Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, CA: Retail $35. 95% Cabernet Sauvignon. 5% Petit Verdot. Not as dark, brighter fruit but also more mineral, particularly on the backend. Another fabulous wine for $35. Excellent. 93-95 Points.
I liked the wine so much, in fact, that I did something I have never done: I left the tasting and immediately went to my local grocery store and bought some of the Ghost. Three bottles in fact, at just over 30 bucks a pop.
It’s that good.
For entirely different reasons (7 month winter…) Minneapolis has a similar visit rate to Philadelphia. Glad you have more opportunities now!
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Great to hear from you Jeff, I hope you are not too frozen up there!
Weston sounds like a fun guy to break bread with. As “working” lunches go, the wine biz does them best. For most, it’s lunch “al desko,” crouched over a laptop, or trapped in a conf room meeting, with too-cold sandwiches and a diet coke. We know how to do “working” lunches! And lunch with you has never been anything less than a lot of laughs and great conversation.
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To me, it is not a meal unless you almost spit out your food from laughing too hard at least once….
I would say you are pretty lucky!