I think my husband is in love with a Napa legend, and I’m pretty sure she loves him back. I’d like to be jealous, but the fact of the matter is, I think I love her too. No, we’re not in the middle of some bizarre love triangle, though how juicy would that be? We’re just lucky enough to know Robin Lail.
Robin Lail, of Lail Vineyards, is the only fourth generation winemaker in Napa. We don’t live in Burgundy and Bordeaux, where families can trace their winemaking roots back 12 generations. We live in the relatively new world of ‘Murica, with our relatively new wine making history. On Wednesday night over a long and luxurious dinner at Ocean Prime Boston, Robin traced the history of her family back to the early days of her 12 year old, sea-faring great-grandfather who later staked his claim to the American dream when he sailed into San Francisco with $600,000 dollars of seal pelts.
This grandfather, Gustave Neibaum, went on to found Inglenook Winery in the Napa Valley in 1879, and a family of wine-makers was born. Neibaum’s Inglenook wines were an international success, winning gold medals in the World’s Fair of Paris in 1889. Inglenook was one of only ten Napa vineyards to survive the Prohibition, eking out a living by selling their grapes for sacramental wines. Napa is Napa largely because of Neibaum’s vision and Inglenook’s success.
Robin’s grandfather and father continued the tradition of Inglenook, but as so often happens, the property was eventually sold in the 1960s. Robin told us that her mother tried to steer her children out a life in the wine business, but eventually, Robin was drawn back in – first as a secretary for Robert Mondavi, and later setting up her own successful vineyards Dominus and Merryvale. Lail was eventually founded in 1995 and Robin was able to fully realize the gifts of her heritage. She’s been producing award winning wines ever since.
Robin’s history is fascinating, and her story-telling is enthralling. I spent half of our dinner biting my tongue, with questions aching to burst out. I spent the other half hoping she will write a book, with all of her stories and observations on Napa, and America’s love-affair with the region.
Robin’s stories are not told simply person to person. They are also told from inside a wine glass. The Lail Vineyard wines are breath-taking, each one better than the next. Carefully planned, crafted, and executed, you can taste the nod to history and the eye to modernization in each sip. What I love most is that she’s taken two grapes – Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon – and challenged her team to make two fully different expressions of each grape. The result is best realized drinking her two Sauvignons and two Cabernets side by side. After all, realizing how varied two grapes can be is the bedrock of the Urban Grape experience!
Lail’s Blueprint Sauvignon Blanc is fresh, modern and racy. The same can be said of the Blueprint Cabernet Sauvignon. Both were described to us last night as having a nervousness in the wine – a barely coiled vein of energy that runs through the product, luring you in and keeping you coming back for more. Both are ready to go in your glass today. The Blueprint Sauvignon is one of my favorite wines, but that Cabernet is pure joy in a glass. Just try to get through the first sip without closing your eyes and doing a little fist pump!
The Georgia Sauvignon Blanc and the J. Daniel Cuvee Cabernet are old world in style. More serious and studied, but no less approachable or delicious. The Georgia is unlike other American Sauvignon Blancs, with oak aging and fat lusciousness that gives it body and character. It’s highly allocated and a wine you can throw in your cellar and forget about for a few years. Except you won’t want to – you’ll buy yourself one bottle, drink it, and then wish you had 100 more. The 2012 J. Daniel Cuvee is the property’s 100 point darling. The 2013, which we tasted last night scored 99+ points – and yet the winemakers feel it is ultimately a better wine than the 2012, somehow with even more energy and interest.
The Lail wines are not cheap. In fact, they are an investment. As the cache of the vineyard goes up, the prices do as well. But they’re worth your time, money, and interest. You’ll find yourself as I was last night, biting your tongue, not wanting to ruin the moment, and savoring every detail.
Thank you so much to Robin and Michael from Lail Vineyards for sharing their wines, and so much more, with us last night!
If you’re interesting in learning more about the Lail wines, including their limited release Mole Hill wines, please email Sophie today!