Spirits of the Season 2013: A visit to Mumm Napa on a perfect day is one to plan for. Most of the country is beginning to freeze. Not so here in California. For a great vacation pick this holiday season, pack your bags and head to Mumm Napa in the heart of Rutherford, Napa valley.At the very least, stock up on their reasonably priced ($20-$65) American sparkling wines that excel in most every category for the holidays.
Monsters and Critics toured the grounds and sampled the varietals of Pernod Ricard USA's sprawling jewel, Mumm Napa, California's leadeing sparkling winemaker who produces their wines in classic "méthode champenoise" tradition. Even the base grapevines were brought over from France by a visionary who saw the handwriting on the wall: California was the next logical step for the French G.H. Mumm company.
Mumm Napa was born behind closed doors in 1979 in a secret search for the ideal region to produce a world-class sparkling wine. This was spearheaded by the legendary Champagne Mumm of France and Joseph E. Seagram and Sons of New York. “Project Lafayette” and its origins read like a good spy novel—find a secret place, research all of your possibilities, and then make your move. The name for the project was a nod to the historical significance of the great friendship between the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson in the late 18th century.
“Project Lafayette” was placed in the hands of Mumm Napa founder Guy Devaux.
Guy Devaux, was a French-born winemaker and chemist who specialized in sparkling wines. After graduating from the University of Paris in chemistry and physics, Devaux began his career with Moet et Chandon in the Champagne district of France. Moving to the New York Finger Lakes area to work with wine pioneer Charles Fournier, Devaux became one of the first winemakers to use drip irrigation for grapevines.
It was in 1979 he moved to the Napa Valley to create sparkling wine for Mumm Napa Valley. The winery's sparkling wine called DVX is named in Devaux's honor. At the time of his death, he was chairman emeritus of Mumm Napa Valley. Devaux was a master winemaker and an expert on méthode champenoise, and the perfect person to secure “Project Lafayette’s” home.
For four years, Devaux traveled the USA and purchased grapes and small lots of wine everywhere there seemed to be promise, from Oregon to Texas, New York to finally, Napa. The rule of course was that the wine must be made from the traditional Champagne grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.
Based on the soil, climate and way the grapes grew in these consistent climactic conditions, Devaux settled on Napa Valley in 1983. There was no looking back.
As Paul Giamatti told us in the film "Sideways," the California coastal areas are unique for their cool crisp nights and moderate to very warm days most of the year. In the Napa Valley there are many distinctive American Viticultural Areas (AVA), and each region imparts its particular flavor to the wines. The are innumerable mesoclimates, each one benefiting a particularly variety, all within a 30 mile area, and have the requisite long, hot days and cool nights that deliver perfection in fruit ripeness and balanced acidity.
Visitors to the Mumm Napa Estate on the famous Silverado Trail are treated to what is often described as one of the top winery experiences in Rutherford, Napa Valley. Complimentary hourly tours offer an in-depth look at Mumm Napa’s state-of-the-art equipment and the painstaking process of creating sparkling wines.
The winery’s well-appointed tasting room features breathtaking views and an opportunity to experience the full range of Mumm Napa’s offerings. Long-term relationships with top growers ensure that excellent grapes are continually available to complement fruit from the 112-acre Devaux Vineyard, the primary source for Mumm Napa’s wines, located in Carneros. When you drive up to the main vineyard, you really cannot see the actual winery. The discreet barn-like building is buried into the hillside so that the company's devotion to conservation and green production does not impact the area in a negative way.
All of their product is used or resold to cosmetic companies (resveratrol for creams) or other winemakers (excess and subpar grape pressings). The grapevines act as a cover and disguise the state of the art sparkling wine making equipment. The grounds are exquisite and the patio offers visitors a chance to take the natural beauty of the area all in with a cold crisp glass of Brut, Rose, DVX, DVX Rose, Brut Reserve, Brut Prestige, Cuvee or even Carlos Santana's Supernatural, one of our favorites we sampled the day we went.
Winemaker Greg Fowler joined Devaux in developing the winery and establishing the style of the wine. After handing over the reins to Fowler in 1992, Devaux became Chairman Emeritus until he passed away in 1995.
In 1994, Mumm Napa released its first tête de cuvée, the acclaimed DVX. Widely heralded as one of the finest sparkling wines in the world, it is an outstanding asset to the Mumm Napa wines. Named for founding winemaker Guy Devaux, the Devaux Vineyard contributes a significant amount of its quality fruit to the winery’s renowned cuvées, including the Mumm Napa Brut Reserve and the famous tête de cuvée, DVX. Guy Devaux’s legacy continues today under the skillful winemaking of Ludovic Dervin.
“Our mission at Mumm Napa,” explains Dervin, “is to make great sparkling wine. We do it by blending fantastic Napa Valley grapes in the classic methode champenoise and California styles.” Mumm Napa draws from its French heritage and integrates its unique California style to make internationally respected wines of premium quality.
What began as a dream, the top secret “Project Lafayette,” is now a reality, complete with a landmark winery producing award winning wines.
But wait my little oenephiles... There is more!
The estate also houses two large art exhibition spaces: the Main Galley, showing rotating collections of world-class fine art photography, and the Private Collection Gallery, featuring more than two dozen signed works of famed photographer Ansel Adams.
For those of you out there who have a fine portfolio of photographs, you can pitch the vineyard to display your work too, we found out.
The wines are all exceptional and each one has its merits and strengths, especially when paired with certain foods. Overall the Supernatural, DVX and the Brut Reserve knocked me out (I like the drier finishes).
Wines: Brut Rosé, NV ($22) Brut Prestige, NV ($20) Cuvée M, NV ($20)
Reserve Brut, NV ($36) Blanc de Blancs, 2007 ($36) DVX, 2004 ($65)
Bonus Holiday love from Mumm!
Chocolate-Hazelnut Truffle Tart pair with Mumm Napa Sparkling Pinot Noir or Demi-Sec
Chocolate Short Crust
o 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
o 1/4 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
o 1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
o 1/4 teaspoon salt
o 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter,
o cut into small cubes o 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
o 1 1/3 cups hazelnuts
o 9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces
o 1 cup heavy whipping cream
o 1/2 cup milk o 1 large egg
o 1 large egg yolk
o 1/4 cup granulated sugar
o 1/4 teaspoon salt
o Whipped cream
o Fresh raspberries or raspberry purée
Have ready an 11-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom. To make the crust, combine all the ingredients except the vanilla in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Mix in the vanilla. Gather the dough into a ball, cover in plastic wrap, and flatten it into a thick disk. Refrigerate for 20 minutes, or until firm enough to roll out.
Roll out the dough into a 13-inch circle about 1/8 inch thick, and line the tart pan with the dough. If the dough breaks, press it together with your fingers, patching with extra pieces as necessary. Trim the dough to leave about a 1/2-inch overhang, saving the trimmings at room temperature for later crust repair. Gently push the dough into the pan so that it fits snugly against the sides, then fold the overhang toward the inside, pressing the folded dough against the sides.
Along the inside of the tart pan, fold the dough edges over to a double thickness, and press the dough firmly against pan. Trim the dough flush with the pan rim, saving the excess dough for patching the crust again later.
Gently prick the tart bottom all over with a fork and place the tart crust in the freezer for 30 to 40 minutes, until very hard. While the crust is chilling, preheat the oven to 375°. Bake the crust for about 15 minutes, until it is set and feels dry. Remove from the oven and if cracks have formed, carefully patch them with the reserved dough, gently spreading bits of it over the cracks. Cool the crust on a rack.
To make the truffle filling, lower the oven temperature to 350°. Spread the the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 15 minutes, until they are fragrant and golden brown.
Remove the nuts from the oven and, while still warm, rub off the skins with a kitchen towel. Grind the nuts in a blender or food processor to the consistency of peanut butter. Place the chocolate and hazelnut paste in a heatproof bowl. Put the cream and milk in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
Pour the hot milk mixture over the hazelnut paste and whisk until smooth. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve strainer and cool to room temperature. Whisk in the egg, egg yolk, sugar, and salt.
Pour the filling into the tart shell. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the filling is set, about 15 minutes. Cool the tart on a rack. Remove the pan sides and cut the tart into 10 to 12 pieces.
To serve, place the pieces on a sheet pan and reheat them at 425° for 3 to 4 minutes. Garnish each serving with whipped cream and raspberries.
Reprinted with permission from Mustards Grill Napa Valley by Cindy Pawlcyn with Brigid Callinan (Ten Speed Press, 2001).