The ‘green’ wines from Merryvale’s Starmont winery provided the perfect match with the food served at the Brasserie’s Harvest Dinner, both in terms of taste and philosophy.
When it comes to California wines, it’s not red or white that’s hot: it’s green.
In 2006, Napa Valley’s Merryvale Vineyard joined the green revolution of California’s wine industry by opening Starmont Winery on the historic Stanly Ranch in Carneros,
The state-of-the-art facility produces premium wines from sustainably-farmed grapes and had been certified “green” through the Napa Green Farm Certificate Program.
The Brasserie Restaurant also believes in green, using many organically produced fruits, vegetables and herbs grown either in its own gardens or purchased from local growers.
The Brasserie Market uses the same produce, plus serves it in environmentally friendly, biodegradable packaging.
It was a good match, then, when Blackbeard’s paired the Starmont wines with the Brasserie’s monthly Harvest Dinner on Thursday, 1 December.
On hand for the event was Merryvale’s state manager in Florida, Matthew Ligay, who spoke to guests about the winery.
Merryvale Vinery is in St. Helena in the northern part of Napa Valley in an historic winery.
“It was the first winery built in Napa Valley after prohibition,” Ligay said, noting that it changed hands a couple of times before Merryvale established there in 1983.
Ligay said Merryvale has long made Starmont wines, but that previously the Merryvale name dominated the label. Since it opened a second winery to produce Starmont wines on the Stanly Ranch, the Starmont name became prominent on the label.
He said the Starmont wines are made in a different style than the Merryvale signature and prestige wines.
“These are intended to be more fruit-forward, approachable and food friendly wines,” he said. “These are Merryvale’s meat and potatoes wines.”
The Starmont Winery takes pride in being a member of the Napa Sustainable Wine-growing Group and uses environmentally sound and socially responsible production practices.
Ligay explained the difference between organic and sustainable growing.
“Organic is a farming practice; sustainability deals with the overall environmental impact of everything you do,” he said. “The most perfect form of sustainability is biodynamic, which means the environmental impact is net zero.”
Starmont’s sustainable practices start in the vineyard with chemical-free growing and composting to add organic nutrients. It also practices over-cropping for control of erosion, a growing problem in Napa Valley.
Ligay said these anti-erosion practices are “fish-friendly” because they prevent water pollution.
“It’s a big deal in Napa now,” he said. “They won’t let [growers] plant on the hillside anymore because of erosion.”
Starmont also recycles 100 per cent of its winery process water for irrigation and installs bird boxes in the vineyard for pest management and to help maintain the natural habitat.
Ligay said Starmont produces very little waste, attaining 99.9 per cent landfill diversion.
Inside the winery, Starmont has independent climate controls in each barrel room to more efficiently manage fermentation and wine aging. Automated systems manage temperatures by bringing in cooler nighttime air and venting out warmer air, using low energy fans.
The winery also features a solar energy system that generates enough electricity each day to power over 250 average homes. It uses energy efficient lighting, motors and compressors and features double-paned windows and a fully insulated building.
Food and wine
The food-friendliness of the Starmont wines was put to the test at the Harvest Dinner that featured a cornucopia of fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meats that were intended to reflect the holiday season.
The first course included chilled local carrot soup; a salad with greens and cucumbers from the garden, dried apricots and Prosciutto with local melon vinaigrette; local squash and rosemary flatbread with braised crimini mushrooms and Camembert cheese.
Paired with the first course, which was served family style, was 2008 Starmont Chardonnay. This wine was fermented 50 per cent in stainless steel and 50 per cent in barrels and then aged eight months in French oak, 15 per cent of which was new. The result is a lively wine with mild oakiness and aromas and flavours of apple, pear and vanilla.
“This is a well-balanced, pleasing wine that finishes with a clean crispness,” Ligay said, adding the fresh acidity of the wine would leave tasters’ mouth watering a bit. “It’s not a Chardonnay that is over-buttery or creamy. It’s such a great food wine.”
The second course of the dinner featured roasted leg of lamb, Cayman sea salt crusted tuna with garden ackee and spring onion, along with callaloo rice, crispy garden eggplant, roasted fennel, warm fingerling potato salad, carambola and pickled radish salad and roasted Brussels sprouts. Pairing with the main course was 2006 Starmont Merlot.
Ligay said he was glad the Merlot was chosen for the pairing.
“This is a Cab-drinkers Merlot,” he said. “A big, full-bodied, structured Merlot, done the way it used to be and should be done.”
The wine, which includes seven per cent Cabernet Sauvignon, four per cent Cabernet Franc and two per cent Petit Verdot, was aged for 15 months in French oak, 25 per cent of which was new.
The wine showed good fruit flavours, but also good tannins and a lingering finish.
Blackbeard’s also provided some bottles of Starmont’s other wines - Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merryvale Pinot Noir - that Ligay invited guests to sample.
He said the Sauvignon Blanc, which incorporates a little Semillion, was the winery’s fastest growing varietal.
He said it was a nice cross of the predominant New World Sauvignon Blanc’s available.
“It’s not a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc... and it’s not a California fruit bomb,” he said.
The Cabernet Sauvignon is made to be approachable young and the 2007 vintage sampled showed that.
“It’s approachable, but it still delivers on the tannins,” he said. “You can eat a steak with this wine and it will be fine.”
Also tasted was the Merryvale 2008 Pinot Noir, which is made using grapes from the Stanly Ranch in Carneros.
Barrel aged for 12 months in French oak, 37 per cent of which was new, the bright ruby wine had crispy acidity showing flavours of tart fruit. Ligay said a sense of creaminess and dusty tannins on the palate gave the wine a long finish, making a good match with fish like salmon.