Everyone knows you can’t judge a book by its cover. In this case you can. Far Niente is a producer of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay based in Oakville, (Napa Valley) California. If there is a more attractive label in all the wine world, I haven’t seen it. This one always grabs my attention. The label shows the winery nestled between the surrounding foothills and the vineyards all framed by vines with bright green foliage and plump, redolent grapes ready for harvest. I have tasted Far Niente Cabs and Chardonnays over the years and its single vineyard Nickel and Nickel wines and they always remind me this is luxury in a glass.
I recently had the opportunity to Zoom-taste with Nicole Marchesi, Far Niente’s head winemaker while sharing a bottle of her recently released 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon, albeit 3,000 miles apart. Nicole wrote for her college (University of California at Davis) newspaper and was assigned to write a story about the university’s viticulture and enology program. That assignment persuaded Nicole to change her academic studies to this department. She graduated, pursued and caught winery positions in Sonoma and New Zealand before landing a job at Far Niente in 2005. In 2009 she was named head winemaker for the brand.
Far Niente, meaning “without a care” or “sweet to do nothing” began in 1885 when gold prospector John Benson bought the property and hired an architect to design a gravity-fed winery, which allows for gentle movement of the juice and subsequent wine through the multiple steps necessary to craft a quality product. Benson, a visionary with big plans, ran the operation for almost 35 years when some health issues slowed him down. Then Prohibition shuttered the winery. It sat, completely abandoned, for 60 years until Gil and Beth Nickel bought the property and began a three-year restoration and expansion project for the building and the vineyards. Gil had been in the nursery business so he and Beth knew about plants and how to grow them to maximize their potential. The plantings on the property and the vineyards reflect the insider’s green knowledge with which they entered this endeavor.
Gil was an entrepreneur and a visionary as well and over the years he excavated into the hills to create 40,000 square feet of subterranean space for barrel aging and bottle resting areas. His efforts have led to a nomination for the National Register of Historic Places as well as a first Chardonnay harvest in 1979 and a maiden Cabernet in 1982. Far Niente remains progressive — installing floating solar panels in 2008, making them net zero users of electricity, producing more energy than they consume. The vintner’s practices are all organic, pure and ecologically sound.
So let’s talk about this wine. Nicole calls herself “a steward of the brand,” working to achieve a recognized “house style of a balance of elegance and power.” The aroma and taste work together wonderfully. Dark and generous cherry emanates from the glass. Then you will notice subtle tickly cinnamon along with some dried spices and hints of leather and unlit cigar. The tannins are balanced, helping to create a full mouth experience with a persistent and silky finish. This Napa Cab is assembled largely from grapes purchased from noteworthy vineyards in the region. The grapes are crushed, juice is fermented and then oak aged. Nicole told me they use several different coopers, or barrel makers, and can approach their house style by adjusting the different flavors and textures the oak infuses into the wine.
Although the term, “without a care” is embodied in the name, Far Niente wine is anything but. There is no detail overlooked and nothing is left to chance. Precise vineyard care and grape selection, immaculate winery practices and blending put Far Niente in another realm. This wine, properly stored, will easily last a couple of decades. Far Niente has a wine club you can join that discounts your first order and will share special offerings when available. Here is a brilliant idea from the website, farniente.com: Assemble a small group of friends interested in wine who have some expendable income. Far Niente will send an assortment of wines to each friend and will arrange a convenient time for you to learn virtually while having a safely distanced personal tasting, face to face sort of. With prices ranging from $70 to $200, these wines aren’t inexpensive but in these Covid times this is an education and a party.
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