Wasington State has become home to some of the finest wine country in the United States. Recently, it was revealed that "Cab is King" in Washington just as it is here in Napa: Cabernet is now the number one selling varietal in the state.
So, we were thrilled recently when the noted Washington Wine Blog reviewd two of our Napa Valley Cabernets and added them to their noted, 90+ Point wines. Here's the review in its entirety:
Growing up I was a huge Seattle Supersonics fan I would go to nearly every home game during the glory years of Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. The Houston Rockets, one of their main rivals, drafted a relatively untested center named Yao Ming in 2002 with the first pick in the NBA draft. Yao became an instant sensation and one of the best players in the league, until retiring after a series of injuries in 2011. That was the year that he launched Yao Family Wines.
Yao Family Wines sources from a host of great Napa Valley vineyards. The grapes are fermented and then aged up to 18 months in 100% French oak barrels. Only the best lots were used in the final blend. I was very impressed with their new release wines. Their flagship wine in particular, the 2014 Yao Family Wines Cabernet (WWB, 92) was dense and muscular, showing wonderful and generally intoxicating dark fruit flavors. This massive wine will cellar marvelously for 15 years or more. Here are the great new release wines by Yao Family Wines:
2014 Yao Family Wines Cabernet - The 2014 Yao Family Wines Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. It is a wonderful showing from this estate which brilliantly showcases this hot vintage. This excellent Cabernet wine opens with black olive aromas with creme de cassis, mocha, tar and hints of black plum. There are rich flavors of creme de cassis, anise, black cherry cough syrup, black raspberry and coffee grounds. This has a wonderful plush mouthfeel and shows gorgeous range of flavors and aromatics. Drink 2018-2030- 92
2014 Yao Family WInes 'Napa Crest' Red Wine - The 2014 Yao Family Wines 'Napa Crest' Red Wine, is a Cabernet dominant blend (63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 12% Petit Verdot) that shows beautifully without a decant. This wine begins with aromatics of red currant, red cherry, anise, dill and rose petals. There are flavors of anise, mocha, creme de cassis, black cherry and black raspberry. Drink 2017-2027- 90
Like many wineries around the Napa Valley, every spring, Yao Family Wines releases a Sauvignon Blanc. This year's release, the 2016 Napa Crest Sauvignon Blanc, has many of the distinct characteristics found in classic Napa SBs. It's crisp, with a vibrant acidity in the mid-pallet. There are aromas of melon and fig with ripe pear. Floral notes are haunting with citrus blossom and gardenias, wile the finish begs for another sip.
So how did we create this marvel of a wine? And why is Sauv Blanc such a popular varietal in Napa? It all starts in the vineyard.
First, we must remember that Napa is somewhat modeled after the great vineyards of Bordeaux: The climate, the soil, the terroir is quite the same as its French counterpart. Sauvignon Blanc is one of the primary white varietals of the Bordeaux region, so it's only natural that we'd farm it here in the valley.
Farming Sauvignon Blanc requires diligence. It is literally considered a "savage" vine, spreading vigorously during the growing season. Like other Bordeaux varietals, SB can have an abundance of pyrazines, the compound that creates the "bell pepper" smell. Since we strive for a layered fruit profile, we farm out pyrazine flavors by controlling the leafy quality of the vines. We grow our SB on a split canopy. This allows the vigor, shoots and leaves more room to spread in the trellis. Early in the season we begin shoot thinning, which allows the plant to form with room for grape development without cluster crowding and potential for late season disease pressure. Then, just before the final stages of ripening, we remove any clusters that are behind in development. Tis is known as "green-dropping," which ensures balanced crop ripeness.
Our vineyard is perfectly situated in the Oakville appellation, right on the Oakville Cross Road, in the heart of Napa Valley. We also grow a small amount of Semillon in St. Helena at the base of Spring Mountain. Semillon is also a white Bordeaux varietal, which blends elegantly with the Sauvignon Blanc.
At harvest, the SB is delivered to the winery cold in the morning and is placed in the press for whole cluster pressing of the fresh juice. The smells are exotic. The Semillon is lightly crushed to press for a little skin contact. We settle the fresh juice in tank, then inoculate with natural yeast that will produce a long, cold fermentation for maximum freshness. The SB is 100% stainless steel tank fermented, while the Semillon is fermented in neutral puncheons (large French oak barrels). The new wines are not malolactic fermented, in order to preserve all of the natural acidity. The Semillon is stirred in barrel to add a nice, rich texture for mid-pallet lift and mouth feel.
The final blend for 2016 is 92% Sauvignon Blanc and 8% Semillon.
Our 2016 Napa Crest Sauvignon Blanc will be available at our St. Helena tasting room and online beginning April 3rd. We hope you'll come by and enjoy a glass with us soon!
The 2014 Yao Family Wines 'Napa Crest' Red Wine, is a Cabernet dominant blend composed of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 12% Petit Verdot that shows beautifully from the second it is open. This wine begins with aromatics of red currants and red cherries woven together with anise, dill and rose petals. There are flavors of anise, mocha and crème de cassis wrapped in ripe black cherries and black raspberry. While this is appealing now, it should continue to evolve into the next decade. (Best 2017-2028) - March, 2017 (OB)
The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon from Yao Family Wines is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. It is an excellent showing from this estate, which brilliantly showcases the ripeness of the warm vintage. This instantly opens with aromas of crème de cassis, black plums, black olive, mocha and tar. This is full-bodied with a plush texture yeilding a wonderful range of flavors including crème de cassiss, anise, black cherry syrup, black raspberry and coffee grounds lingering on the finsh. While this is delicious now, it should continue to evolve over the course of the next decade. (Best 2017-2030) - March, 2017 (OB)
With the first buds of spring fast approaching, Rose season is just around the corner. Rosé is typically the first release of the year for most winemakers, due to its relatively quick winemaking process. If you've explored the joys or Rosé, then you're as excited as we are for this time of year. But If you're new to the world of this delicious, complex and versatile wine, we'd like to offer you five things you should know to make your Rose adventure a great one.
1. Rosé Isn't A Cheap Wine - It's Just Inexpensive To Make. With the possible exception of a Chateau D'Esclans, you just don't see any $100 Rosé. In fact, you're hard pressed to find a Rosé over $40. So is it a cheap wine? Not at all. It's simply inexpensive to make. In essence, Rosé is a by-product of making other wines. Rosé is the run-off juice created through one of three processes used in making both red and white wines. In this respect, you get two wines to sell for the cost of one.
The maceration method is most commonly used for Rosé. Maceration is when the grapes are pressed and sit in their skins. This istypically done in red wine production, where maceration usually lasts throughout the fermentation. For Rosé, the juice is separated from the skins before it gets too dark. For lighter varieties, it can last a day or longer. For darker varietals, like Merlot, the process sometimes only lasts a few hours.
The Vin Gris method is when red grapes are used to make a nearly-white wine. Vin Gris utilizes extremely short maceration times. This style is popular for light red varietals like Pinot Noir, Gamay or Cinsault.
The Saignée method is actually a by-product of red winemaking. During the fermentation of a red wine, about 10% of the juice is bled off. This process leaves a higher ratio of skin contact on the remaining juice, making the resulting red wine richer and bolder. The leftover bled wine or “Saignée” is then fermented into Rosé. Wines made from the Saignée method are typically much darker and more dry than Maceration Method wines.
2. Rosé Can Be Both Dry And Sweet. Repeat after me: "White Zinfandel is not Rosé." Rosé has received a bad rap from other pink, sweet wines. The more you taste, however, the more you'll realize that some Rosés can be as dry as their red and white wine counterparts. It all depends on when the fermentation process is completed or suspended. Rosés that are allowed to complete their fermentation use up all the sugar in the process and are therefore dry. Rosés that are stopped during the fermentation process before all the sugar is converted to alcohol can be less dry. We tend to like a little sweeter Rosé for sipping by the pool, and a little dryer for eating with a meal.
3. Don't Know Which Wine To Pair With Your Meal? Get A Rosé. Rosé is the ultimate food wine, mostly because it is typically lower in alcohol and higher in acidity. In effect, Rosés have the flavor characteristics of both red and white wines. Rosés have both floral and herbacious notes, and often have both tropical fruit and dark fruit flavors as well. They're both subtle and complex, making them a perfect pairing for almost any dish. So get adventurous: Take that Summer Sipper off the porch and into the dinning room!
4. Rosé Can Be Made From Almost Any Grape. Nearly every wine grape you can imagine has been used to make Rosé. Some of the most popular varietals include Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre (The Holy Trinity of Rosé blends in France), Pinot Noir, Cinsault, Carignan and Sangiovese. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are especially popular in Napa Valley. So which to choose? A good rule of thumb is this: If you like the flavor profile of a certain varietal, seek that varietal out in your Rosé. In other words, if you like the way Cabernet tastes, drink a Rosé of Cabernet.
5. To Chill Or Not To Chill? If Rosé is kind of a red wine and kind of a white wine, then should it be served chilled or at room temperature? Generally, when you lower the temperature of a wine, it reduces the biting effect of the alcohol, making it "easier" to drink. This is why Rosé is such a sought-after spring & summer wine: A wine with a lower alcohol profile that's also chilled goes down fast, smooth and refreshing.
On the other hand, colder temperatures can mask the subtleties of flavor in a wine. You may be short-changing your experience if you drink a Rose of Cabernet, Merlot or even Pinot Noir at too cold a temperature. We recommend you drink your Rosé at around 60-65 degrees.
Springtime is coming! It’s late February in the vineyards. To the naked eye, it appears nothing at all is happening on the vines. None the less, it’s a very important and beautiful time of year in Napa Valley. This winter, we had an unprecedented amount of rain: One of the wettest winters on record. We dearly needed the rain because of the drought that California suffered these past few years. However, the rains have limited the amount of work we can do in the vineyard, so we have to catch up on our pruning. In the vineyards, it is pruning season.
Right now, the vines are dormant, so at this time of year we prune away the wood from the 2016 growing season and set the vine architecture for the 2017 spring bud break. And in the vineyards, we have the annual sea of yellow: The mustard flowers of Napa Valley. At this time of year, there is a magnificent patchwork of brilliant yellow throughout the Valley. For first time visitors and locals alike, the fields of bright yellow are truly a sight to behold.
The arrival of the mustard flowers means that warm weather is coming. This will cause the first buds of Spring to peak out, creating one of the most beautiful times in the Valley. Of course, we are a little bit of concerned about getting all of our pruning completed, but we always enjoy the magnificent sea of yellow as this time of year. We harvest from seven different vineyards. We start our pruning with the driest of them, and work our way to the vineyards that are the now wettest. We will prune in Oakville, Rutherford, St. Helena and finish up in Yountville.
When we prune, we strive for roughly eight fruiting sites per side of the vine, so we end up with a total of sixteen, two-bud sites per vine, which will produced 32 shoots. If this sounds like science, it is, as we are looking to predict how much fruit can each vine can ripen. We aim for 18-20 clusters per vine. If we can get 32 good bud positions during pruning, we’ve achieved our goal..
When visitors come to Napa at this time of year, they can sometimes be a bit disappointed when they see dormant vines, which look a little like trees from a Tim Burton movie! But the fields are green and the mustard flowers are spectacular, so it is still a beautiful time of year to visit Napa. In some ways, it’s the best time of year to come to Napa. In the wineries, things are a bit slower so we have more time to spend with visitors who stop by. Restaurant reservations are easier to come by and hotel rates are less expensive than during harvest. Late winter is still a great time of year to visit Napa.
The mustard in Napa and in other wine growing regions was originally planted as a cover crop. Mustard is very rich in nitrogen, so it’s a natural fertilizer. Once the mustard grows and flowers, we till the plants into the soil to replace some of the nitrogen the vines used during the previous year’s growth cycle. The seeds are tilled right into the soil, so they are set to come back again the following year. We’ve planted so much that the flowers have really taken over the valley. But they’re beautiful, and provide sustainable and organic nourishment for the soil. It’s a tradition that’s been a part of wine culture for centuries. Like so many things in Napa Valley, the symbiotic relationship between mustard and grapevines has its origins in France. Dijon Mustard comes from the town of Dijon, in the Burgundy region, and these are the same mustard plants that line our vineyards.
At the winery, we are really excited to be bottling two wines: Our next vintage of Sauvignon Blanc (a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon) and our first ever Napa Valley Rose! Our premiere rose is a blend of Oakville Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is spectacular. We’re only producing 180 cases, so it’s a small but exciting offering.
All of the 2016 wines have been put to barrel, and most have finished their malolactic fermentation. They will all be done with fermentation by March. Our 2016 white wines are finished, but we continue to monitor the amount of malic acid in our red wines, as the malic acid converts to finish the natural process. Once the malic acid is consumed, we know fermentation is done.
So although the vines look like they’re sleeping, there is still much happening in Napa Valley in February. Please come by and visit us at our new St Helena tasting room sometime soon. We would love to enjoy the beautiful mustard flowers of Napa Valley with you.
Traveling to Napa, or indeed any of the world’s great wine regions, can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is truly nothing like a day tasting world-class Napa Valley Cabernet, taking in an evening with a culinary masterpiece, and a night in a vineyard under the stars. But for wine tasting newcomers, a trip to winery or tasting room can be a bit intimidating: So many varietals, vintages, glasses and tasting methods…it can be overwhelming to first time visitors.
For most people, a trip to wine country may indeed be a once-in a lifetime experience, so making the best of it is critical. So we spoke to some of our favorite, most knowledgeable wine-industry insiders to get their expert advice on how to make the most of your next wine tasting adventure!
AnnaBelle Walter, Wine Industry Marketing Executive: Do your research! I'd say poll the group and determine your main goal. Is it visiting a property steeped in history, or one with state-of-the-art technology? Want to enjoy sweeping views from a panoramic deck, or do you and your friends prefer to explore subterranean caves? Do your research (also on price point and wine style), and choose 2-3 wineries per day max that fit your parameters to get the most out of the experience.
Becky Tyner Sandoval, Small Lots Big Wines: Keep hydrated!
Regina Fell, Boisset Family Estates: Take your time. Don’t slug it down: Taste it and savor it. Swirl, sniff, sip and savor.
Anna Eagan, Tasting Room Associate: If your host has served you, entertained you, helped you in any way and provided you with a pleasant experience, it is appropriate and encouraged to tip them. They may even have some special tidbits of their own to share with you!
Terra Jane Albee, White Rock Vineyards: Don’t be intimidated. Ask questions, pay attention. Don’t take it too seriously. Enjoy!
Buddy Bowles, Bremer Family Estates: Your Host is there to provide a memorable experience; help by being courteous when he or she is explaining their wines. (You’re not at) a bar, but a wine tasting of some of the best wines you may ever taste. As Maya Angelou said, "I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Francesca Cunningham, Winery Social Media Expert: What’s that metal container on the bar? It’s a spittoon! It's ok to spit, especially if you are the driver. It will make your day longer and your morning less painful.
Sheila Thomas, Yao Family Wines Tasting Room Coordinator: Call ahead, even if it's not a "By Appointment Only" Tasting Room. The gesture will be appreciated and will mean you get a host who's expecting you, and usually better service.
Most of all, just have fun! The benefit of wine tasting is that it allows you to discover your own personal palette. You’re there to try new things. Over time, you’ll become an expert too!
The staff at Yao Family Wines is happy to help you plan your next trip and give you recommendations on wineries, restaurants and experiences. Call us anytime at 707-968-5874.
It may seem trite to some big name bloggers to feature a “celebrity” winemaker. And, indeed, there are those celebrities with so much cash to spend that they’ll simply slap their name on a label of pretty much any product. So, it would stand to reason that a celebrity-named wine would taste as artificial as Hollywood looks. Well, Yao Ming isn’t from Hollywood and if you know anything about him, you know that he’s actually a gentle-spoken, if not shy, individual. The Yao Family Wines 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon speaks, not of Yao’s social status — but of a young wine-personality on the brink of great ideas.
About the Wine: If there’s one other thing I know about Yao Ming is that he fell in love with big bold Napa Cabs while he was eating big bold, Texas meals. So it’s no surprise that he would station his winery and tasting room in the heart of Napa Valley and source his grapes from the region best known for the rustic red wine.
No, Yao Ming is not the winemaker, Director of Winemaking, Tom Hinde, is responsible for blending the Bordeaux varietals used in the Yao Ming Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. And, no, Yao Ming is not a grape grower or vineyard owner, instead Yao Family Wines sources its fruit from various vineyards across the valley, including Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard (Vaca Mountains) Tourmaline Vineyard (Coombsville), Circle S Vineyard (Atlas Peak, Broken Rock Vineyard (Soda Canyon), Silverado Hill Vineyard (Yountville), and Wollack Vineyard (St. Helena). An eclectic mix of some of the most popular and the up-and-coming regions of Napa Valley.
The 2014 Yao Ming Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 3% Cab Franc and 2% Petite Verdot. Fruit is hand picked, hand sorted, and de-stemmed prior to cold soaking in stainless steel for 5 to 7 days. Skin contact is maintained anywhere between 19 and 34 days before gentle basket pressing and primary malolactic fermentation in barrels. The wine then aged 18 months in French oak (65% new).
Flavor Profile: Pop open the bottle and take a whiff — some call this scent skunk, to me it smells like opening a cardboard box. Either way, what you have here is a bit of reduction (your first clue to my conclusion of this wine), so you’ll want to keep that bottle open to air for at least 30 minutes and pour your glass at least 5 minutes before enjoying. (No real need to decant unless you’re super excited about drinking the whole lot.)
The wine is unfiltered and unfined, so don’t be surprised if it looks a little rusty and dusty in the glass. And even with the aforementioned “airing,” you’ll want to swirly-twirly that glass before sticking your nose it and definitely before taking that first sip. Once past these initial steps, I found the nose to be abundant with dried fruit — like a dried fruit salad. The second layer is that of dried herbs — akin to those you’d find in your pantry. The third layer (really get some air in here and stick your nose at the top of the glass with room between schnoz and wine) is almost a bit perfumey, but more like dried flowers — like the faintest whisper of potpourri.
The initial palate is simultaneously juicy, yet dry. It’s as if all those dried fruits sensed on the nose sat in a water bath for a couple of hours, plumping back up — yet, when you chew them, they are still what they are, dried fruit. The tannins are strong — this is a teeth-stainer for sure — and lend to an almost chalky-tacky mid to final palate. The aftertaste circles back to that dried fruit, this time it is distinctly raisin. If you play with your breath post-swallow (exhaling as you keep your mouth shut, sans-wine), you’ll get the most minute essence of chocolate.
My conclusion is this — almost all the components are there: The potential for strong fruit flavors — check; Herbaceous earthiness — check; Tannins — double check. The wine is fine as it is — I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy it. But I would just love for those fruits to open up a bit more, meld with the secondary earth components, let those tannins mellow just a bit, and find a bit of acid. I think the wine, like Yao’s wine-producing career, is quite young and full of potential. I’m curious what his inaugural 2010 vintage tastes like because I think the wine only needs a few more years on it to really round out the palate.
Food Pairing: Like I said, I did enjoy my Yao Ming Cabernet. (Honestly, I mostly had fun sussing it out — the compilation of flavors and textures just tickled the wine-sleuth in me.) So, as customary I did my best to pair my wine with a meal and, knowing Yao’s passion for Texas grub, I paired my 2014 Yao Ming Cabernet Sauvignon with barbecue chicken (complete with BBQ sauce), grilled baked potato, and a blend of broccoli and sautéed onion topped with blue cheese on the side.
If you’re going to drink Yao Ming’s wine now, this is the way to do it. The blue cheese with it’s creamy texture and funky aromas calmed the tannins and opened up the berries — I could actually taste blueberry, blackberry, a bit of plum. The spices in the sauce brought forth a bit of needed heat on the palate, but it also got that buried acidity in the wine to come out and play as well. And because everything from the chicken to the potato was cooked on the grill over wood chips, I was able to even find some of that oak aging mentioned in the winemaking.
This is a food wine for sure.
More Info: I received the 2014 Yao Ming Cabernet Sauvignon as a sample for review. (Many thanks!) For more information about Yao Ming (as a wine producer) and to purchase wines directly, please visit the Yao Family Wines website.
You can follow Stacy Briscoe at www.briscoebites.com. Twitter: @SLBriscoe.
From Our Winemaker
We're welcoming the rains in Napa!
You've probably heard that Napa Valley has had a very wet winter so far, but we could certainly use every last drop of it. And though we're enjoying a nice run of sunshine right now, you may have seen pictures of flooded vineyards and wondered what affect that has on the vines and the upcoming vintage. Fortunately, vines are dormant during the winter and can take this kind of flooding for few weeks at a time with no damage.
Typically, now through February is the time for pruning vines, getting them ready for bud break and new growth in the spring. The wet weather has made it difficult to do pruning, so we're taking advantage of this dry spell to get the work done. Typically in Napa, we see bud break from late February through April, so time is still on our side.
One of the things we're most excited about this winter is the release of our very first blush wine, the 2016 Napa Crest Rose. It's a Rose made from Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon from select lots in the Napa Valley. We only produced 168 cases, so this wine will only be available at our St. Helena Tasting Room and online at YaoFamilyWines.com. The first allocation goes to the Wine Club, so if you've been thinking of joining, click here and check it out.
Stay warm and dry! ~ Tom Hinde
Happy Chinese New Year!
January 28th marks the start of the Chinese New Year - the Year of the Fire Rooster. If you were born in 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982 or 1994, then according to the Chinese zodiac you are Loyal and trustworthy: people born in the Year of the Rooster are sociable, very accomplished...and usually very well-dressed! Come to our Tasting Room anytime through January and pick out one of the Lucky Red Envelopes you'll find around the room. You may win a free tasting, or discounts on wine and merchandise. We're also offering a special Chinese New Year Gift Set featuring two bottles of 2014 Napa Crest Red Wine along with a Rooster Wine Pourer for only $96.00. Click Here to order now.
We'll be celebrating Chinese New Year now through Valentines, so come by and wish us Xinnian hao!
Valentines Day Means Wine, Chocolate and Something Special...
Come to our St. Helena Tasting Room now through the end of February and try our new Wine & Chocolate Tasting Menu. We've paired four of our wines with chocolates crafted by world-renowned chocolatier Chris Kollar of Kollar Chocolates in Yountville to create a unique and delicious tasting experience.
You can also take the celebration home for your own Valentines Day Wine & Chocolate Tasting. Our Gift Set includes:
- 2104 Villa Celste Lodi Zinfandel
- 2014 Napa Crest Red Wine
- 2014 YAO MING Napa Velley Cabernet
- 2014 YAO MING Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon
- Four 4-Packs of hand-crafted Kollar Chocolates
Click here to purchase this one-of-a-kind gift set.
And Here's How You Let The Love Shine Long After Valentines Day...
Purchase one of our $5 Love Letter Hearts during your visit to the tasting room. Write your love note on it, hang it on our wall, and we'll donate your $5 to The Special Olympics.
Post a picture of your heart on any of your social media and we'll give you 5% off your purchase.
Houston Rockets To Retire Yao Ming's Jersey February 3rd
The Houston Rockets will retire Yao Ming's No. 11 jersey during a halftime ceremony of a game against the Chicago Bulls on February 3rd. Yao, a global ambassador of basketball who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in September, averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in eight seasons with the Rockets before his career was cut short by injuries.
To commemorate this special event, we're offering eleven bottles of the "11" YAO MING Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, autographed, numbered and dated by Yao. You can get one of these eleven limited bottles for $500.00, and proceeds will be donated to WildAid's efforts to protect endangered animals.
Recover From The Napa Valley Marathon
At Our Tasting Room March 5th
The Napa Valley Marathon is coming the weekend of March 5th, and we're celebrating the athletes, families and volunteers that are making it happen. We'll be featuring tasting specials all weekend long at our St. Helena Tasting Room, culminating with a "Recovery Party" after the race on Sunday, March 5th, beginning at 1pm. We'll have a Certified Massage Therapist on hand to give complimentary massages, along with high-carb & high-protein small plates, and the first tastings of our 2016 Napa Crest Rose.
Mark Your Calendar for these upcoming special events and wine releases:
- March 25th: Flavor! Napa Valley Grand Tasting at Culinary Institute
- April 3rd: Final Four Viewing Party & 2016 Sauvignon Blanc Release at the Tasting Room
- June 6th: 2014 YAO MING Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Wine Club Release
- July 14th: Festival Napa Valley Tasting Room Reception
- July 21st Yao Family Wines Summer BBQ at the Tasting Room
- September 16th: 2014 YAO MING Family Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Release
- October 14th: 2015 Napa Crest Red Wine Release
- November 11th: "11/11" Party at the Tasting Room
The year 2016 has been a gratifying one for retired basketball legend Yao Ming. Despite a career cut short by injuries, the 36-year-old former Houston Rockets center—and eight-time All-Star—was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in September. It is also the year the Shanghai native’s California winery, Yao Family Wines, put itself squarely on the map of Napa Valley by opening a chic visitor’s center in the wine-tourist mecca of St. Helena.
Bankrolled in part by $2 million raised on CrowdFunder, Yao’s tasting room provides new public visibility for his small-production, luxury-priced Cabernet Sauvignon blends, which are already a hit with the wine press. International market-maker Robert Parker, of The Wine Advocate, wrote, “I am aware of all the arguments that major celebrities lending their names to wines is generally a formula for mediocrity, but… the two Cabernets are actually brilliant, and the Reserve bottling ranks alongside just about anything made in Napa.” Parker gave the 2012 Reserve an all-star ranking of 96 points.
Yao himself, reached on a fall afternoon in the midst of harvest, keeps it in perspective: “We are still very young, and we have so much still to learn,” he said of his operation, which produced its first wine from the 2009 vintage.
But Yao and his team are humble only to an extent: The current 2012 Yao Ming Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $225 a bottle from the winery (Sherry-Lehmann in New York City offers the 2010 Reserve at $645). The nonreserve 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon sells for $100. The prices of these flagship wines–there is also a less expensive Napa Crest line–pits them against a world-class competitive set. (In the U.S., for example, $225 would be more than enough to buy a bottle of 2012 Sassicaia from Tuscany, and with a little shopping two bottles of 2012 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou from Bordeaux.)
Given his ambitions, Yao was fortunate in hiring California veteran Tom Hinde as president and winemaker. Hinde had previously made wine at the top-notch Flowers, in Sonoma County, and for various high-end Jackson Family Wines projects. Yao knew exactly what kind of wine he wanted to make–the kind of rich-but-balanced luxury reds he’d come to enjoy in Houston steakhouses. “That’s how my drinking history started,” he explains. “Wait,” he adds, laughing, “does that sound bad? My ‘drinking history’ ” And Hinde had the on-the-ground knowledge to source the grapes for just such a wine: a little from here, a little from there.
Buying grapes from six vineyards with differing characteristics, from the San Francisco Bay-cooled south to volcanic hillsides to the warm northern part of the valley, Hinde takes a “ spice box” approach to constructing the flagship wines. In the end they are, he says, classic Napa Valley Cabernets. But Yao, who flies in from Shanghai for all the key decision making, very much directs the nuances of the style. While basketball fans may remember the 7’6″ center crashing the boards, away from the court he is apparently a man who appreciates delicacy.
“These wines are very much driven by what he values,” Hinde says. “They are all about harmony. You won’t find overuse of oak or purposely high alcohol or overextracted fruit. There is an elegance you might not find in other wines.”
It is a style the Yao family team hopes will continue to find favor in China and in Asia generally, where the company sells about 30% of its production. This is no small feat given that the premium wine market in China has slackened along with the economy. Tariffs, VAT and generally higher markups at wholesale and retail essentially double U.S. retail prices for wine inside China, meaning that Yao Family’s entry-level Napa Crest Red, $48 at the St. Helena tasting room, climbs to about $80 in China. The Yao Ming Napa Cabernet, at $250, and the Reserve, at $450, are very much high-end luxury products.
Still, Hinde believes that Yao Family is selling more fine wine in China than any other Napa producer, though like all American wineries it faces a market long dominated by French labels. “Obviously,” says Yao Ming, “Bordeaux is more famous than Napa Valley in China. But we are catching up.”
If so, Yao himself may be a big factor. A major celebrity in China–it was Yao, after all, who carried the 2008 Olympic torch into Tiananmen Square–he is, as Hinde puts it, “a huge door-opener. He gives us the ability to start those conversations and get people to taste the wines.”
So, of course, does the new Napa Valley tasting room, where about a third of the visitors so far have come from the burgeoning numbers of Chinese tourists. “We run into my countrymen a lot in our tasting room,” Yao says proudly. And more, many more, are likely to come. For Yao Ming the good news in 2016 was just a beginning.