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.
Wine for wildlife:
NBA Hall of Famer Yao Ming, who has been making wine under the Yao Family Wines label for several years now, opened a St. Helena tasting room last spring. Now he’s using that wine for wildlife conservation efforts.
This week, we head back to Napa Valley for the story of Yao Family Wines with Tom Hinde, President and Director of Winemaking. Learn how the five-time NBA All-Star got his start in wine then launched his own winery on Main Street in St. Helena.
September 24, 2016
For some people in the wine biz, the pursuit of a perfect bottle is a lifelong work. When you’re an athlete, it’s more like a second career.
But you have to wonder—just because you can score a touchdown, stick a landing, ace your opponent, or hit a three pointer at the buzzer does not necessarily mean you can do much else. Here, Vivino looks at the top seven athlete-owned wineries to find out if their wine game is as good as their glory days.
Imagine being really tall, like, you know, 7 foot 6 inches. Then imagine being the only Chinese dude in the entire NBA. Fish out of water? No, because Ming not only excelled at hoops—like being an 8-time All Star, and 3-Time All-NBA Team player—but was also one of basketball’s best ambassadors.
Ming played for the Houston Rockets averaging 19 points per game, but decided to attempt a three pointer at the buzzer by starting a Napa winery. Are the wines are a slam-dunk?
Well, Yao’s wines are restrained and sensitive, like they have been crafted by a gentle giant with a good soul. “After several vintages I think people know we make very high quality wines and I am happy we have been accepted in both China and the U.S.,” Ming tells Vivino.
September 12, 2016
SPECIAL YAO MING WINE - Last week, legendary basketball player Yao Ming was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, where The Republican newspaper and Masslive.com are based, for those of you from out of state reading this column.
To commemorate the event, Yao Family Wines in California created a limited edition "Hall of Fame Bottling" of its 2014 Napa Crest Red Wine. Only 1,000 bottles were created, according to the winery.
The first bottle (number 1 or 1,000) was recently auctioned online. All the proceeds from the auction benefited the Basketball Hall of Fame.
So how much did Bottle Number 1 sell for? When the bidding was finally closed earlier this month, the winner paid $1,100.
Pretty impressive, just like Yao's career.