Among the bizarre legacies of Prohibition, few are stranger than Napa’s ghost wineries. These were estates built during the wine boom of the late 19th century and abandoned when the consumption of alcohol became illegal. Some came roaring back (Far Niente, Ladera, Freemark Abbey), although a few never did.
Palmaz Vineyards is one of those wineries. It was founded as Cedar Knoll Vineyard in 1881 by Henry Hagen, who had come to California in 1852 in search of gold and finally decided to seek it in liquid form. Hagen became one of Napa’s pioneers: his wines were served at the San Francisco Opera House, and his brandy won a medal at the 1889 Paris World’s Fair. The property boasted 450 acres of vines when he died in 1895, but those vines didn’t survive Prohibition.
Cedar Knoll languished until the late 1990s when it was purchased by Julio Palmaz, a physician who invented the Palmaz Coronary Stent (possibly one of the few things better for the heart than red wine). He fell in love with Napa while completing his residency at the University of California at Davis and restored the estate along with his wife, Amalia. Today their three children are in charge of the property, which focuses on producing Cabernet Sauvignon from estate vineyards. The majority of the plantings are clustered around Mount George, west of Yountville, at elevations ranging from 400 to 1200 feet.
The inviting nose of the 2012 Palmaz Napa Cabernet ($125) exudes whiffs of anise, stewed plums, minerals and mint. It enters the mouth smoothly, displaying good acidity, a crisp texture and supple tannins. Flavors of black raspberry jam and chocolate turn a bit earthy in the mid palate, framed by a firm mineral structure. Hints of anise and mint reappear on the long finish. For all its concentration and force, this is a remarkably graceful wine, and a seamless match with steak, lamb, stews and game dishes.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com