Article By: Harvey Finkel
Means “craftsman” in Catalan the language of Penedès, the home in northeastern Spain of Artesa’s owner, Codorníu. I imagine that “artisan” comes from the same root. (In Spanish, artesa means “kneading trough”.) The former definition applies here: at the Artesa Winery in Napa’s Carneros, fine wines are crafted from the fruits of its vineyards in Carneros, the Napa Valley and Sonoma.
Cordorníu, the very large and well-known cava producer, which had been making wine for 45O years, opened Cordorníu Napa in Carneros to produce sparkling wine in 1991. The facility itself is a work of art, well worth a trip, even without the added attraction of the tasty wines (see their website, www.artesawinery.com). The architecture nurtures the visual arts and the culinary arts.
In 1997, perhaps because of the poor market for American sparkling wines, the place was renovated, renamed and rededicated to still-wine production. Vineyard holdings were improved then as well. Artesa now produces about 1OO,OOO cases annually, divided into three categories. The Classic Tier (Chardonnay-Carneros, Elements-Napa/Sonoma, Pinot Noir-Carneros, Merlot-Napa/Sonoma, Cabernet Sauvignon-Napa/Sonoma) ranges in price from $21 to $28 per bottle. The Reserve Tier (Sauvignon Blanc-Napa, Chardonnay Estate-Carneros, Tempranillo-Alexander Valley, Pinot Noir Estate-Carneros, Merlot-Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon-Napa) costs from $21 to $45. The Limited Releases, made in small lots and usually available only at the winery, vary in price. The current cast includes Albariño, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Garnacha Rosado, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, and a Select Late Harvest Geweürztraminer. A limited quantity, about 1OOO cases, of sparkling wine is made from Carneros Estate fruit. It is labeled Cordorníu Napa Grand Reserve, available only at the winery.
Vineyard manager Don Clark is responsible for Artesa’s three estate properties: the 15O-acre Carneros Estate, the 88-acre Foss Valley Estate in the Atlas Peak appellation of Napa Valley, and the 89-acre Alexander Valley Estate. These are all well-sited hillside vineyards. (The figures are for vine-bearing acreage.) Fruit is also obtained from contract growers. Clark, a Texan with degrees in agriculture and wildlife and fisheries science, including a Ph.D., emphasizes the contributions of individual blocks, working closely with chief winemaker Dave Dobson.
Dobson has been chief winemaker since 2OO5. He has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Johns Hopkins and a master’s in food science from UC Davis. He previously worked at Sonoma Creek Winery, Kendall Jackson and, most recently, at Rutherford Hill Winery.
Artesa may be a long way from 16th-century Spain, but its artistic soul clearly connects. Its vinous body, however, is very much 21st-century California.
I tasted four wines for this report,
one – Elements – from the Classic Tier, three Reserves.
CHARDONNAY RESERVE 2OO6 CARNEROS ESTATE
3O68 cases. Barrel fermented and aged sur lie 9.5 months in French oak, half new. 8O percent has gone through malolactic fermentation. French oak apparent to the nose, but not obtrusive. Restrained fruit in a well-structured, contained wine that has time. $26
7276 cases. Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Garnacha, and Merlot, in descending order; two-thirds Sonoma, one-third Napa. Aged 22 months in a mixture of oaks, 28 percent new. Dark and saturated. In nose and mouth, elements of the Cabernets show through. Fruity and juicy, not complex. Sort of a Zinfandel-style wine overall. $22
PINOT NOIR RESERVE 2OO6 CARNEROS ESTATE
4633 cases. Late spring compensated for by vineyard work (thinning fruit and leaves) and late picking. Nine months in half new French oak barrels. Good color. Smells of damson plum. Bold varietal fruit flavors, well balanced with bracing acidity. Long in finish. Intense and well structured. Good job. $41
CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE 2OO5 NAPA VALLEY
8891 cases. Selected, handpicked fruit from five Napa vineyards. Picked in fine weather the last week of October. Contains two percent each Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Aged for 21 months in French oak, 6O percent new. Released March, 2OO8. Bright and juicy fruit, without deep tones. Not complex. Not particularly tannic. The alcohol shows. Likely needs time in bottle. $45