Napa’s Benchmark Merlot
Rivaled only by Wine Spectator’s current Wine of the Year Three Palms, Paloma is Napa’s benchmark Merlot. Wine Spectator senior editor Jim Laube says “Paloma remains the greatest Merlot vineyard in California.” This rare library release, the 2010 Paloma Merlot, boasts the same incredible plushness and polish as its predecessors, winning a 92-point score from Spectator and a commendation from Robert Parker as “textbook Merlot.” Exciting access to this eight-year-old library release at the winery mailing list price of $57. Only 120 bottles released.
Jim and Barbara Richards moved to California as soft-spoken Texas transplants, utter neophytes to the wine trade. Two decades later they were Napa legends, minting Merlot from a near-impossible mountain site that snagged Wine Spectator’s 2003 Wine of the Year Award and was poured at White House dinners.
Their story has entered the pantheon of Napa mythology. In 1983, the Richardses purchased a plot of land at the top of Spring Mountain. On the advice of their friend Dan Duckhorn, they planted Merlot up to 2,060 feet above sea level, at that time the highest elevation the grape had been cultivated. Many believed it was a fool’s errand — that Merlot wouldn’t work at that altitude. The first harvests appeared to prove the critics right, the vines producing little fruit. Still, the Richardses persisted. Barbara threw herself into farming, and things started to click.
Duckhorn’s intuition has been spot-on. The well-draining, mineral-rich volcanic soil and Franciscan sandstone suited Merlot perfectly. The eastern orientation shielded vines from the blistering sun while brisk ocean breezes and the cool mountain climate stretched out the growing season, providing the grapes extended hang-time to gather concentration and richness. Barbara practically lived amongst the 7,500 vines, referring to them as her children. Zooming around the mountain on an ATV, she wore a holster equipped with pruning shears and a revolver for rattlesnakes.
Wine Spectator fêted the 2001 Paloma Merlot in grand fashion, naming the mom-and-pop release its Wine of the Year and pouring on 95 points — then the highest score ever awarded to Merlot. Revisiting the wine in 2010, senior editor Jim Laube asserted: “Paloma’s 2001 Merlot is still the best Merlot I’ve tasted from California ... Paloma remains the greatest Merlot vineyard in California, and its wines can hold their own against the best Merlots grown anywhere.”
That certainly was proved true once again in Napa’s tremendous 2010 vintage, a year about which The Wine Advocate instructed its readers to “do whatever they can to source the best 2010s, as they are magnificent.” As a blue-sky Indian summer reigned from the end of August and through September, Paloma’s clusters slowly ripened. At harvest, the juice-to-skin ratio was high, making for this powerfully concentrated Merlot that had Wine Spectator awarding it 92 points and Robert Parker pronouncing it “textbook Merlot.”
Sadly, both Jim and Barbara have since passed away, but their son Sheldon learned from his parents and inherited their passion for winemaking as well as their rigorous work ethic. Whether for the cellar or drinking today, this is a treasure to be savored.
Editor-in-Chief, Wine Access
Contributing Writer, Food & Wine