The Terlatophiles: Napa winemakers talk vintage, more in Tampa

An Epicurean gathering spilled wine expertise from Napa's Kimberlee Nicholls and Elizabeth Vianna.

click to enlarge Terlato Wines' Carl Walker introduced wine mavens Vianna (left) and Nicholls (middle) before their panel discussion. - Meaghan Habuda
Meaghan Habuda
Terlato Wines' Carl Walker introduced wine mavens Vianna (left) and Nicholls (middle) before their panel discussion.

About a year after their six-part PBS show, Vintage: Napa Valley 2012, debuted, California winemakers Elizabeth Vianna of Chimney Rock and Kimberlee Nicholls of Markham Vineyards held a Winemaker Symposium at the Epicurean Hotel Thursday afternoon.

Their more-documentary-than-reality-show series, also featuring Rutherford Hill winemaker Marisa Taylor (all three are part of Terlato Wines' portfolio), showcased the gurus and their Napa wineries behind the scenes during the 2012 harvesting season. That year, copious crop loads of quality fruit were acquired.

To restaurateurs and vino enthusiasts in the Epicurean's classroom theater, Vianna and Nicholls discussed their winemaking philosophies, oak barrels, their beginnings in the industry and more.

Guests also sampled a handful of the Vintage women's elixirs, including Markham's 2012 Merlot, Rutherford's 2010 Barrel Select and Chimney Rock's 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.

"I always say I'm a better cook than I am a winemaker," Nicholls said, adding that the passion she has in the kitchen complements her nontraditional wine background.

A Stag's Leap Wine Cellars alum with a degree in biology from Willamette University, Nicholls, who's been at Markham for 23 years, worked her way up the winery's ranks to become winemaker more than 10 years ago.

She said she approaches blending the same way she does cooking.

According to Vianna, who came to Chimney Rock as a harvest intern in 1993 while finishing her enology mater's from the University of California, Davis, drinkers should let wines transport them.

"Wine should be about time and place," she said.

Although she was Napa Wine Company's assistant winemaker for a time, Vianna returned to Chimney Rock in 2002, where she's served as winemaker for 10 years. She said the winery's pure about the fruit it's using.

Chimney Rock's experimenting in its vineyards by monitoring plants' water status (Vianna: "Really geeky stuff") with a better-the-fruit-better-the-wine outlook, while Markham plans to release two wines it hasn't crafted before, a tannat and an old vine charbono.

"We're experimenting all the time... There are a lot of routes to great wine," Nicholls said.

Vintages they're most proud of: Vianna: 2005, when she first became winemaker at Chimney Rock, and 2011, the hardest of her career. "The weather was challenging from spring [and] on." Nicholls: 2001, the year she was promoted to Markham winemaker; 2005, when she had "an enormous crop" that took awhile to select through; and 2008, when April brought frost. "We lost a lot of fruit that year."

Their wine heroes: Nicholls: John Gibson, who told her to "always trust your palate." Vianna: Heidi Barrett. "She became a mentor to me."

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