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    A Sense of Place – The Wines of Galerie

    Galerie-text-logoThe more you talk with winemakers, the more you realize how broad the spectrum is of inspirations that drive them, and experiences which mold them. It could be a childhood spent around wine, a chance encounter later in life or an early recognition followed by a fanatical pursuit of a goal. It varies, just as much as the wine they make. It’s also part of what fascinates me about the people who create the juice so many individuals make their livelihood from. I share that obsession to a degree.


    Napa Valley is home to many of these individuals, all trying to put their own unique stamp on the world of wine. A relative newcomer to the group is Laura Diaz Munoz. She crafts Galerie wines, an interesting experiment in highlighting the difference between two distinct regions, made more observable due to her treating the grapes from different areas with the same wine making techniques. The differences here are from the raw materials, and thus you can see clearly what terroir can mean. The reasons for choosing these two particular places are worth looking at. For that understanding we asked Laura, to find out why she choose this path, what drives her and what the future might hold.

    Laura’s wine making journey springs from a family experience with wine culture in Spain, and an internship during her Food Science studies with a consulting wine maker. From that her journey led to a degree in enology from the Polytechnic University of Madrid. She refined her skills during her first job in La Mancha at Finca Otero. From there the world beckoned. Laura experienced the impact of terroir while working at Isabel Estate Vineyards in the Marlborough region of New Zealand and followed that with time at Calina Winery in Chile. Then it was on to Napa, where she learned technique and, most importantly, patience from Chris Carpenter while working on the wines of Cardinale and Lokoya.

    Galerie is her first solo adventure, and she is striving to paint two portraits here, which together illuminate the difference in two grape growing regions not very far apart geographically. Elevation, exposure and soil composition create the paint she uses, and her canvases are equally receptive to all of them. How they create dramatically different results on the same canvas is the story.

    Choosing Napa seems logical, but what about the counterpart to it?? Why Knight’s Valley?? In Laura’s words: “There was available fruit from our Estate vineyards in Knights Valley and I love the wines coming from this appellation. Many years ago, Chris Carpenter used to work with fruit from Les Pavots, and I tasted old vintages from this vineyard and when I found out that there was fruit available from Kellogg vineyard that is very close to Les Pavots, I jumped on the opportunity.”? In other words she knew from experience that this vineyard would provide both the contrast she was looking for as well as the quality standards she demands.? It certainly makes sense to me.

    For the Sauvignon Blanc, Laura ferments in three different types of vessels, stainless steel, neutral French oak and concrete eggs. By using them Laura isolates three distinct characteristics, crispness from the steel, aromatics from the oak and minerality from the concrete. She keeps the lees in suspension in all three for extended periods seeking an elegant, creamy texture in the wines, serving as a frame to the fruit aromas unique to each region.

    For the reds Laura goes minimalist. Three days of cold soak are followed by up to 20 days of maceration on the skins, then basket pressing and malolactic fermentation in barrel. The wine is racked to separate the lees and precipitants, but it is never fined or filtered. It ages for nineteen months in 50-60% new French oak to soften the tannins. These are not meant to be timid, but also not giant, over-extracted fruit bombs.

    The only difference in technique between the wines happens in the vineyards, where Laura manages sun exposure to maintain the balance she desires in the grapes.? Cloth shades on the Wilson Ranch Sauvignon Blanc keep the grapes from getting too hot, maintaining acid and slowing ripening.? The other Sauvignon Blanc vineyards are in colder spots and maintain larger canopies to control sun exposure.? Everything is done to keep the grapes perfect and the resulting wines a pure comparison of terroir.


    Laura, armed and dangerous

    Production is relatively low here, with levels ranging from just over 3,000 cases of the Naissance Sauvignon Blanc to about 600 cases of the Equitem.? The Cabs come in a bit over 1000 cases each.? In the near term Laura does not see these numbers growing as she continues to focus on keeping the quality high.

    As for future expansion into new varietals or blends, the door is open.? The Napa Cabernet, Plenair, will soon have other varietals blended in.? In 2013 she included 1% Petit Verdot.? She continues working with Chris Carpenter on his projects, so there is a limit as to what she can possibly take on.? Still, Laura is always eager for new challenges, so I would expect something new will be happening over the next few years.

    We received samples from Galerie’s current releases to evaluate. Let’s see what we have:


    The Whites (Sauvignon Blanc)

    2014 naissance – from the French for “birth” or “beginning” – from 100% Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and vineyards using careful canopy management and in cooler sites. IMG_1896Naissance attempts to balance the lush fruit of Napa with traditional European elegance and texture. Laura does so by combining fruit from four different vineyards. Here’s what we thought:

    The wine is a very pale straw color with some green hues underneath. At first there was a peachy/pear aroma – then it got a little grassy. Not New Zealand in your face grassy, but it is unmistakable. The lees contact manifests itself with a touch of creaminess and some texture. There’s a bit of minerality on the finish. Grapefruit and other citrus flavors make their appearance as well. This is all about balance, as you get the characteristics of the fruit from the different vineyards, as well as the vinification methods, but nothing dominates.? It is quite complex in that regard.? One important note is that Cheri reached for the bottle to refill the glass with white wine – something she almost never does. It’s very good and extremely well made. $30

    2014 equitem – named for the Latin term for “knight” – here the profile goal is the racy acidity and minerality of Knight’s Valley. Slower ripening in higher elevation volcanic soils, IMG_1895the fruit tends to bring complex aromatics highlighted with citrus and stone. All from the Kellogg Vineyard in Knight’s Valley. Our impressions:

    Very pale straw with some green hues. There is a little stone on the nose, a little peach and some grassy notes. I got a touch of grapefruit as well. It is definitely leaner than the naissance, more angular and elegant in my mind. We had it with some baked cod and it worked very well. This is a better food wine and my preference of the two Sauvignon Blancs. $30.

    The Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon)

    2012 pleinair – from the French Impressionist style of painting outdoors – blended from fruit originating in several Napa locations and soil types, the wine combines grapes fromIMG_1899 high and low elevations, volcanic clay, sedimentary and alluvial soils. Balance is the goal. Four different Napa vineyards supply the fruit. What we found:

    The wine is deep purple red and more brilliant than the Knight’s Valley cab below. A big nose of? berry fruit hits you out of the glass. There is some spice (white pepper?) as well as subtle oak. All of those carry over to the palate, and the wine is luxurious, fruit driven, long and just delicious. This is top notch Napa Cabernet here. $50 and certainly worthy of that price tag. We love this.

    2012 latro – from the Latin word for “hunter” – the name refers to Knight’s Valley’s history as a private hunting reserve before the development of the vineyards. The grapes come from IMG_1898vines in hard, inhospitable soil on Mount Saint Helena, also all from the Kellogg Vineyard and are smaller and lower in yield. Our notes on the wine:

    Also dark purple red, but the color is a bit muddled and not brilliant like the pleinair. Huge legs cascade down the glass. Red and black berry fruits show on the nose with blackberry prominent, along with leather and a definite mineral quality. Clay came through for me, although this is not from vineyards in clay soils. We picked up some herbal notes as well. The acid is very nice and the wine is fresh. Persistent tannins but they are not harsh. This is good wine, but our favorite is the Napa version. The 2012 latro just received 91 points from the Wine Enthusiast (Feb 2016 issue) so they think it’s good as well.? $50

    And a bonus – Laura is now producing a Riesling as well!

    2014 terracea – from Spring Mountain fruit. We’re looking for traditional Riesling acidity and fruit profiles. Laura is very happy with this wine, and plans to continue producing it.? The first year saw only 450 cases made, and it is likely to stay about there.? This is the only Riesling Laura makes (for now!), so we don’t have a terroir battle going with this one. IMG_1897What we found:

    Pale straw in color, this has a vivid nose of melon with a little peach and some lime. As it warmed a bit a touch of the classic petrol marker emerged. On the palate the wine is clean and crisp, with bright acid. The melon came through clearly. It carries a long finish with it as well. If you wanted to summarize this in one word it would be “delicious”. Went great with Asian meatballs and hot chile sauce.?? Or just drink it by itself.? In other words we agree with Laura, this is really good. $30

    Laura’s Galerie wines are a perfect example of what we find so intriguing about this industry and it’s products.? The wonderful variety of wine results from individuals driven to pursue their passions, relentlessly chasing quality and differences of expression that identify them uniquely.? We hope they never stop.

    Try some of Laura’s wines when you get the chance.? The Plenair is our favorite of the Cabs (and is extremely good – we put it in our Top 25 from 2015 list which you can read here).? The Equitem is our favorite between the Sauvignon Blancs.? There is only one Riesling, and it is excellent.? Some of these will find their way onto our value list.

    We can only imagine more great things in the future from Laura.

    A votre santé!



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