You’re probably thinking four hours is too long for lunch. But there was a lot to do: drink some elegant Raymond Vineyards 2011 reserve chardonnay more akin to good Chablis than an over-oaked Californian, assess three powerful, vineyard select ’08 Raymond cabernet sauvignons from haut Napa Valley appellations - Oakville, Rutherford, and St. Helena – and a graceful blend called Generations, and encounter for the first time a bright, complex blend of French and American pinot noir – that’s right - called simply JCB No. 3.
I can say with confidence that you haven’t tasted the last wine. Also that you should. But first a little ambiance: Raymond Vineyards’ vernal garden setting on the edge of the Rutherford appellation, white Louis Quatorze-ish chairs made of soft, weather-defying synthetics, and a table at which sit the versatile woman responsible for making most of these wines, Stephanie Putnam, and four men – five if you count chef, up and down – including the owner of it all, Jean-Charles Boisset, scion of Burgundy’s third-largest wine producing family and a catalytic force there, in Napa, and abroad.
But first the sustenance: thin slices of heirloom tomato in pungent olive oil, and an all-American medley of succulent protein including bison, and alligator. The latter’s a tribute to the memory of Agoston Haraszthy, the early Hungarian disciple of California wine and so-called Count of Buena Vista who built that Sonoma winery in 1857 and was later - supposedly - devoured by a crocodile in Nicaragua.
Jean-Charles now owns DeLoach and Lyeth, as well as Buena Vista, an iconic property in the throes of renovation. (As we lunch those grounds are being prepared for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a week, and the pavement’s yet to be laid.) At Raymond Jean-Charles has ushered in changes transcending even the valley’s complicated vision of itself (see The Red Room, 3/23/12). When he says, “I’m bullish on wine,” it’s not the usual hype, but a real – meaning monied – effort for cooperation among counties, countries, and traditions.
Cooperation hasn’t had this much visibility since Robert Mondavi greased the wheels for Opus One with the Baron de Rothschild. The difference today is that Jean-Charles pushes all the envelopes – including the notion of sacrosanct regional integrity. No. 3 is another keyhole onto the new global vineyard, an intercontinental blend of pinot noir – 60 percent from Nuits St. Georges in the Cote de Nuits, and 40 percent from vineyards in the Russian River valley.
The French component was loaded - yes, in barrel – onto a jetliner and flown here for a high-end cuvee without precedent. The wine’s dedicated to twins born to Jean-Charles and his wife, Gina, of the Gallo clan, but the name refers to the ultimate wisdom of blending: “The whole is stronger than its parts.” The wine’s very good, the concept daring, and the reality the best answer yet to the faulty political assertion that French and American cultures aren’t intertwined. (Remember the idiotic “freedom fries”?)
So, go Jean-Charles. Who knows, cabernet might soon be winging into Rutherford from Bordeaux.