2013 Trends: Wine with Will Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards

Welcome to our final installment of 2013 Trends!  It felt fitting that during this month of holidays and celebrations, we’d feature this interview with Will Phelps of Joseph Phelps Vineyards to discuss trends in wine.  Not only is Will’s knowledge of the wine industry incredible vast, he knows how to have a good time and crack a joke or two.  He just so happens to be Allie’s favorite (and only) brother.  We loved working with him to pick his brain about the world of wine.
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Will Phelps

Will Phelps

First, tell us a little about Joseph Phelps Vineyards and what you do for the company.
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We are a family-owned winery that was started by my grandfather 40 years ago, in 1973. We focus on making ultra-premium, estate-grown wines from Napa Valley and Sonoma Coast. I am the sales rep here in Northern California.
Joe Phelps

Joe Phelps

One of the biggest perks of having a wedding in the Bay Area is being able to feature local wines.  What would you say is the main difference between wines produced in Sonoma versus the Napa Valley?
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Napa Valley is much better. Just kidding, I can’t say that anymore now that we’re in Sonoma Coast. I guess the biggest difference is that they each have their different strengths. Napa Valley is warmer, so Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon grow better there than Sonoma.  In Sonoma, where it’s cooler, Burgundian varietals like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir tend to grow better.
Our Pastorale Vineyard in Somona

Pastorale Vineyard in Somona

There are quite a few movers and shakers on the wine scene today, introducing new winemaking styles and techniques.  Can you tell us a little bit about some of the trends that have gained popularity in 2013?
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There is definitely a trend toward making and consuming wines with lower alcohol and fruit. People are realizing more and more that wine is meant to be enjoyed with food, and big, high-alcohol ‘fruit bombs’ can easily overpower food. You’re also seeing less oak used when aging wine for the same reason.  I’m not sure these are unique to 2013, but they have been trending for the last few years.
Photo by Mel Barlow

Photo by Mel Barlow

Which winery were you most excited about getting to know this year?  Which of their wines would you suggest serving at a wedding?
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I really like all the wines that my friend is making at Scribe in Sonoma, especially their Pinot Noir. On the Napa side, probably the best wine I’ve had all year was the 2009 Madrona Ranch from Abreu.
Scribe Pinot Noir

Scribe Pinot Noir

In your opinion, what are the best wines to serve to guests during cocktail hour for a spring wedding?  Do you have a favorite wine and/or vintage you’d recommend?
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I think bubbles are a great way to go. Champagne would be my number one recommendation, but of course it’s a bit pricier. If you’re on more of a budget, there are tons of great domestic sparkling wines (my favorite is Gruet from New Mexico), as well as Prosecco from Italy and Cava from Spain. If you’re going to serve still wine, just go with the basics: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and/or Cabernet Sauvignon.  Make sure these wines taste good on their own, as a limited amount of food is typically served during cocktail hour.
Gruet Brut

Gruet Brut

We’ve found that some of our brides and grooms enjoy wine, but have a hard time describing their preferences.  Can you break down, at the most basic level, the primary descriptors that are useful when describing the tasting notes of a wine?  
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With whites, think about if you like them to be bright, crisp, and mouth-watering, or more rich, creamy, and buttery.  For reds, first you should decide between light (think Pinot Noir) or more full-bodied (think Cabernet Sauvignon), and then decide if you like your wine earthy (you smell soil, earth, mushrooms, pine) or fruit-forward (you smell a jar of strawberry or raspberry jam).
Photo courtesy National Features

Photo courtesy National Features

Let’s talk food and wine pairings.  How do you go about suggesting wines to be paired with certain dishes?  Are there certain varietals that pair with almost anything?  
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Pinot Noir is the most versatile varietal. You can pair lots of Pinot Noirs with everything from fish to chicken to beef.  If you’re going to offer two wines, whites go well with fish, chicken, and creamy pastas, while reds go well with pork, beef, and tomato-based pastas.
Photo by Elle Jae Photography

Photo by Elle Jae Photography

Which wine are you particularly excited about right now at Joseph Phelps Vineyards?  
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Our 2010 Insignia, which is our flagship wine, is made up mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon. We have been making this wine since 1974, and in fact it was the first wine to have a proprietary name, rather than the varietal, on the label in California. It is made of a selection of the best grapes from the vintage from our finest estate-owned vineyards throughout Napa Valley.
Insignia
Which styles of winemaking to do you hope to see more of in 2014?  
More cowbell, less oak 🙂
More cowbell skit on Saturday Night Live

More Cowbell skit with Will Farrell on Saturday Night Live

In all seriousness, I think that oak is overused in the winemaking process, it would be nice to see less of it in 2014.
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If you could get married all over again with unlimited resources, what would your dream wedding menu (including wine pairings) look like?  
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I would serve Krug Champagne with passed appetizers, some older white burgundy from Domaine Guy Roulot paired with an heirloom tomato and arugula salad, 2002 Joseph Phelps Insignia with steak, and Chateau d’Yquem with funfetti cake.
Chateau d'Yquem

Chateau d’Yquem

Photo courtesy Cake Chooser

Photo courtesy Cake Chooser

In case you missed it, be sure to read our November installment of Trends, featuring Wedding Ceremonies with Lisa Francesca

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