When your Mom wants to visit the place that makes her favorite wine, Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia, there’s only one way to respond: “Let’s go!” An iconic Napa Valley winery, it’s a short, windy-road drive to get to Joseph Phelps from the storied Silverado Trail road. We rolled into the winery and sat down with Director of Winemaking Damian Parker, who has been at the winery since 1981. (An impressive tenure!)
Here are ten things I learned about Damian, the winery, and Insignia that I found noteworthy.
- Damian’s father was a carpenter. What does that have to do with wine? Well, it instilled in him a sense of deriving gratification from starting and finishing something. Like seeing a wine go from grapes in the vineyard to putting a cork on a bottle.
- While change is part of the wine business (and life), Damian stresses that one of the more important tenets of his position is “…not losing sight of history.”
- Experimentation with the holistic system of farming practices known as biodynamics began at Joseph Phelps in the late 1990s with the arrival of Philippe Pessereau, now Director of Vineyard Operations. While many people aren’t sold on the more mystical, quasi-religious aspects of this practice, Damien values how it respects balance in the vineyards and how the soil is treated. As the winery website concludes: At the very least, biodynamic farming is a good way to organize our work and better understand the relationship between grape growing and the natural world. There also seems little doubt that with the cultivation and preservation of soil health, everything else will follow: superior grapevines, healthier fruit and higher quality wines — all while respecting the environment.
- Insignia is one of the most iconic red wines of Napa, California, and the world. But did you know that it could have been a white wine in some years? Damian revealed, “There was discussion early on that Insignia in any given year might not be a red wine.” (Wow.)
- The composition of Insignia shifts from year-to-year regarding the percentage of grapes in the wine as well as the percentage sourced from particular estate vineyards. But does Insignia have a consistent, vintage-to-vintage style? Not so. As Damian explains, “Style comes from the site.”
- Damian calls the 2005 Insignia “one of the nicest wines we’ve ever made.”
- In a historic retrospective tasting of Insignia with vintages from 1974-2012, Damian highlighted the 1987 (“pretty spectacular”) and 1998 as two that were the most surprising.
- Joseph Phelps makes a sweet white wine, Eisrébe, from a grape I had never encountered before: Scheurebe.
- There’s more to the 2010 vintage at Joseph Phelps than just Insignia. The Cabernet Sauvignon is a fantastic and delicious wine. Worth enjoying while your Insignia sleeps. Though I have no doubt it has aging potential as well. Very impressive!
- My Mom and Damian both share North Dakota roots.
Thanks to Damian for his time, and Mitzi Englis for setting up this hosted tasting at Joseph Phelps Vineyards.
Cabernet and Eisrébe: