AWG Correspondent

Mark and Sonja

John Anthony Vineyards Photos

John Anthony Vineyards Review

Regions: Napa Valley AVA, California

Reviewed: July 2, 2016 by Mark and Sonja
Published: February 10, 2017

The sun was coming down rather intensely on a late afternoon in Napa, occasionally ducking behind a cloud for a moment, only to reemerge shortly thereafter with renewed tenacity. I was in one of my favorite places in the entire world, but I was burdened by a seemingly unfair number of pressures and considerations. I had been unceremoniously notified by text message that a long time friend had died earlier that day; it was not unexpected news, but neither was it welcome. However, I had been in an intensive daylong course and was thereby unable to do what I might otherwise have done to decompress, such as reaching out to our one or two mutual friends to reminisce. So, too, there was the reason for the course. A proud teacher, I was exhausted, and had been vaguely considering a career change; the purpose of the course was to begin earning my credentials towards work as a sommelier. And in addition to all of this, I hadn’t seen my wife or son in almost a week. Feeling heavy, I leaned against the railing of the Napa Valley Wine Academy and looked all but directly into the sun. Life is a good thing, and I was in a good place. Save for my friend, who had died peacefully in his late 80’s, these were not so much problems as decisions, and temporary situations. Breathe in. Breathe out. After all, life is good.

I enjoyed a gentle breeze and the persistent sun for a few moments as I began to clear my head. I was traveling with my friend Zach, and we had dinner plans that night with friends we hadn’t seen in years. Something to look forward to. My pocket buzzed; it was Zach. I answered.

“Hey man, what’s up?”

“I’m running a little late. I’m afraid I’m not going to make it to dinner. Can I call you an Uber?”

Zach had our car. He had made a pilgrimage to SLO that day, while I had taken my class in Napa, not far from where we were staying.

“No, that’s fine. That would cost a ton of money. How long do you think you’ll be?” I inquired.

“Hard to say. Traffic isn’t moving and I’m at least an hour drive from Napa still.”

I told him not to worry about it, and that I would notify the people we were planning to have dinner with. Then I struck out on foot to make the short walk to Napa’s downtown. I hadn’t even made the river yet when I saw my favorite Mediterranean place, which I knew from my wife Sonja and my previous trip had good wine and affordable entrees. I was just about to step in for a bite when the building next door caught my eye. “John Anthony.”

I had tasted John Anthony’s Cab before, at an event in my hometown of Omaha, and it had more than impressed me. Being forced to choose between nostalgic Mediterranean food and the umpteenth tasting room of my trip to the Valley, I decided I wasn’t that hungry after all.

Stepping inside, I was immediately greeted by Rick, who in addition to being extremely friendly also turned out to be a fellow Husker enthusiast. I pulled up to the bar and settled in for a flight of reds, and Rick and I chatted about the upcoming football season while Billy Joel serenaded us in the background until eventually Zach arrived.

Zach, too, had had a hell of a day. The purpose of his trip south was to meet his father, a man he hadn’t seen in years, for lunch. He said it had gone well, but wasn’t prepared in the moment to offer many details. Rick must have overheard at least part of our short exchange in the moment between shaking Zach’s hand and attending to his other patrons, for when he returned he asked nothing at all, and simply placed a glass of wine in front of Zach, who nodded in appreciation.

It is important, I think, to remember that wine is a pairing, and not a main course. On occasion, we may focus on main courses, but pairings exist to compliment, and not to divert attention. That can be difficult to remember at times, especially for an aspiring sommelier and the manager of a wine bar, but in that moment it was all too obvious. We were tasting some of the very best wines we’d had on our entire trip to Napa, and yet we little more than commented briefly upon their qualities, instead allowing them to compliment our broader, more urgent conversations about the lives we were attempting to lead with grace. Over the course of several hours, the conversation, like a tight red in a decanter, opened up considerably, and the wine undoubtedly aided in the process, performing its role of complementation masterfully.

Though the conversation was far too intimate to relay here and, frankly, unlikely to be of much interest to people who are not fully invested in my personal life, I would mention that we tried an array of exciting wines which paired perfectly with our evolving conversation. We began with whites, of course, an excellent Sauv Blanc and a nice Chardonnay, then progressed through an impressive portfolio of reds. The thing that stood out more than any particular varietal or vintage was the incredible attention to detail, and investment, made in every wine. Obviously the craft of a dedicated and skilled artisan, John Anthony Truchard, these wines spend more time in 100% new French oak than probably any other winery I’ve encountered. The reds, ranging from Syrah to Merlot to an ensemble of impressive Cabs, are as rich, bold, and distinct as any red portfolio I’ve tasted over the course of my admittedly short career in viticulture.

Evidence of Truchard’s attention to detail and creativity are everywhere in his wines. The Syrah, as an intriguing example, is grafted onto Chardonnay rootstock and grown in the Oak Knoll District in the southern end of the Valley not far from the town of Napa. An amazing wine that spends nearly two full years in new French oak, there is a subtle buttery roundness to the wine that no other Syrah I’ve had has exhibited in my recollection. Another example of the dedication to quality paid by this producer: in 2011, a vintage known generally for hard times and less than superb fruit production in the Valley, Truchard didn’t even make wine – save for one late harvest Sauvignon Blanc, which we enjoyed.

With Rick at the helm, answering our questions and ensuring that every guest in the elegant First Street tasting room had a quality experience, the conversation transitioned gradually from what troubled our minds to literature and music, sports, politics, and more. Eventually Zach and I were joined at the bar by a young couple who took copious notes as we suggested places to visit during their remaining day in Napa. Together, we passed a few hours that easily could have become days.

We wrapped up the evening with a glass of La Dame Michelle, an admirable blanc de noirs that boasted an amber peach coloration, celebratory bubbles, and a nutty finish. Zach bought a bottle of that, and I bought a bottle of the Merlot to take home and share with Sonja. We thanked Rick with a warm handshake and the promise to meet up again should he and his family ever make it out to a Husker game, and stepped through the door into the warm Napa night. We’d done an awful lot of living for one day, and we had paired it with some truly wonderful wines.

As we made our way to the hotel, I thought about my friend; the one who had passed earlier that day, whose family and multitude of friends and admirers were no doubt still struggling with the news. I thought about the friend immediately to my left, as well, barely twenty-six years old. Young, intelligent, accomplished, most of all kind, and yet, like the rest of us, far more mortal than he could possibly realize in such youth. I thought of my family back in Nebraska, my son Titus who by then would be fast asleep and my wife Sonja, his mother, who was also no doubt on her way to bed soon. I would see them both tomorrow night. Breathe in. Breathe out. After all, life is good.

Address & Contact Information: 1440 First Street Napa, California 94559. Telephone: 707-265-7711, email:, website: Tasting Hours: 10:00-2:00.

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