What will someone do after inventing one of the most important medical equipments: the cardiac stent? Apart from collecting Le Mans cars of you would probably start a winery in Napa Valley, if you are a wine aficionado like the owner of Palmaz winery did. Not an ordinary winery, but a historical one. Not a normal cellar, but the biggest underground cellar ever built.
Henry Hagen was one of the pioneers in the Napa valley when it comes to winemaking. In 1881 he founded ‘Cedar Knoll Vineyard’ which was located in the mountains above the Silverado trail. Even in Paris this winery was well known, and produced award-winning wines on the other side of the planet. Unfortunately due to the prohibition, Cedar Knoll Vineyards closed down and it took about 80 years before this historical winery was given a second life. Julio Palmaz had a plan: to purchase this historical property in Napa valley and make a high quality wine. He wasn’t able to look after it by himself, but his wife and children helped him and in 1997 the restoration of the property had begun.
The overwhelming cellar of Palmaz is built into the rock of Mount George. Much larger than initially planned because of relatively soft rocks, the cave has grown into the largest reinforced underground structure in the world, measuring 72’ in diameter and 54 meter high (approximately the height of an 18 story building). Somehow this immensely large structure is even kept at constant temperature and humidity. Most wineries pump, transportation tanks or use long pipelines to transport their wine to fermentation tanks. Here they found a different solution. Below the de-stemming machine, a circle of fermentation tanks are positioned and the whole complex of tanks can be rotated, until the target tank is positioned right under the de-stemming machine. An inventive solution, that some other winemakers find a bit too much: ‘why disturb all wines, for one to be filled’. More technique can be found next to the de-stemmer where a screen shows all temperatures of the fermentation tanks. And if you are still not impressed by all the gimmicks you might be a little later because of their I-phone application that monitors the tanks from all over the world. The technical interest of the inventor of the cardiac stent really shows in this winery. Even if some think it goes a bit too far, this is certainly unique.
The property is idyllic with splendid views over the vineyards as they beautifully surround the cellar and the restored house from the Cedar Knoll winery. Their 55 acres are located at three different elevation levels: 400, 1200, 1400 feet above sea level and are primarily planted with cabernet sauvignon and some merlot, petit verdot and cabernet franc. There is a little chardonnay, riesling, muscat and malbec: ‘the children of the Palmaz women’ as they say. For these varieties, the women have their own production room: the nursing room. They grow at 400 feet they have some land to experiment and search for varieties that grow there well.
Chances are that charming Florencia Palmaz, daughter of Julio and Amalia, shows you around and also hosts the tasting. Then you will definitely have a warm and pleasant experience here, which is not only due to the company and the wines. Each of them, is paired with a little bite. That is not usually the case, but certainly quite amusing and original. The wines are pleasant and at the moment especially the 2007 cabernet sauvignon stands out. It blows out of the glass with an amazing amount of fruit and body. Reflecting the vintage’s immense quality, this wine certainly was the finest of the portfolio.
For those interested, visiting the winery is possible by appointment. So do take the time, the cellar alone is well worth it. In addition, the wines do not stand behind the immense structure of the latter: They are full-bodied, and truly Californian.