Had the chance to see Stephane Derenoncourt Friday night at Sweetie’s in San Francisco’s North Beach district. The place was so Derenoncourt. It’s a neighborhood bar in a residential area just south of Bay Street, where the counter is already packed on a Friday evening and patrons look up immediately when someone walks in to see if its a chum. I strolled past the pool table and through the doors that said “no entry” and inside was a spacious room and garden beyond, with stylish guests already mingling around a table of Derenoncourt’s 07 Napa Valley wines.
Stephane had just flown in from Bordeaux but looked fresh – perhaps consulting scores of clients in ten countries puts him on a universal time zone where jet lag never catches up. He could only stay a couple of days on this trip because they haven’t finished harvest in Bordeaux. He was here to check on the grapes for his Napa Valley wines. I told him that many vintners here were rushing to finish harvest that week before the next storm front arrived but he wasn’t worried about the rain. He smiled and said “I’m from Bordeaux.”
It was a treat to get a preview of his 07’s. I was blown away by his inaugural 06’s earlier this year and was obviously interested in the upcoming releases. On the table were single varietal syrah, cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc wines from Coombsville, the merlot from Stage Coach Vineyard, the cabernet sauvignon from Lake County and the inaugural “Tâche d’encre” (ink stain) cabernet sauvignon from Ink Grade Vineyard high atop Howell Mountain.
His wines always display exceptional winemaking skill with purity of fruit, seamless balance, length and signature refined tannins. What always amazes me though is the clarity of the wines’ varietal character and terroir. The Coombsville cabernet sauvignon is a fuller-bodied, fruit-driven wine compared to the deep, brooding and mineral Tache d’encre from Ink Grade’s volcanic soils. The merlot from Stage Coach also very mineral with dusty tannins. And the cabernet franc – I found myself clutching the glass, totally mesmerized. It is not the heavy, dense style of some New World cabernet francs and not the light-bodied, leafy wines from the Loire. I really believe that Stephane Derenoncourt crafts the perfect expression of cabernet franc here in the Napa Valley and its one that sets a new standard.
The 2007’s are expected to be released in the spring and will be available through the Derenoncourt California website.
Sweetie’s Cafe and Bar, 475 Francisco St., San Francisco, CA, 94133. (415) 433-2343.