Perliss Estate Vineyards. For twenty-five years the Perliss Family has owned 13 acres in the far northern reaches of the Napa Valley. A few more miles north and you reach the Sonoma County line on your way to Knights Valley. For many years this was Proprietor Herbert Perliss’s weekend retreat from the San Francisco Bay Area – a place to get away from the urban life for the quiet rural picturesque landscape located in this part of the valley. Herbert was eventually bitten by the wine bug and decided he would like to grow a small vineyard on the property. He interviewed a number of winemakers but ultimately settled on one of Napa’s brightest and most well-respected winemakers – Aaron Pott.
This was an opportunity for Aaron to become involved in a wine project from the very beginning. He was instrumental in how the vineyard was planted; its layout, vine spacing as well as choosing the Cabernet Sauvignon clone (See Clone) which comprises 100% of the vines. The vineyard is laid out in two blocks – the tiny upper block which which grows in rocky volcanic soils and the lower block which flows down the hill into a loamier soil settling into a tiny bowl.
Calistoga has a reputation for being the warmest part of the Napa Valley and often it is – but this property north of town is surrounded by hills and Mt. St Helena to the north; the property has its own micro-climate. Often, they are cooler than the city of Calistoga – and in the afternoons a breeze is common which helps moderate the temperature.
Prior to being a vineyard, this was bare grass land which was convenient when they decided to plant vines (a minimal number of trees were removed). The vines were planted in 2008 and their first commercial release was from 2011.
This little 2.6-acre vineyard is producing an exceptional wine. The vineyard does not produce much – usually only several hundred cases are made each year. The quality of fruit is such that when it comes into the winery – the actual wine making is a fairly straight forward process.
The 2012 vintage was fermented using indigenous yeasts already on the fruit and bottled without fining or filtering. It was aged in new French oak for 20 months and then sat in bottle for nearly a year before being released.
The 2012 Perliss Estate The Ravens Cabernet Sauvignon is dark in the glass; on the bouquet it showcases darker fruit aromas including boysenberry, blackberry and black fig – all framed delicately by a pleasing dustiness along with tinges of mocha powder. The palate is well-balanced showing notes of ripe blackberry and black chocolate. The finish is texturally beautiful and also balanced – chalky tannins with a delicate sediment component are well integrated in the finish. This texture and tannin grain have been hallmarks of all their vintages. As a result, this wine drinks wonderfully when it is young but also has the fruit and acid backbone to age.
A Bordeaux Blanc styled white wine was introduced to the program in 2016 – a blend of Sémillon from a vineyard in Knights Valley and a Sauvignon Blanc from the Hudson Vineyard in Napa’s Carneros region. The wine is called the Serpents. Anthony is also personally making a limited production Vermouth from this wine, sourcing a high-quality brandy from a distillery in Ukiah and adding a variety of herbs and botanicals for the aromatics.
And Anthony’s sister, Tessa Perliss produces an annual rosé and a Zinfandel, bottled under the label Wingspan (also made by Aaron Pott). The 2017 Wingspan Rosé is 64% Old Vine Zinfandel, 30% Petite Sirah and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Tasted 4 years post vintage, the wine is noticeably dark salmon colored. It reveals light aromatics of strawberry, dried rose petal, and hints of grapefruit. On the palate shows clean and lightly textured from start to finish with some lingering notes of watermelon pith and red cherry. Not overly bright acidity – wish we had tried this within a year of vintage date.
Beginning in 2014 some of their estate wine is being aged in clay amphora vessels manufactured in Tuscany by the Manetti family, owners of Manetti Gusmano & Figli furnace in Tuscany. The vessels are made at the family’s own terracotta factory. One size of these vessels is equal to approximately 2.5 of the 60-gallon oak barrels. The family has worked with clay for 8 generations and are responsible for providing the tiles in the restoration of the floor of the Duomo and the Botticelli room in the Uffizi Gallery (both located in Florence). Making these vessels is a lesson in patience combined with exacting knowledge passed down from generation to generation. Each vessel (they can be produced in different sizes) takes up to 4 months for one person to create by hand. Only a limited number of these are produced each year.
Aaron had never worked with these particular vessels before, but after trying them out on the Perliss wine he ordered several for his own wine program. Perliss continues to use these for their wines. And Aaron has embraced these and now uses them for his own wines and for other clients and has a sizable collection at the Black Lab at Blackbird Vineyards winery south of the city of Napa.
Herbert’s son Anthony worked in the perfume industry for many years – lived in Paris but since moving back to the property has taken on the role of managing the day-to-day aspects of this small business. He compares the perfume industry to the wine industry, where the ‘raw materials’ in both industries are critical to the quality of the end product. And the role that terroir plays with with both grapes and flowers.
Master’s in each respective field (winemaker and perfumer) all have the tricks and “toolboxes” to express their craft well, and often each has a variety of perspectives based on international experience, but Anthony has noticed that some of the best in their fields (both in wine making and with perfume) embrace a philosophy of ‘simpler is often better’. And that is their own philosophy with wine making.
The symbol of the raven with a pearl in its mouth was carefully chosen by the family. The raven suggests the rawness of the landscape (as well as the ravens that flock near the vineyard) and the pearl represents the refinement of what can be crafted from the rugged landscape.
The wine is selectively found in restaurants in Napa, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Two local retail outlets carry the wine including Calistoga Wine Stop in Calistoga and V Cellars in Yountville. The wine is also selectively distributed in Florida, and they have plans to distribute to Texas and New York and Internationally to Japan.
For a unique opportunity to try limited production premium wines from this boutique producer (who is still young and under the radar), join their mailing list here: www.perlissvineyards.com
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