Winespeak: Visiting Palmaz Vineyards
Where Tradition and Technology Co-exist, Comfortably
As a fine wine specialist and someone who’s been in the business for over 20 years, I was both curious and a bit skeptical as to what this famously high tech winery was all about. Allow me to explain my cynicism. There tends to be a bias in the industry against what is perceived as “over produced,” or “showy” winemaking. As they say, “great wine is made in the vineyard,” not in a lab room. My goal was to see what the fuss was all about and if, indeed, the innovation made a difference in the wines.
So, as I ventured up to the entrance of Palmaz one Saturday afternoon in Napa, I wasn’t sure what to expect, given that I’d heard descriptors such as “Palmaz is off-the-charts,” “cutting-edge,” and an “over the top” type-of-place. My friend and I were greeted by Christian, son of Julio and Amalia Palmaz, of Argentine origin, and the president of the winery. He is warm, down-to-earth and the “innovator” behind the brand. With a business degree and specialty in geoscience and computer science, he’s also clearly gifted. His father, Julio, invented the balloon-expandable heart stent. This is a family who is undeniably steeped in the world of science.
The interesting thing about Palmaz Vineyards, founded some 20 years ago by Christian’s parents, is that, from the outside looking in, there are — seemingly — some paradoxes. For example, it is a gravity flow winery which, for anyone who studies Napa and historic wineries, this is an age old, “less interventionist” approach to winemaking.
Secondly, the property, situated in the southeastern AVA of Coombsville, a gorgeous 640 acre estate with 64 acres of vineyards, sits on a historic site with origins dating back to the late 1800s, long before most people knew of Napa as a wine country destination. The Palmaz’s embrace tradition. The wording on their website of “intuitive farming,” a focus on the individual vines, not the vineyard, would seem to be an oxymoron.
But, as I listened and sat with Christian, I began to see how it all comes together. It’s his aim to disprove the philosophy that scientific analysis on a grand scale in winemaking is to be shunned. He shared his thoughts on the subject, “high tech science is not necessarily the antithesis of great winemaking. It’s not to be used to overmanipulate or manhandle what nature gives you. It’s a tool to better understand what is there and manage it while honoring and respecting the land.”
So, again, the question becomes, at the end of the day, how do the family’s converging ideologies affect what’s in the glass? As we sat in Christian’s office, we were treated to some lovely food pairings to go with the Louise Riesling, Amalia Chardonnay, two Cabernets and the delicious Florencia Muscat. I will say, the wines speak for themselves, all lush and dense yet balanced and elegant.
It was somehow fitting that Christian ended our visit with the explanation of their wine club, Brasas, which pays homage to the Argentine tradition of grilling meat over a hot flame. When I think of Argentina and the Palmaz’s roots, I think of a country with heart, soul and that famous Latin passion. There is something quite interesting and unique about combining that heart with a hyper focus on science and technology. But I would venture to say that, with respect to a winery like Palmaz, it only serves to enhance what is already there…..which is a lot of heart, passion and soul.