Rob Moshein - Austin Wine Guy
Dinner with Chris Phelps of Swanson Vineyards
August 26, 2010
Catching up on some notes. Think this is the last old one to put up. Mom's passing has played havoc with the blogging.
Yr. Mst Hmbl & Obct Svt had dinner with Chris Phelps from Swanson Vineyards a few weeks back.
First, a shout out to Eddie V's for a great meal. Amazing service and very good food. Bravo!
Now, the name Chris Phelps may not ring a bell with you, but, it should! To say this man has the chops as a winemaker is an understatement. Serious. You ever hear of Petrus? Yeah, that one. He worked there. His mentor was Christian Moueix, yeah, that one. He spent a decade at a little place called Dominus. Yeah, that one. Then, he spent another ten years working with Chuck Wagner, yeah that one, at Caymus, yeah that one. Oh, he had the chops, the lamb chops for dinner.
I think this speaks enough to his ability. Now, to answer the second question, Joseph Phelps is his 12 year old nephew in Alaska. That's as close as he gets to that one.
I worried a little before dinner. See, this guy is King of the Hill, not that one, for winemakers. Was he going to be a self absorbed over-bearing boor? Was he going to be Mr Attitude??
Nahhhhh......The jokes start about the same moment we sit down. The waiter was the target at first, but to his credit he handled it gracefully. Chris is very easy to talk to. We seemed to hit it off nicely. That awkward first few minutes passed quickly
The Pinot Grigio is good, very good for California. A fat, over ripe base (from the Napa Valley fruit, Chris explained) is overlayed with nice crisp minerally tones from Santa Barbara fruit. Pretty decent stuff actually. I liked it about as well as I can like Pinot Grigio.
The Merlot is very good. Yes, you heard the AWG utter those words about California Merlot. Clearly, it is Chris' Bordeaux heritage and training that guide him here. If more people made Merlot like this in Napa, well, there might be a market for it again.
I like Chris' style and approach to winemaking, a lot. Very knowledgable, yet eager to learn and explore more. Very terroir driven, obviously, and not interested to manipulate the wine to be something it is not. This man is a Wine Guy's Wine Maker for sure.
Now, another dilemma was that I was not a huge fan of Swanson Alexis in days of yore. The Syrah just didn't play nicely with the Cab and Merlot. Chris, thankfully, banished the Syrah and the 2007 Alexis I had was a very nice California riff on Bordeaux. Jammy typical cherry tones, but good depth, balance and acidity. Not like licking the inside of an over charred over priced Frrench Oak barrel either! Bravo! Nice wine.
By the end of dinner, the chat had moved on and off wine and we were having a great time. Sadly, the road warrior schedule began to take its toll and I could see Chris fade. No worries. I loved ever minute of the evening.
Chris Phelps I would hang with you any time, any where. A gentleman, a great talent, and a humble, funny, open personality.
Good peeps. Great wine.
Austin Wine Guy
Edit 9/1/2010 :Got this in the email yesterday:
Wow, thanks for the very kind words on our Swanson wines, and for your complimentary words about me, as well.
The evening at Eddie V’s went way too quickly, and yes, I do tend to get a bit tired on the road, but it was a memorable evening.
Sure, I was impressed by your questions that night and by your wine descriptions, but I am amazed by your memory! I was struck by the fact you weren’t taking notes, and was impressed by the article you put together a few weeks later. Thank you for your thoughtfulness, your acute observations, your willingness to learn, and for being such a nice guy. Also, a special thanks for accepting our invitation for dinner, given that you had just lost your mother – please accept my heartfelt condolences on that count.
I’ll hope to see you in Oakville sometime, or back in Austin.
All the best from Napa Valley,