Mission Codename No Panic, Yes Panek
DOUBLE AGENT TGIF!
Napa Cab fans! Here’s one for when only THE BEST will do. We’re talking access by mailing list only kinda wine here Operatives, with big 96 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, at just north of $50. Unheard of, right? Well, here it is, in all its splendor, before your eyes. Let’s dig in and make it quick as it appears, smells and tastes like an inevitable sell-out… While we don’t want to promote Panic, only 8 barrels were made, to begin with, so we do encourage that you hit that Panek Button NOW!
Dark crimson to the core with a narrow rim of radiant ruby bordering garnet. Luxurious aromas of blackberry jam, red currant, leather, and a spice bazaar adorn the classically Napa nose. Seamlessly integrated red and black fruits with bright acidity and firm tannin accentuate the mouthfeel which outright rings the $100+ territory. Masterfully complex and seamlessly long on the finish, while at once silky and velvety in texture, a perplexing yet pleasurable contrast. The perfect plate would showcase a bone-in ribeye steak, with a balsamic fig reduction sauce and truffle mashed potatoes as a decadent side.
Jeff Ames is one of the most gifted winemakers Napa Valley has seen in modern times. He is, after all, an apprentice of Thomas Rivers Brown, having made Schrader, Maybach, Outpost and TOR side by side, eventually taking the baton as TOR’s winemaker in 2003, where he still makes tremendous wines. The inevitable birth of his own label Rudius in 2005 has not stopped him from becoming a consulting winemaker for many wineries on the rise today. He has humble roots nonetheless, as Wine Spectator best put; “Jeff came to the Napa Valley via Alabama in 1999. - I had no bed, no couch, I slept on egg-crate foam for the first six months - he says. In just over a decade, Ames has become one of Napa’s rising stars.”
Panek Vineyard is a tiny 5.5 acres neighboring Larkmead and Vineyard 29’s Aida. Besides Ames, Thomas Brown is the only winemaker with access to it, and it goes into Pulido-Walker for the owners, and his own label Rivers-Brown. “What separates the best valley floor sites from good valley floor sites is their ability to drain,” he explains. Panek blankets a rocky, gently sloping knoll in the shadow of the Mayacamas Mountains along the old Napa River bed wash. The loamy soil, with its highly compacted alluvial deposits of gravel, provides optimal drainage. The valley basin is also more temperate than the hillsides surrounding St. Helena, making it ideal for slower ripening and full development of flavors. These elements coalesce in low yields of reliably superb fruit. Vines at Panek are densely spaced and pruned using the “two straight cane” method, which requires a specific skill set and hands-on, time-intensive attention. The ultimate goal is to allow the “site to shine through” the wine.
Here’s what the wine press has to say:
96 Points – Wine Advocate - “Well-known winemaker Jeff Ames is the owner of his own brand called Rudius – he is definitely a name to reckon with, having worked with Tor Kenwood making his wines, and has a successful enterprise with his own. The deep garnet-purple colored 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Panek Vineyard (all 337 clone, aged 33 months in oak) opens with earthy notes of mossy bark, tilled black soil and black truffles over a core of cassis, blueberries and warm plums with touches of menthol and lavender. Medium to full-bodied, the palate is laden with blue and black fruits, supported with a firm, grainy backbone and a lively line, finishing with great length and depth. 220 cases made. Drink 2020-2038.”
Here’s what the wine press has to say on Jeff Ames:
Virginie Boone – Wine Enthusiast - “Jeff Ames worked at a Memphis wine shop to put himself through school, and he developed the itch to work a harvest out West. In 1998, Lynn Penner-Ash, of Penner-Ash Wine Cellars in Oregon, was the first to give him a chance. A year later, he landed a job in the tasting room at Napa Valley’s Freemark Abbey. Along the way, he wrote for Decanter and was an early employee at winebid.com. Eventually, he met Thomas Rivers Brown, one of the most sought-after winemaking consultants in the Napa Valley. Like Ames, he didn’t possess a formal wine-related degree. In 2001, Ames became Brown’s assistant, where he worked with clients like Outpost, Schrader, Tamber Bey and Tor Kenward. “I had to learn by doing,” says Ames. “I was a wine geek that turned into a winemaker.” Lacking formal education, Ames made up for it with a laser-like focus. “You can’t let something go off the rails,” he says. “You have to keep it nice, neat and tight in the winery and taste all the time, so you pick up a potential problem before it becomes a real problem. You have to learn the early indicators of a wine. “With a formal education, sometimes the downside is you can get numbers-centric. You forget it has to taste good.” In addition to consulting work, Ames has his own brand, Rudius, on Howell Mountain. Ames says that because of his success, as well as others like Brown, wineries are more open to hire those like him. “But you’re less likely to be hired by a big corporation,” says Ames. “I look for someone who wants to make wine so bad they’ll sleep on the floor for six months. I can relate to that.”
What the Winery Says
2014 Panek Vineyard St. Helena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Jeff Ames
- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
- Calistoga, Napa Valley
- Panek Vineyard
- 33 months
- 70% new French oak
- 8 barrels