It would be easy to drive past the Odette winery building.
Rows of vines, set amidst the backdrop of the Stags Leap District's majestic palisades, offer their hypnotic lure. As the Silverado Trail twists and turns, Odette’s tasting room looks small, quaint and classy from the outside. Look closer and the winery comes into focus, a LEED Gold Certified building neatly nestled into the hillside.
Assistant winemaker Adrien Halpin quipped the winery “hides in plain sight.” But an afternoon spent with Halpin in the stylish tasting room, environmentally conscience winery and 18,000 square feet of underground caves, revealed that while the visual impact of Odette might be minimal, its wines stand out. They’re the most exciting wines I’ve had from the Stags Leap District in years.
Some of the deepest thoughts at Odette occur in shipping containers.
Pass through the metallic-white screens that look like minimalistic columns and a pair of yellow shipping containers are wedged into the corner of the winery. In their past life they carried heavy loads all over the world, today they’ve been outfitted with the winery’s lab.
“The containers were literally plucked off the port of Oakland, welded, painted and put together,” Halpin said. “We re-decaled them with date of our first pick. It’s where our mental winemaking takes place. It’s where we get to know the trials and blends.”
As they get to further know their property, the PlumpJack Group, which purchased the Odette property in 2012 replanted the vineyards and and farmed them 100 percent organically, the wines are on an impressive trajectory. There’s still some vineyard work to be done, a terraced hillside grew Merlot that would get sunburned. It’s set to be regraded and planted with a straight north-south orientation to Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 337. The dense planting should produce wines with intense tannins.
While the future looks bright, the present is spectacular and barrel samples of the 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage are even more stunning.
My favorite Chardonnay from Napa Valley was the Odette Reserve Chardonnay 2015 ($65) for its tropical fruit, pineapple, pear, honey and toasty nut flavors. Vineyards planted to the Shot-Wente Clone from Hudson Vineyards, it saw time in 75 percent new French oak. It was pressed whole cluster and sent directly to the tank to get “maximum palate impression." In what Halpin said was an “ old school method,” the dirty, unclarified juice entered barrels where it underwent native primary and malolactic fermentations. Aged for 16 months in oak, on its lees and dead yeast cells, there was no stirring or racking. The result is an incredible mouthfeel, It’s rich but not overbearing with a salinity and unctuous note that further the complexity.
There are only 3,200 cases of the 2014 Odette Cabernet Sauvignon Estate ($125), but with its black fruit, chocolate, meaty game, fennel and spice rack flavors its acidity kept it fresh. It’s the most impressive Cabernet from the Stags Leap District in recent memory.
As the 2015 Adaptation Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah (Adaptation, Cade, Odette and PlumpJack are all part of the PlumpJack Group) were on the verge of being bottled, samples from the tank revealed a pair of special wines.
“We want to work the best vineyards and continue to evolve and make something that drinks like twice its price,” said Halpin. The 2014 Adaptation was $54. “You can stand in their vineyard blocks that dip right below the appellation cut-off line and from them you get great, nice texture with a big fruit expression. Ferment it all together it leads to good complexity.”
A blend of 84 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 16 percent Merlot, it’s a wine Halpin said is their “pride and joy,” but noted it’s the most challenging to make. Tasted out of the tank, the 2015 Adaptation had dark chocolate and red fruit flavors with a silky mouthfeel and gentle tannins.
With the Petite Sirah, Halpin and winemaker Jeff Owens tamed the grape that can be an unruly beast. While it was almost black in the glass, the wine didn’t go to extremes. It’s a bargain; the 2014 sold for $42.
“The fruit should be at the forefront,” Halpin said. “Texture and everything else comes along with it and props up the fruit. It has to go with the balance of the wine to be complete.”
A drive on the Silverado Trail is one of the prettiest trips in all of California’s wine country. At Odette the winery doesn’t stand to interfere with that beauty. But rather blend in.
“There’s a green roof with succulents and drought tolerant plants that grow in a hybridized soil structure,” said Halpin about the LEED Gold Certified winery which also has 2,500 square feet of solar panels on its roof. “It keeps things cool and absorbs a lot of sun. It makes us good neighbors, too, so there’s not a monolithic structure out here.”
“The winery is basically a hollow shell that’s very functional. We wanted to have a low overall (environmental) impact.”
• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at email@example.com.