Palmaz Winery: The Intersection of Technology and Craft Winemaking

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For Julio and Amalia Palmaz, of Palmaz Vineyards, the love affair with wine started after years of regular visits to Napa. Julio was a successful heart surgeon who actually invented the heart stint.  When it was time for the next phase for their family, they decided to purchase an old estate in Coombsville in Napa.  They had no idea how serendipitous this life decision would be to create the future Palmaz Vineyards.

Henry Hagen, one of Napa’s first winemakers, was the original owner of the property.  He produced award-winning wines in the 1800’s of what was then known as Cedar Knoll Vineyard and Winery, but Prohibition killed his business, he went bankrupt and abandoned the property.  The winery fell into disrepair and the vineyards were forgotten for almost 80 years until the Palmaz family saw the potential many years later and bought the property “as is.”  There was an interesting clause on the 650-acre property that only eight acres could be planted with vineyards.  But a treasure was found on a property – artifacts from the Cedar Knoll Vineyard including letters from Henry Hagen along with maps where the original vineyards where planted.  This evidence was proof enough to give the Palmaz family grandfathered rights to expand to 65 acres of vineyards.

Because the Palmaz family knew this was a life decision that would impact their two kids, who were 17 and 10 years old at the time, they called a family meeting to determine if family was ready to be in the wine business.  The family decided the answer was yes.

That began the decision to build the winery from the ground up with many of the winemaking facilities getting built into Mount George.  Today three generations of family live on the property and the family — which includes daughter Florencia, son Christian, daughter-in-law Jessica and, by extension, head winemaker Tina Mitchell, son and assistant winemaker Doug Mitchell, and consulting winemaker Mia Klein—”that even if the scale of production was small and carefully planned, the effort to create premium wines would be all encompassing, collaborative, and greater than the sum of its proverbial parts.”

Shawn Lutwak, Palmaz’s Director of Sales and Heather Queen, Sommelier and Assistant General Manager, Ocean Prime

The winery is all about family and it was clear when I talked to Shawn Lutwak, Palmaz’s Director of Sales at a wine pairing dinner at Ocean Prime, that family pride extends to the entire team.  There is a clear passion for the mission, wines, process and the people.

Photo Credit: Palmaz Winery

And then we have to talk about the technology.  This is pure Star Wars Intergalactic looking next-generation stuff that usually you don’t find in a winery.  This is known as FILCS (“Felix”), Christian’s brainchild, who is a former computer engineer.  FILCS works along a fermentation dome, lined with 24 fermentation tanks that can accommodate grapes from individual vineyards across the estate. Shawn showed projections on the walls that showed the results from algorithmic fermentation-control and -monitoring system for each tank projecting the data from the process.  It’s pretty awe inspiring for the wine business.

I also had the chance to visit the winery several years ago and was blown away with how the Palmaz family uses technology but keeps hand crafted winery techniques front and center. Think gravity flow winemaking that utilizes the natural temperature control of a cave that continues 18 stories downward until the wine is bottled.

Now let’s talk about the dinner and the wines.  Palmaz is known for its reds, but I have to tell you the whites are incredibly special.

1st Course: Beef Tartare: cornichon, dijon, parsley
*Paired with 2016 Cedar Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon

2nd Course: Seared Scallop: mixed greens, pear, citrus, marcona almond
*Paired with 2015 Palmaz Louise Riesling

3rd Course: Salmon Dip: everything spice cracker, herb goat cheese, pea shoots, caviar
*Paired with 2015 Palmaz Amalia Chardonnay

4th Course: Rosewood New York Strip: cabernet jus, smoked gouda potato cake, haricot vert
*Paired with 2014 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon

5th Course: Lemon Tart: lemon curd, whipped cream, pistachio, white chocolate
*Paired with 2014 Palmaz Muscat Canelli Florencia

What a wonderful and delicious night showcasing the best red and white wines Napa can offer married with how technology plays a role in making hand-crafted wines even better.

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