There is the intriguing story of how Mumm Napa Estate was established on the Silverado Trail in the early 1980s, and how that has lead to their current production of more than 450,00 cases per year, all in the acclaimed methode traditionelle. However, after sitting down with winemaker Ludovic Dervin, I learned the real story is how Mumm Napa Estate has become engrained into the fabric of the Bay Area.
Mumm Napa emerged from an idea and partnership between Champagne Mumm of France and Joseph F. Seagram and Sons of New York to research the best location in the U.S. to make sparkling wine. They hatched a secret plan — called “Project Lafayette” in honor of the friendship between the Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson — and dispatched seasoned Champagne master Guy Devaux to lead the search.
With the only rule requiring that the wines be made from traditional Champagne grapes chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, Devaux traveled from New York to Oregon to Texas before declaring, in 1984, the Napa Valley as the premier appellation in America.
The sublimely inviting Rutherford site was completed in 1987 in a serene setting that co-exists with the Napa Valley vineyards off to the west. Secure in their ability to source outstanding grapes, Mumm Napa Valley has also established the 112-acre DeVaux Vineyard in the Carneros region, named after the founding president who passed away in 1995.
As the tasting began, a smiling Ludovic Dervin said, “I’m partial to the Brut Prestige because it is the wine that will put my kids through college.” The large production Mumm Brut Prestige Napa Valley ($22), is the one that is readily available in wine outlets and supermarkets, good quality at a reasonable price. He further described a “four-wheel drive” wine with pinot noir providing the muscle, chardonnay the finesse and a bit of key lime. Pinot meunier and pinot gris add the stone fruit flavors, and the consumer delights in the opportunity to contribute to the kids’ schooling.
The methode traditionelle in making sparkling wine starts with quality grapes and good harvesting practices. The grapes are picked at 18-24 brix, and to minimize bruising, Mumm presses the grapes in the vineyards, then transports the juice to the winery. The varietals are fermented individually, then blended prior to tirage — the transfer from the barrel to the bottle for secondary fermentation and aging.
Automated or by hand, the bottles are held at steep angles and rotated for days, a process known as riddling. With the bottles upside-down, and the yeast lees sediment settled in the neck, it is frozen to 24 degrees Celsius, encapsulating the yeast deposit in an ice plug.
Disgorging occurs when the temporary cap is removed, and pressure forces ice plug out. Finally, a small amount of sugar solution is added to each bottle, called dosage, and the final cork and muselet wire is secured.
We tasted 10 different sparkling wines at various price points; some readily available, others, like the Mumm Brut Reserve Napa Valley ($39) and the Mumm Sparkling Chardonnay Napa Valley ($48), only at the winery or to club members.
Ludovic hinted that the Mumm Cuvee’ M Napa Valley ($22), with 30 grams of residual sugar, targets Millennials who grew up with a sweet tooth. This wine is all about peaches and cream with sweetened stone fruit flavors. Actually, the “M” honors the late-harvest muscat used in dosage, something prohibited in Champagne.
“It’s fun to make sparkling wine in California,” Dervin added.
The vintage specific 2010 Mumm Napa DVX ($65), from the best of the Carneros grapes, is equal parts pinot noir and chardonnay, the perfect balance of power and finesse. Aged on yeast for five years, the complex and balanced flavors were the highlight of the day.
Two gallery spaces are part of the tour, a permanent Ansel Adams photograph exhibit and a rotating private collection gallery. Always present in the Bay Area lifestyle, Mumm produced all the champagne for each of our San Francisco Giants World Series victories and partners with guitarist Carlos Santana on a special “Santana Series” of releases that benefit his Milagro Foundation.
An afternoon at Mumm Napa Valley in Rutherford is time and investment well spent.
Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 15 years. Visit Lyle’s blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.