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Uncorked: 3 labels stand out at iconic Far Niente Winery

Michael Accurso is the winemaker for the Post & Beam and En Route labels at the Far Niente Winery in Napa, California.

Tie-dye and Far Niente Winery seem to have little in common.

But that didn’t stop Michael Accurso from asking to wear laid-back, homespun T-shirts, popular during the hippies’ counterculture movement in the 1960s, to company functions. The Post & Beam and EnRoute winemaker didn’t get the answer he was looking for, but he did get a compromise when tie-dye Friday became a winery staple.

While Far Niente is an iconic winery firmly entrenched in the history of Napa Valley, it’s far from stale. Three labels in its family are led by a pair of ambitious, free-thinking winemakers, with Accurso heading up Post & Beam and EnRoute, and Brooke Price the winemaker for Bella Union.

“There are a lot of different ways to view winemaking,” Accurso said. “I’m shoulders down, working with guys in the vineyard. I know I’m with a prestigious winery, but if I want to work press with the guys, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve got the clout of the company and the autonomy to do my job the way it has to be done.”

At Bella Union, Price said the lengthy history and associated institutional knowledge of vineyard sites and growing seasons is a useful resource. Yet, she’s most excited about Bella Union having a winery to call home after sharing space with Post & Beam and EnRoute in Sebastopol since 2012.

Located in the heart of Rutherford, Bella Union has moved into the old Provenance winery. A fully functional cellar was already in place, and construction on a tasting room is underway, with hopes that guests can be welcomed in early 2023.

With the Bella Union Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($80), the wine was deep purple in the glass with dusty baker’s chocolate, dried violets and lead pencil shavings on the nose. Flavors of semisweet chocolate and blackberries emerge before well-structured tannins swoop in on the finish.

The essence of Rutherford was something Price captured.

“I think the Rutherford dust is so cool,” Price said. “Back in the day, [legendary winemaker] André Tchelistcheff spent time walking the blocks. I think the Rutherford dust reputation rings true. There’s a special taste and smell and a really nice structure to the wine. You get some high-toned fruit, and that dust is a distinctive characteristic we have.”

For Accurso, the 2021 EnRoute is already loaded with character. It’s an unusual development for pinot noir, a fickle varietal in both the vineyard and cellar. There’s times when a winemaker simply gives up on pinot in the cellar, convinced the wine they’ve worked on all season won’t be good – only to be delighted months later when the flavors come out of hiding.

“The 2021 pinots are the best I’ve ever tasted,” Accurso said. “I usually don’t really taste them until January or February because pinot goes through its awkward teenager phase and just needs to be left alone. But, I tasted the 2021s in November, and they were just spectacular – already polished and refined.”

EnRoute is sourced from three different sites in the Russian River Valley AVA that combine to make a distinctive wine. Sebastopol is in the north, where Accurso said vineyards have “that ripe, full-throttle raspberry and strawberry flavor.” In Green Valley, he finds structure and “that bergamot tea and orange peel flavor.” Head farther south, near the Petaluma Gap, where Accurso said he made a comparison he hates, but its vineyards are “as close to Burgundy as we are going to get in the U.S., where there’s forest floor, compost and turned earth.”

It’s a wine that can be enjoyed today in a bold, fruit-forward youthful state. But the EnRoute Russian River Valley Les Pommiers Pinot Noir 2019 ($60) and its fresh, fleshy fruit flavors of black cherry, raspberry, cedar and leather on the nose with a full, round mouthfeel would be done well by a few years in the cellar.

Because today’s wine consumer tends to cellar less and uncork a bottle upon opening, the newest label’s Post & Beam Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($50), with black currant, plum cedar on the nose, black cherry and dusty espresso, is a bright and happy cabernet with easy-drinking tannins built for instant gratification.

The challenge for Accurso was in the brand launch. He’d worked for wineries with long histories, and relished the Post & Beam launch.

“Part of the reason I wanted to take it on was I always worked for awesome established houses,” Accurso said. “I’ve never been part of anything since its infancy. I thought the next step in my career would be to start with something from the bottom. Ride that thing to the moon if it takes off like a rocket. If it didn’t, be hands on the wheel, and go down with it.”

All has gone according to plan. Accurso won’t be scuttling the Post & Beam label anytime soon.

“It’s been exciting,” Accurso said. “We’ve built up so much momentum, and sold out of our vintages faster than we’d thought. Our national sales manager has asked when we can expect more. In the mix of the pandemic, we had a lot of conversations with our bosses and national sales manager, and it all came back to: was everyone drinking as much as we are [during the lockdown]?

“You can open this wine and not get the bottle remorse you might experience if you woke up on a Wednesday and saw an empty $500 bottle,” he said. “I know I’m not grabbing a $250 Napa cabernet every night.”

• James Nokes has been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Email him at jamesnokes25@yahoo.com.