Grace Family Vineyards at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant

Last night Dick Grace was on hand at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant in the newly renovated Ferry Building in San Francisco providing a very rare opportunity to taste his highly collectible wines produced by Grace Family Vineyards.

Although in more recent years Grace Family Vineyard’s wines have not received the same high scores from the influential Wine Spectator that they did in the past, they still are considered to be some of the premier “cult” wines produced in the Napa Valley due to their very limited production and a fervent following among collectors. The bottles typically sell for over $200 at initial release and can sell for $300 to $1,000 in the secondary market. Oftentimes their wines will go for substantially more money at charity auctions and have sold for $5,000 to $10,000 and in at least one known case over $100,000 for a single bottle.

Dick Grace does not offer tastings of his wines but due to a friendship with Debbie Zachareas, one of the two owners of the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, and her commitment to a child (something very important personally to Grace), Grace offered a tasting of his wines last evening.

The wines tasted were the 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2002 Grace Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon and the 2002 Blank Vineyards Cabernet. Blank Vineyards wine is a newer effort by Grace and is the result of taking clones from his primary Napa property and transplanting them at another location.

So how were the wines? My favorites of the evening were the 1998 and the 2000 cabernets although I suspect that the 2001 and 2002 will fare better with age. Especially with the 1998, a rough Napa vintage, the tannins have softened producing a soft, balanced, silky wine that is very drinkable at present. I’d score the wine a 97. Likewise the 2000 was approachable and although it could use some additional cellaring it still drank very nicely. Both the 1998 and 2000 had a very nice finish and similar to the 1998 the 2000 was very balanced with very nice cabernet fruity flavors. I would score the 2000 a 96.

I believe that the 2001 and 2002 Grace Family Cabernets will benefit from additional cellaring and for me it is hard to rate them. Dick Grace said that he felt that the 2002 wine could be the best wine that they’ve ever produced. This being said I liked both the wines equally and would rate them 94-98 on a to be determined basis.

The final wine I tasted was the Blank Vineyards Cabernet. All of Grace’s wines are 100% cabernet and are not blended. As the Blank cabernet came from the same vines as the 2002 Grace Family Cabernet this provided a unique opportunity to taste the difference, which can be significant, in the land used to grow a wine’s grapes.

The French refer to the distinction of the land used to grow grapes using the term “terroir” and “terroir” is why a white burgundy in Montrachet can sell for two to three times a similar white burgundy with grapes grown in another region of burgundy.

The opportunity to compare the 2002 Grace Family Vineyard cabernet with the 2002 Blank Vineyard cabernet provided a nice opportunity to see the difference in vineyard land first hand — you might consider the distinction a more interesting version of a “micro terroir” analysis — if such a distinction might be granted.

So how was the Blank cabernet? Quite frankly I was not very impressed. Although it did have interesting fruit flavors it had a herbaceous quality that, although enjoyed by some, was not something that I thought added to the wine. I thought, quite frankly, that it was quite a bit inferior to the Grace Family Vineyard 2002 cabernet and offered certainly a validation of the value of the land that the Grace Family Vineyard sits on today. It was not a bad cabernet but I’d rate it 87.

Grace took the opportunity of last night’s pouring, as he usually does in other settings, to speak about what is more important to him than his wine, helping the underprivileged children of the world. Grace, a retired stock broker and recovering alcoholic who has not tasted his own wine in 17 years, talked both about his own personal history and his later spiritual awakening where he realized that his wine could be a “catalyst for healing the planet.” Grace personally has been involved in many humanitarian efforts over the course of the past 5 years that have helped children. Most recently he just returned from Asia where he went to assist with tsunami relief.

Grace also talked about how they first pioneered their vineyard style to stress the adversity that might be experienced by their vines as they matured. The idea that adversity oftentimes creates character in both humans and wine was not lost on Grace and he explained how when planting and maintaining their vineyard they grew their vines organically, close together and imposed other barriers (water, etc.) to ensure that the vines struggled to create their fruit. Dick’s son Kirk Grace has now taken over the daily maintenance of the Vineyard.

All and all it was a very enjoyable tasting and a unique opportunity to sit down and try so many different Grace Wines in one setting. Thanks to Debbie Zachareas and Dick Grace for putting this together.

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