One of our favorite restaurants in Napa Valley has a wine list
that is thicker than the Napa Valley phone book. They take special
pride in featuring hard-to-find local wines.
At present, one of their really HOT wines is a stunning Pinot
Noir by a stunning young lady, Nicole Abiouness (ABBY-YOU-NIS).
We're told that they keep reordering the wine, but can't keep
it in stock - and it's on the menu for $82.
If you shop wisely while you’re in Napa Valley, you
can find her astounding 2000 Stanly Ranch, Carneros, Pinot
Noir for only $36!
The fruit for this exceptional first-effort from Nicole comes
from the famed Stanly Ranch in the Carneros appellation of
Napa Valley. The vines producing this fruit were planted in
1971 - 32 years ago - and the grape is presumed to be a Martini
clone, though no one's quite sure.
What we do know is that Mondavi, Bouchaine, El Molino, Saintsbury
and Acacia get fruit from Stanly Ranch and use it for their
BIG Pinot Noirs.
When Morgan gave up its contract on ten rows of vines, Nicole
pounced, deciding to bottle her 5.5 tons of fruit as a single
lot; most of the wineries mentioned blend in Pinot Noir from
"I think I'm the first to make a Stanly Ranch Pinot
Noir designated as 100% vineyard-specific," says the
Nicole gravitated to Napa Valley naturally, organically,
through a series of serendipitous encounters. And lucky are
we that they led her here - her wine is a knockout.
My wife and I actually met Nicole long before we ever tasted
her wine; we were sitting at one of our favorite hangouts,
the bar at Tra Vigne; we do our best wine discovery work over
dinner! Nicole and a friend pulled up adjacent bar stools
she explained that she is passionate about
"I LOVE Pinot Noir. It's my favorite grape. It complements
the foods that I like perfectly. I don't eat meat so big Cabs
and big Zins don't do it for me," she said. I remember
that well, never thinking that one day we might start ilovenapa.com
and have a platform to help promote Nicole’s wine in
the greater American market.
Nicole grew up in Virginia, the daughter of a dad of Lebanese
ancestry (and hence the unusual name). She came to Napa Valley
the first time in 1995 to enroll in a wine program at the
"At that time, there were only three wine courses; I
took them all. We spent time in the vineyards; I met Marco
Cappelli of Swanson Vineyards and Elias Fernandez of Shafer
Vineyards and they taught me a lot."
From Napa Valley, through a series of personal encounters,
Nicole found herself in Australia for the harvest of 1996.
She worked at Yalumba Winery in the Barossa Valley. Then she
moved to France to work on the later-in-the-same-year harvest
at the Sauternes house, La Tour Blanche.
And then she fell in love. Head over heals in love. With
Pinot Noir. "I couldn't believe what an aromatic, wonderful
grape this is, how juicy and balanced its wine can be,"
recalls Nicole, who worked the next summer and harvest at
Domaine Comte Armand. (No wonder she fell in love with Pinot
Noir - this is one of the GREAT Burgundy houses.)
By 1998, Nicole was itching to get back to Napa Valley.
For a brief spell, she worked as a wine educator at Mondavi
but says she had a calling to get back into the cellar. She
worked a harvest at Chappellet, then worked with John Kongsgaard
at Luna, where she ultimately became cellar master.
"I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and go
out on my own and make wine," says Nicole. "That's
when I found out about the availability of the Morgan contract
on Stanly Ranch, so I hastened to secure it."
For her first wine, first vintage, Nicole created a label,
the center of which is a lotus flower. "The lotus represents
much to me," says Nicole. "It is life and death,
male and female, it is beauty rising out of muddy water."
It turns out that Nicole got the image for the lotus on her
label from a tattoo of a lotus flower that she has on her
body. We asked
but she is insistent
how many cases of her stunning wine you buy, she's not going
to reveal where the tattoo is.
2000 Abiouness Pinot Noir, Stanly Ranch, Carneros
There is more to excite your nose in a glass of this
wine than you will find at a Macy's perfume/fragrance
counter. Take a whiff; there are basketsful of fraises
des bois, those indescribable little wild strawberries
that you find in France; there is earth, forest, a hint
of eucalyptus ("they were cutting down some trees
in the vicinity of the vines when we harvested,"
Nicole recalls), roses and back, again, to fraises des
bois. This is a heady wine.
The beverage has a near-silken texture, great weight
in the mouth; it is an exciting wine, a vibrant wine.
It is food friendly yet can equally be a meditative
Above all, this is a WOW! wine. You cannot take your
first sip while trying to finish a sentence, or complete
a thought, because you will be distracted by the flavors
and excitement in your mouth. That kind of wine.
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