© 1998 JDM Enterprises
LOUIS MARTINI GONEby Jerry D. Mead
Among my earliest memories of Napa Valley are visits to the Louis M. Martini Winery at St. Helena. They were special visits for several reasons, among them the fact that the wines, the reds especially, were exceptional and always at very reasonable prices.
Better yet, when you visited the winery there were always "Special Selection" and "Private Reserve" wines to choose from, wines that generally were not available in retail stores or restaurants. It was those wines I always took home to share with my very best wine loving friends.
There was also the Moscato Amabile that was sold only at the winery, and had to be kept refrigerated or it would start refermenting in the bottle and blow its cork. This yummy half fermented Muscat wine was low in alcohol, high in sugar and delicious...like drinking a bunch of grapes.
I never met Louis M., for whom the winery is named, though he didn't die until 1974. But I did know his son, Louis P., who died September 21st, after a brief bout with cancer.
Louis P. was a tall man who always made me feel like the term "gentle giant" was made for him. His walk was as distinctive as John Wayne's, a kind of slow, steady, lumbering gait. He was soft-spoken, a little shy and never sought the limelight, though he was always active in his industry's affairs and was frequently recognized with honors and awards.
Louis always made red wines that were palatable when first released, and then amazed even experts at how long-lived they could be. Well stored Martini red wines from the 60s and 70s can still be excellent.
Martini was always generous with his time and patient with his answers, whether talking to a first-time winery visitor or a fledgling wine writer trying to learn on the job. And he was an owner who could often be found in the tasting or retail room of his visitor center.
Also to Louis' credit, his was one of the Italian family wineries that did not have a feud over succession. While he was active in the business until literally days before his death, he turned winemaking duties over to his son Michael way back in 1978 and CEO duties to daughter Carolyn in 1985.
A list of Louis Martini's accomplishments could fill this page, but I'll mention that he was first to plant and produce a Merlot wine from the fruit of the 1968 and 1970 vintages. I remember the wine well. It's style was considerably lighter than the Merlots of the 90s.
Louis was a major influence in holding the line on prices and consumers should remember him fondly for that.
We are at a time in our history when the post-Prohibition pioneers of the American wine industry are reaching the end of their lives. I have written far too many obituaries and remembrances the last couple of years. The only consolation is that wine really must be healthy and life-extending because they have invariably led full lives and been in their 70s, 80s or 90s. Louis P. Martini was 79.
HAHN FOR VALUE
The wines have good national distribution, but if you have difficulty finding them call the winery directly at (831) 678-2132.
Hahn 1996 "Santa Lucia Highlands" Merlot ($11) Bold and intense for this price range. Mostly black cherry with some berry notes. A bit hard for modestly priced Merlot and one that will improve with a year or two of bottle age. Rating: 85/85
Hahn 1996 "Santa Lucia" Cabernet Franc ($10) Earthy, herbaceous (but not in a negative way) with primarily berry fruit. A good wine for rotisserie chicken, grilled salmon or pork chops. Rating: 84/88
Hahn 1996 "Santa Lucia" Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) Classic berry fruit with green olive complexity. A $10 wine that will improve with age and that is totally dry and food compatible. Steaks, roasts and chops come first to mind. Rating: 84/88
CAL STATE FAIR WINNERS
Best Buy, White Wine of the Week:
Best Buy, Red Wine of the Week: