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WINE REVIEW: Larkmead 2016 Firebelle, Napa Valley, CA ($164)

Updated: Apr 26, 2020

by Andrew Chalk

Larkmead is a family-owned member of the ‘boutique class’ in Napa with miniscule output of highly-priced wines. This blend is similar to a right bank Bordeaux being 67% merlot, 27% cabernet sauvignon, and 6% petit verdot. Output was 1,293 cases.

The grapes were estate grown in Larkmead Vineyards which comprises Pleasanton loam. The wine was aged in French oak from Tonnellerie Boisset, of which 66% was new, for 18 months.

Although profoundly enjoyable today, this wine has the structure to age for 10-15 years.

It is expensive, but it is also very distinctive and discerning buyers will appreciate this.

Appearance: Opaque ruby core, translucent edge;

Nose: Intense raspberry, black cherry, peppery notes, toasted wood;

Taste: Medium plus acid. Chewy tannins. Enormous power. New French oak. Licorice. Cola. Complex and tightly-wound. Long fruit and oak-driven finish;


Update: Master Sommelier Jay James has been named the new Vice President, General Manager of Larkmead Vineyards, the iconic winery and estate currently celebrating its 125th Anniversary.



Wine Industry Veteran to Become a Part of the History at the Iconic Napa Valley Estate

Calistoga, Calif. March 23, 2020- Larkmead Vineyards is pleased to announce today that Jay James, Master Sommelier, will step in as Vice President, General Manager. This appointment is effective immediately. James will join an established leadership team including proprietors Kate Solari Baker and Cam Baker, Winemaker Dan Petroski, Vineyard Manager Nabor Camarena, Viticulturist Kelly Maher, and Vice President, Administration and Finance Judy Wink.

As Vice President and General Manager, James will apply his extensive background in hospitality, wholesale management and wine education to the entire operation at Larkmead Vineyards. Most recently, James served as the Director of Sales at Chappellet Winery, where he focused on wholesale growth and distribution since 2013. At Larkmead, James will focus on nurturing existing direct to consumer and wholesale relationships while also expanding the circle of influence for Larkmead, particularly among key trade.

“Jay will play an integral role in every aspect of the operation at Larkmead Vineyards, from wholesale management to trade and consumer marketing to staff development,” said proprietor Cam Baker. “Jay’s experience in sales and distribution will be invaluable for the recognition of Larkmead Vineyards as one of the greatest wine estates in the Napa Valley, and the world.”

The move signals a new era for Larkmead Vineyard as the iconic property enters its 125th anniversary in the Napa Valley, a milestone rivaled by few wineries in the United States. “I am distinctly honored to join the Larkmead team and be a part of this next chapter,” comments James. “The history is captivating; it is a great privilege to be connected, and a new part of it, and have the opportunity to share the rich stories from this legendary estate.”

James started his career in hospitality at the Ritz Carlton in Atlanta. From there, his career developed to include the management of several on-premise wine programs. He worked as Wine Director for the Peasant Restaurant Group in their flagship restaurant, the City Grill Atlanta, as Sommelier and Assistant General Manager at Nikolai’s Roof at the Atlanta Hilton, and Key Account Sales Representative for Atlanta Wholesale Wine. In 1997, James passed the

Master Sommelier exam, becoming only the 32nd American to successfully complete it. In 2005, he entered the wholesale world and joined Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, ultimately achieving the post of Vice President of Fine Wine. 2013 saw James move to the Napa Valley to join Chappellet Vineyards as Director of Sales. He led Chappellet’s sales efforts in all trade channels as well as guiding marketing endeavors. “We look forward to the level of experience and expertise Jay will bring to this position and are optimistic that the incredible story at Larkmead will reach new audiences through his network,” continues Baker.

In addition to his work experience, James is often a featured speaker at top wine and food events and has appeared in a long list of national publications including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Forbes, Wine Spectator, and more. He has competed as a United States finalist in both the Grand Prix du Sopexa Sommelier Competition and the Concours Mondial du Sommeliers. James is also a member and past officer of the Court of Master Sommeliers and remains actively involved with the organization’s education and examination efforts. He currently serves as Chairman of SommFoundation (The Guild of Sommeliers Education Foundation), a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation that exists to further beverage education, elevate the sommelier profession among the industry and provide relevant scholarships and educational opportunities.



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