Keen watchers of our what’s on guide will no doubt have spotted three stellar wine dinners last week – each raising a glass to 25 years of Judd’s Hill Winery. Courtesy of Martine Cafe and local wine brokers Libation, I got to join in on their celebrations.
If the back story of Judd’s Hill Winery is new to you, it’s an intriguing history. The winery was actually the second creation of polymath-type Art Finkelstein and wife Bunnie. Eschewing their first wineries mega success, Judd’s Hill was to be the focus of something more boutique and handcrafted, aiming to produce no more than 3000 cases per year. Art sadly passed away in 2010 and the operation is now helmed by son Judd and wife Holly.
Representing Judd’s Hill last week in SLC were both Judd and Bunnie, bringing not just their fabulous wines, but beaming smiles and bags of engaging stories; and not the kind of laborious wine science you might expect – you know those tales that make you want to go and hide in the nearest French oak cask. Rather than finding myself trying to keep pace with details on malolactic fermentation I was instead bowled over by fun, friendly and familial banter. It was clear this was a family business first and foremost, the fact they make stellar wine, well that’s just bonus points.
Chef Tom Grant’s menu of Southern European cuisine made a splendid backdrop to celebrate both the end of an era for Judd’s Hill, not to mention looking forward to the next. While the evenings title of ‘small plates big glass’ should have been ‘big glass even bigger plates’ – nobody quibbled, after all – this was a party with friends.
The evening started with a Smoked Rock Cod with Salmon Roe & Beet Puree. A fishy salty blast and then some, tempered with Judd’s Hill Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Next up was my favorite item of the evening, Gnocchi with Lamb Bolognese & Shaved Rock Hill Creamery Edam. If you blindfolded me and span me round in my chair three times – I might mistake the dish for the rustic charms of a shepherds pie. The soulful and soothing dish was paired with Judd’s Hill Swig Vineyard Napa Valley Merlot 2009, a fruity, smooth and balanced wine – plus a silver medal winner at the 2013 San Diego International Wine Competition. I distinctly remember my babbling ceasing for several minutes at this stage of the meal, always a good sign.
Beef & Creminelli Sausage Paupiette with Frog Bench Farms Winter Greens was next. Two hefty, meaty rolls of ground beef and sausage were wrapped around a zesty cornichon and piled over hearty greens, something of a monster of a dish – albeit a friendly one. With Judd Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 it was a third high five of the evening.
The evening drew to a close with a dessert taken from Martine’s regular menu, a decadent Chocolate Mousse Tart with Guava-Blood Orange Coulis and for those of us lucky enough to sample it – Judd’s Hill Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 – one of the very last wines crafted by Art, with grapes grown on Judd’s Hill original 14-acre hillside vineyard/ The vineyard in the eastern hills of Napa Valley has since been sold. It summed up the convivial evening perfectly, friends and family raising a glass to great memories, and looking forward to forging new ones.
All in all a wonderful meal with fantastic wines and most importantly, great people. Be sure to check our events calendar for further wine dinners like this one and much more. And if you see the name Judd’s Hill in your local wine store or restaurant – be sure to slap your dollars down quickly, you won’t be disappointed.
Disclosure and credits: my attendance at this event was comped. Top left Finkelstein family photo: taken from Judd’s Hill Winery site.