Judge Palmer Wine Co. Interview | Wine Tasting
Judge Palmer Wine Co. is a brand new boutique winery located up in Healdsburg, CA that just released their first vintages of a few wines including a Sauvignon Blanc, Malbec, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Judge Palmer Wine Co. was started as a business venture between Palmer Emmitt (the estate is named after his grandfather) and Michael Scorsone.
Michael started out his career in the wine industry at Failla wines under Ehren Jordan who is still the winemaker at Failla wines and use to be the winemaker at Turley Wine Cellars. Since then he has worked under Fred Schrader and Thomas River Brown while at Boar's View and then moved on to work at Adobe Road Winery where he has multiple high scoring wines from Wine Spectator. Palmer began his career in the wine industry as a second calling which you can read more about below in our interview with him. The name of the wine estate actually comes from Palmer's grandfather, James Palmer, who started out as an electrician and was offered a position as a judge but was not a lawyer. So James Palmer went to school and studied for his second calling, to become a judge. Thus why the estate is called Judge Palmer Wine Co. We were able to get on the phone with Palmer and ask him a few questions about how he got into the wine industry and what his plans are for Judge Palmer Wine Co.
Q1: What event or experience changed your view on wine and made you decide that you wanted to own your own wine estate and produce wine?
Palmer Emmitt (PE): My road into wine was long and winding, from vague interest to hobby to obsession and finally to profession over the course of ten years or so.
Growing up, my father had a great cellar of Bordeaux and older Napa Cabs, so I was always aware of wine as something to be revered. When I came of age, I’d taste stuff with him and discovered I liked Pinot Noir, so from then on when we were out to dinner my dad would order a Cabernet or Bordeaux and he’d let me order a bottle of Pinot or Burgundy.
From there, I ended up meeting two guys in my late 20s who really jump started my passion for wine. The first was Michael Scorsone who I met through a mutual friend. He was working at Failla at the time and I’d go up to Napa to barrel taste with him and realized I didn’t just enjoy drinking the stuff, but that I wanted to know everything about it. I started researching all sorts of different wine knowledge on the internet and stumbled upon Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV which I binged on. Eventually Gary and I became friends and his passion for wine and following your dreams led me to seriously consider the wine business as a possible future for me.
I took the WSET level 2 and 3 courses, applied to the Wine MBA program at Sonoma State, quit my job, and moved to wine country. I reconnected with Michael and after a couple of months he asked me if I wanted to make some wine together. I said, “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me that for 5 years.”
Q2: Aside from your wine estate, we just wanted to ask you a few questions about your interest and experience with wines. What is an “AHA” moment that you had with a bottle of that left an impression on you?
PE: I travel a lot and believe there's no better way to learn about wine than to go to as many different winemaking regions as possible, especially the ones where wine has been part of the culture for hundreds of years. I've been to Rioja and Penedes in Spain, Central Otago and Waiheke Island in New Zealand, Tuscany and Veneto in Italy, Champagne, and pretty much everywhere in the US where wine is made.
As far as individual wines go, there are so many great bottles out there, and it’s so dependent on time and place and the people you’re drinking with, but here are a few that are especially memorable:
Oregon Pinot Noir was really the first thing I gravitated to, I think it was a Brickhouse Willamette Valley Pinot that was my original “AHA” wine.
I think the most interesting winery in the world is R. Lopez de Heredia. I love all of the wines but the Tondonia White Gran Reserva is maybe the most unique – insanely long barrel aging and they hold the wines 10 years or more before release.
Another Oregon Pinot Noir comes to mind: Gypsy Dancer, which unfortunately is no longer produced because the owner/winemaker Gary Andrus passed away a few years ago. He coached me in skiing when I was a kid and I had no idea he was this famous winemaker. I reconnected with him after I got into wine and I went up to his place for a Thanksgiving Club Party – we sat and drank and talked about wine and ski racing and just had a blast, a very special day. If you can find a bottle of 2006 Cuvee Romy or A & G Estate somewhere I highly recommend it.
When people ask me to pick my single favorite wine I usually say Failla Estate Syrah from Ehren’s ranch in Cazadero way out on the Sonoma Coast. Michael planted some of that vineyard and used to farm it in addition to making the wines. I remember pouring the 2004 for Gary V the first time I met him and he stopped mid-conversation, looked at me and said, “this is serious fucking wine.”
After a trip to Tuscany in 2013 with my MBA class I got really into Brunello. We had a particularly fantastic experience tasting with the owners at Fuligni and their 2008 was incredible – more of a feminine Brunello, really delicate and floral and approachable.
Q3: Do you happen to collect wine yourself? If so what is lurking down in your cellar? Any really special bottles?
PE: Yes, I started off with a lot of Pinot Noir from Oregon, Sonoma Coast, and Russian River Valley, and then bought a bunch of 2005 Bordeaux futures, but now my cellar is really diverse and eclectic – I’ve got sections for pretty much every wine producing country in the world. Lately though I’ve been buying mostly Barolo and Brunello.As for special bottles, I've got some cool 1976 (my birth year) stuff that I'm saving for my 40th birthday this summer: Chateau d'Yquem and Chateau Palmer.
Q4: What do you have waiting at home for you tonight or what is your ‘go to’ daily drinker?
PE: On a daily basis my wife and I tend to drink a lot of Italian white wines. There are just so many obscure white wines from Italy that the possibilities for exploration and discovery are endless. We drink a lot of Vermentino, Arneis and Etna Bianco, but if I see a varietal or region, I’ve never tried before I immediately go for it. Recently I discovered the island of Ischia – Biancolella is the variety – that makes tremendous wines full of flavor, acid and minerality.
Q5: What do you enjoy doing in your life outside of your winery, such as hobbies, etc.?
PE: I love to ski and golf, and do each about 20-25 times a year. I grew up racing and still compete with the USSA Masters fairly regularly.
Q6: Who are some winemakers that have influenced your winemaking career? Any mentors?
PE: As for mentors my main one is obviously Michael Scorsone, but I have a group of winemaker friends in Sonoma that I respect and bounce ideas off: Andrew Bilenkij from Ledson, Kurt Beitler from Boheme, Blair Guthrie from Guthrie Family Wines and Stewart Cellars, Kieran Robinson from Kieran Robinson Wines and Randy Bennett from Sojourn Cellars.
Q7: How would you describe your winemaking philosophy and why it is important to you?
PE: Our philosophy is maybe best described as flexibly natural – native yeast fermentations and no chemical or enzyme additives, but we’re not rigidly “natural” in our wine ideology. If we have to make a decision to make the wine the best it can be, we do it. We rely more on our senses and experience than we do lab results, and let things play out before interfering as a last resort. It’s not a paint-by-numbers approach, we treat each lot as a unique entity and don’t follow a set recipe. We hope we make wines that express their terroir as much as any California wine can, while also striving to make wines that are flavor intense, i.e. delicious.
Q8: Do you filter your wines?
PE: Usually not, but we’re not necessarily opposed to it if necessary. The reds 99% of the time will be unfiltered, for the whites it depends mainly on whether they’ve gone through malolactic fermentation or not, but again each wine is assessed individually. For example the 2013 Sauvignon Blanc was fermented on the skins so we felt it needed minor filtration to clean it up and get rid of any solids, but it went through malo completely so we didn’t sterile filter it.
Q9: For people, like ourselves, who want to know what you are planning on the future with your estate, what are some of your upcoming wines you are excited about?
PE: You’ll see the full vision of the brand being expressed in the next couple of years, with a broad range of single vineyard Cabernets from both Napa (Stagecoach, Beckstoffer To Kalon, Georges III) and Sonoma (Estate Dry Creek, Ellis Alden Alexander Valley, Bavarian Lion Knights Valley). In addition we’ll release a Sonoma County Cabernet blend, a new vineyard source for Malbec that we’re extremely excited about (Blau Vineyard), and two different versions of our Sauvignon Blanc – one with skin contact and one without. We also made a teeny bit of Malbec Rosé in 2014 that was just released.
Q10: For anyone who wants to come up to Healdsburg and visit do you have tastings available?
PE: Our tastings are by appointment only, and we have no staff, so your tasting will be with either me or Michael. There’s a beautiful little stone patio that overlooks the vineyard and we’ll ply you with cheese and charcuterie and probably let you taste from a few barrels.
Palmer was kind enough to send us over a few bottles to sample, here is some background information on each of them and what we thought.
This vintage of Sauvignon Blanc is from the Ellis Alden Vineyard which is located above the fog line at somewhere around 1340 feet on the western slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains in Alexander Valley. We believe the specific block is called Greg's Meadow (No wonder we love it!!). One really special fact about this parcel in the vineyard is that it is in a low/cool spot that gets some protection from the sun, which is an added benefit since it received no protection from the fog.
Whats special about the making of this wine? This Sauvignon Blanc is fermented on its skins for 7 days prior to malatic fermentation. The juice is then aged separately (one barrel free run in stainless steel) before combining into 50% neutral oak and 50% stainless steel for somewhere between 6 to 7 months. This wine is 100% Sauvignon Blanc.
We do not have much experience with Sauvignon Blanc, but from our tiny bit of research this seems to fit the bill perfectly! Bright straw yellow and completely clear. Very complex nose covered in floral and fruity notes. Started off with a few white floral notes and honeysuckle. Followed by lots of tree and tropical fruit like apricots, white peaches, pears, a little bit of green apples. After breathing in the glass for around 30 minutes it started to open up even more with some slightly earthy notes of hay or straw. Moderate plus acidity (6.5/10), with some slight orange peel and a few other tropical fruits such as honeydew melon. Great moderate plus body that worked well with the level of acidity. Started to develop some secondary notes that were a little savory and green. Long crisp and refreshing finish, seemed slightly toasted. Can tell there is a little bit of oak in this bottling. Great with dinner! (General Tso's). Tried this wine again on the second day. Acidity was definitely more integrated and so smooth. Did not know this wine could get more balanced. Highly recommended and an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc.
2016 till 2020.
Price Point:$$ - Sample provided by the Winery. Was available from the Estate for $35.00.
This vintage of Malbec is from the Bavarian Lion Vineyard where Adobe Road Wines has made quite a few 90+ rated Cabernet Sauvignons and Cabernet Francs from. Bavarian Lion Vineyard is slightly warmer than the rest of Sonoma County and is located with in Knights Valley. This warmer temperature makes it perfect for Bordeaux varietals, especially with the volcanic soil.
What about the winemaking process? Well this wine was aged in three separate French oak barrels, the first being a new lightly toasted Bertrange French oak, second is a 2nd fill oak barrel and lastly a neutral barrel; basically making this 33% new French oak for 16 to 18 months. This wine is 100% Malbec.
This was a very interesting Malbec that definitely has some potential, check it out. Wine was bright ruby red with moderate intensity and clear edges. Tight nose to start, had a few floral notes like violets, some vanilla, and some interesting dark fruits that we could not put our finger on, it was not black cherry but similar with quite a bit of acidity. Undertones seemed a little creamy with cinnamon and some ashes. Light initial attack that started out thin and got thicker as it moved across the palate. Moderate plus tannins (7/10) with solid moderate body that pulls itself together near the finish. Lots of acidity. Crisp and refreshing with a long finish. The strength of the acidity was honestly very surprising for a Malbec out of California, not something we were use to. We decanted for an hour and a half prior to tasting.
2016 till 2023.
Price Point:$$ - Sample provided by the Winery. Was available from the Estate for $45.00.
This specific bottling of Cabernet Sauvignon is from one of the famed Beckstoffer Vineyards that some estates will pay anywhere up to $50,000.00 per ton of Cabernet Sauvignon from these vineyards, thats only around 10 times more than high quality Cabernet Sauvignon from elsewhere in the Valley. Georges III Vineyard was first purchased back in 1928 by Georges de Latour and was called Beaulieu Vineyard 3. The vineyard was then purchased in 1988 by Beckstoffer Vineyards and has since than been replanted. In 2009 a new land conservation easement was placed on the land and it can only be used for agricultural development. Out of this vineyard, technically located in Rutherford, has come some spectacular wines from the likes of Myriad Cellars, Fairchild Napa Valley Winery, and Schrader Cellars. The grapes come specifically from the Bla block which was planted in 1992 with Clone 7. What about the winemaking process? This wine starts out in open top tanks for cold soaking prior to fermentation. No enzymes or chemicals are added into this wine. Once pump-overs are complete then the juice is placed into nine French oak barrels, five of which are 100% new, all of different cooperages. Making this wine aged in 55% new French oak for a total of 24 months. This wine is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.
First time trying a wine from any of the Beckstoffer Vineyards, We were not disappointed! Wine was garnet red with brownish edges. Very interesting nose. For us it has some clear signs it was from a wetter and cooler vintage. Started off a little stinky/dirty we like to say. Notes of cheese, slight mold, and subtle chalk. It also had a vegetal element to it with some bell peppers and possibly a little more greenery. Solid undertones of cassis. Heavy tannins (7.5/10) and moderate plus body. This wine definitely has some oak characteristics such as vanilla. The palate was very complex, in addition to vanilla there were notes of cassis, dark berries, cinnamon, baking spices, dark chocolate and a little mint. Slightly vegetal undertones as well. Long lingering finish supported by more cassis. Our first wine from any of the Beckstoffer Vineyards and it did not disappoint. We can only imagine how good the 2012 or 2013 will be after trying the 2011. Hopefully we will get to try those out once they are released!
2016 till 2028.
Price Point:$$$ - Sample provided by the Winery. Was available from the Estate for $115.00.
Thanks again Palmer for taking out the time to talk to us about your wines! We cannot wait to make it out to visit the estate later this year. So stay tuned for our post about visiting the estate!
If you are interested in getting in contact with Judge Palmer Wine Co., want to purchase their wines or ask us any questions just click on one of the links below!
Where are they located? 1830 Jameson Rd, Healdsburg, CA 95448
Do you need an appointment? Yes, just email to Palmer Emmitt for reservations.
Who is their winemaker? Palmer Emmitt and Michael Scorsone
Price Ranges: $25.00 to $115.00
Recommend: Highly recommended, love all their wines!
More Posts: - Tasting Notes - Winemaker and Owner Interview