Palazzo wine. Founder and winemaker Scott Palazzo grew up in an Italian house in La Mirada, Orange County, California. Wine was part of the structure of his Italian heritage and was usually served with family meals. His early interest, perhaps in the wake of a career focused on wine, was awakened during a three-month journey through Europe in the mid-1970s at the age of 19. He remembers being impressed by history and the old buildings across the continent – he wisely remembers that the oldest building in Orange County was perhaps one of the first McDonald’s (Tastin) restaurants. Probably not far from reality.
He remembers drinking Murvadre, but he still couldn’t pronounce it properly. When he learned that it was possible to harvest grapes, he went with his thumb to Saint-Emilion (located on the right bank) in Bordeaux and found a job there. The three months, which should have been three months, have become three years. He worked in Bordeaux for three vintages for various winemakers, and in the breaks between works he studied other regions of Europe. The time he spent in France shaped his style and the types of wines he liked, which offered prospects for both viticulture and winemaking, which he then applied when he started building his own brand in the Napa Valley. And it was the time he spent in Europe that attracted him to the elegance of Cabernet Franck and Merlot.
Full of energy and inspiration he returned to California after 3 years in Bordeaux with the intention of finding a job as a winemaker in the Napa Valley. This was in the early eighties, when the number of physical cellars was much lower than today. He approached some famous producers, including Charles Circle and Louis Martini, but could not find anyone to hire him.
Scott’s lifestyle keeps changing: He returned to Southern California and began producing a variety of content, including music videos for MTV, Fox Sports, and other companies. For his work with Oingo Boyngo he was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1996. But the wine is not far behind him. For a year he took a 12-month break in a pickup truck from the west coast to the east coast, crossing many Canadian states and provinces and driving about 16,000 miles to his odometer. Shortly after the trip he moved to Healdsburg in Sonoma County and started visiting vineyards. He spent two years exploring regions that would allow him to find the style of wine he wanted to produce instead of following a particular trend, and he was attracted to the cooler weather.
Finally, he settled in Carneros, attracted by the bucolic slopes, but above all by the proximity of the Gulf of San Pablo – with its cool days, the usual sea in the morning and evening and often windy weather. All these characteristics contribute to a valuable extra hobby and promote the balance that Scott tries to find in his wines. Over the years, this subtitle has become known to him (and sometimes reminds him of Saint Emilion).
His business plan was based on a simple notebook – with the original aim of producing a very limited production of Merlot-based blends. And it’s very important for him to produce the wine he loves to drink. Scott’s first vintage consisted of only 400 cases (about 30 years after his first vintage in Bordeaux) and only one wine – today he produces 5 wines and his production is about 3000 cases per year.
A one-man business can only be successful if he or she has the right number of characteristic ingredients – a balanced share of obsession, more passion, perspective, creativity, personality and, last but not least, a healthy share of energy. Scott has all those qualities. And it is his attention to detail that makes him what he is (the extremely important quality that the winemaker possesses).
His first vintage was 2003 – a wine he produces every year, the flagship of the Palazzo – reserve of the right bank, a patented red wine. It’s a wine dominated by Merlot. When some of Scott and his wine friends found out that he had introduced his brand mainly from a mix of Merlot, they couldn’t resist and told him he was a bit crazy because he hadn’t created Cabernet Sauvignon in the Napa Valley. Always relying on his intuition, he proved his usefulness again – he broke the trend of Cabernet Sauvignon – Right Bank Reserve, Proprietar Red has become a popular sommelier and the best restaurants in the country.
But then, in 2004, the film Sideways was released – Scott remembers having seen this film in a cinema with many friends – lovers – when the character of Miles began to talk with contempt about this diversity, his friends began to push him and whisper things that only good friends can do, such as feel sorry for Scott, have good luck with the man, ETC.
Over the years Robert Parker has become a friend and an integral part of the Palazzo Championship. Scott knew Parker, but he didn’t know the power and influence of his words. After the third harvest in 2005, Scott decided it was time to celebrate another successful harvest and his first wine, Palazzo Right Bank Reserve 2003, Proprietary Red. He called some of his friends for dinner at the St. Helena Press Restaurant. That night, Robert Parker hosted a charity dinner for $1,500 a plate, including the press.
One of Scott’s friends brought a glass of his own palate reserve to Parker’s table in 2003. A few minutes later, Parker walked into Scott’s office with a drink in his hand and asked: Who’s Palazzo? Scott quickly refuted this claim: It all depends on whether you like wine – if not, there’s no one at this table called Palazzo. Parker confessed that he hadn’t tasted wine yet – and that his table had already moved to the port tasting. But he wisely asked how much Cabernet France was in this wine. He asked Scott to send him a sample if he could officially test it afterwards.
Scott’s distributor, who sat at the table (and who had previously discouraged Scott from sending his first publication for review), was half shocked and said something like this: Do you know who that is? Do you know what just happened? He then informed Scott of the hundreds of bottles sent to Robert Parker every month for viewing, from which he will choose only a very limited number to unsubscribe.
It was winemaker Peter Heitz (Turnbull, Shypoke) who first pushed Scott to make a second series of wines from discontinued barrels (instead of selling them as massively as Scott used to). These wines are bottled in the Master Blend series.
In 2018, the Chardonnay Palazzo Master Mix Carneros was fermented (about 18% new French oak and 72% neutral oak) – the fermentation of apple and milk was inhibited. The golden wine, offers an elegant bouquet of citrus blossom, nuances of freshly picked lemongrass, red apple and a sweet honeycomb scent. The palate offers a combination of the sweetness of the fruit and clarity of acidity with aromas of green apple and mandarin. Perfectly balanced, but rich in depth. And the finish is refreshing – languid with a spicy liveliness. These are seafood with Chardonnay – Scott recommends eating them with scallops or oysters.
In the year 2020, the year 2018 won the award for best chardonnay and the award for best white wine at the fair in California, organized by the Critics Challenge, an international competition for wines and spirits. But what is even more remarkable is that it has won the prize for wine of the year, a wine of the house; it is very rare that a white wine deserves this coveted honour.
In 2017, Palazzo Master Blend Left Bank Red matured for 16 months in 50% new French oak. Dark purple in the glass, the bouquet is open and supported by lush fruit (blackberries) and tobacco leaves, frames and notes of old cedar box, white pepper and dried sage. Cheeky, brave and a little lively. The delicate note of brown chocolate. More fruit than wine breathes. It’s a funny smell of wine. Shows aromas of black cherries and blackberries and lingers on red cherries and berries. Balanced on air with strong acidity. Seized tannins from pebbles determine the finish.
2016 Palazzo Right Bank Reserve Patented Red. He’s a workaholic for Scott – the wine he started out with and produces the most. This vintage is a mix of 68% Merlot, 24% French Cabernet and 8% Cabernet Sauvignon. Dark ruby red garnet, slightly spicy bouquet with aromas of Santa Rosa plum, white pepper and reddish green. There is also a floral element. We were the first to notice a feeling of elasticity in the mouth. Juicy and delicious, it ends with bright red fruit, including red cherries and red berries. Characterized by a moderate collection of rounded tannins.
Cabernet Fran is a grape variety that often has a very uneven degree of ripeness and can measure the sugar in very different ways, even if they are queued at short intervals. Scott’s attention to detail in this vineyard corresponds to the time he spends together in all his other vineyards. During the various passages through this vineyard, he personally cuts the fruit that is not fully ripe on the veranda, then the fruit that will eventually ripen at harvest. He is particularly careful to select only the best fruits from his source in the vineyards of Cabernet France.
One day a friend called Scott and told him that the producer had rejected the Cabernet French contract on the Truchard vineyards in Carneros. The next morning Scott was on a 6am flight and as soon as he landed he went straight to Trukhard Winery. He showed up unannounced and knocked on the door of Tony and Joe Ann’s house. Tony replied, and Scott soon began to talk incoherently about his great interest in Cabernet Frank, and told stories about how he worked the Bordeaux harvest and about his desire to make world-class wines. After talking for a while Scott noticed that Tony hadn’t said a word, so Scott finally asked if he had Cabernet Frank for sale, and Tony answered something like this: I think we can offer you some fruit. This was the scope of their first conversation.
Later, Scott and Tony visited the entire vineyard, which covers several hundred hectares, when they arrived with the Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet. Frank Scott remembers that his hunch told him that this was the part of the vineyard where he would come from. Of all the vineyards they looked at that day, it turned out to be a block of Cabernet France for which the previous producer had cancelled the contract, and it was also a block that Tony used for his own Trujard vineyards. Years later, Tony Scott said he was the only winemaker who threw him out of his own vineyard!
Cabernet Palace of Napa Valley Reserve 2016 is a 100% pure grape variety. Aromatic it jumps out of the glass with lively and clear scents such as plum, blackberry and a beautiful floral note (lavender and violet). Also nuts of dried herbs. Interestingly, Scott has noticed over the years that while he only collects 2/10 percent of the top stones, this lavender nut has been lost and does not appear in the wine. Talk about precision and attention to detail when cleaning. Concentrated with great depth; shows plum odors and generous density throughout the air with an attractive texture. Delays with the red cherry nuts. The tannins are very well integrated with the brilliance of the acidity, which remains far beyond the tannins on the finish.
The Cuvée Blanc (the white wine of Palazzo) is mainly Semillon with only one kiss Sauvignon Blanc. The early vintages of this wine contained more Sauvignon Blanc, but over time Scott discovered that he preferred Semilion. At first he stirred the mud, but in the end he decided he didn’t want to stir – he left the wine on the coarse mud until he finally sat down on a chair. The first vintage of this special wine on Palast was 2010.
It is a very fascinating wine – for various reasons. The origin is due to the age, the location and the fact that the vines are not very well managed. Scott said the vineyard had few hands – pruning in February and harvesting at the end of the year. Some of the vines are giants, or peach trees as he calls them – up to 3 meters high. They all train on their heads (eventually the vineyard doesn’t get enough exercise because the vines grow completely on their feet) and are dried or ignored on the farm, an expression invented by Scott.
The hotel is located in the vineyards of Yount Mill, an extremely historic part of the Napa Valley. This 7-hectare district of Sémillon, now owned by the Pelissa/Hoxy family, dates back to 1962 and was planted by their family. It’s probably the oldest semillon in all of Napa Valley. Scott expresses all the enzymes of the grape and the barrel – the wine is aged in barrel for 2 to 3 years before being bottled. Palazzo Cuvée Blanc Cuvée Reserve 2015 has a golden glass finish and a multi-layered bouquet with a variety of scents such as citrus blossom, honeysuckle, white peach and hazelnut when the wine opens. Shows the scents of ripe pear and red apple with minerals. The salty texture is a very attractive feature – salty and elastic, the texture simply glides smoothly over the air. It has a high weight, but no less important – its vivid acidity. Ends with a hint of dessert herb. This wine is worth looking for – at an attractive price.
This wine contains both historical and stylistic elements of Kongsgaard and Desante white wines (both winemakers/producers in the Napa Valley). A perfect first hand steam with Manchego cheese. And that wine caught Chef Michael Mina’s attention. He told Scott that there is nothing on my menu to indicate that this wine is one of the best additions to the many others Scott had on his wines.
Scott brings a sensitivity to old world vineyards and cellars and prefers less manipulation in the winemaking process. These are well-balanced wines, which carry freshness – if you like, vibration – in them. His efforts clearly show that the wines of the Palazzo are among the most qualitative of the Napa Valley, handmade but with an envelope that rarely corresponds to the same offer: These wines are available at very competitive prices.
Quality restaurants have always been an integral part of the Palazzo’s success, and the list of their locations reads like the Culinary Hall of Fame of the United States. Their wines have been exceptional from the outset, first in San Francisco, with Gary Danko and Michael Mina, then in other places such as French Laundromat and Meadowood, and in New York, at Per Se and Gramercy Tavern. Sommeliers often taste the wines and are then presented to their own chefs. And it was in this restaurant that we first discovered the wine of the Palazzo, the Sidedoor Café on the Mammoth Lakes.
Scott’s relationship with French laundry was long and important, and it began because he came from outside the industry – from a different perspective. His wine merchant told him how difficult it was to get into their long list of quality wines. Anyway, he was a little anxious and even tried to contact them through the Palazzo wines. One day Scott simply called 411 (the historic way to find company and apartment phone numbers) and asked the operator for the French laundry – he was offered a restaurant or business office. He went to the company’s office – and was put in touch with the then head sommelier, Gregory Castells’ mailbox. Five minutes after leaving the message, Gregory called him back and was intrigued by the fact that Scott said his wine had already been served in some of the best restaurants in San Francisco.
Finally, they gathered for the restaurant staff’s lunch – and, as Robert Parker asked, Gregory asked how much Cabernet French was in the mix. He loved this wine – and since then the French laundry has kept all the great wines of the Palazzo. Scott once spoke to Gregory and invited him for a tasting of one of his new vintages at Laird Winery (where he was making wine at the time). Gregory was a little withdrawn and said something like this: Wow, I’d love to take a sample with me – no one ever asks me – that the winemaker really invites him to such a tasting.
The moral of the story: Are you afraid of a nice wine list or the best restaurant? It is better to spend time looking for a rejection than not to reach out at all.
And later Scott received a phone call from Thomas Keller asking him to make an exclusive bottle of Cabernet French for French lingerie. Scott’s answer was clear. Later he remembers that he had visited Tony Trouchard with two bottles of Cabernet Franck, which he had made for French lingerie. During the conversation Tony accidentally regretted that no wine from his vineyard was presented in the French laundry. Like Scott said, let’s talk about the perfect script written in Hollywood. Scott remembers it as one of the most beautiful moments of his wine career – the opportunity to take the bottles straight from the French laundry and show them to Tony – with the list of Truchard vineyards on the label.
After years of focusing on sales in top restaurants, the Palazzo founded the Wine Club in early 2020. And for a few short months, the Palazzo kept its very first tasting room on Laguna beach, but it was closed in September 2020. For more information about becoming a member of the wine club or to purchase selected wines, please visit www.palazzowine.com.
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