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The newest Napa headliner is Joe Wagner, who recently turned an unknown Pinot Noir, Meiomi, into a $300 million paycheck. Wagner is pictured here with Taste of Wine senior editor Frank Mangi. Courtesy photo
Columns Taste of Wine

In the land of the world’s most triumphant wines

Our marching orders were nothing less than premium wineries in Napa Valley and Sonoma. It was our joy of accomplishment, after conferring with and tasting the wines of eight great properties over four glorious days recently, that we could conclude that it was mission accomplished.

Taste of Wine will produce its first three-part series on our wine and food adventures, opening the cork to these masterful wineries and the personalities that made them great.

Taste of Wine Internet and Tech director Rico Cassoni has already blogged the adventures of our team as they happened. Now, I want this column to express my perspective on what we saw, heard and felt. 

First I want to tell you that in my opinion the two finest examples of Napa Valley wine history met with us during this journey. They are: Joe Wagner of Copper Cane Wines and Provisions and Mike Grgich of Grgich Hills Estate. Wagner is 36 and Grgich is 95, quite an age spread. But don’t let that get in the way of their grand accomplishments to elevate the greatness that is the Napa Valley wine experience.

I view these personalities as a kinship of sorts. Both have shocked and awed the wine world.  Grgich’s story has been told many times in Taste of Wine when in 1976, in a brilliant accomplishment, his 1973 release Napa Valley Chardonnay beat everything French competitors could throw at his wine, in a celebrated blind tasting in Paris. It put Napa Valley on the world wine map and revolutionized wine.

A year later, this Croatian immigrant had his own winery and has never looked back except to celebrate his victory, as we all did, in a gala 40th anniversary party.  Chardonnay remains the flagship wine of this thriving winery that also makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot and others.

With a trademark twinkle in his eyes, along with his blue Grgich beret, he came from his hillside home overlooking 30 acres of Zinfandel in Calistoga, to visit with Taste of Wine at his winery in Rutherford and it was a delightful reunion.

Joe Wagner began life at a winery, a great one in Napa Valley, Caymus. Caymus was founded by his grandfather Charlie as a winery in 1972. It was later made more great by his father Chuck and other family members like himself. 

Eventually the fire in his belly burned bright and through his love of Pinot Noir, he forged ahead on his own creating a new more flavorful technique, after the Pinot world caught the wave of the movie “Sideways” in 2004. As with Grgich, he pitted his new style of Pinot Noir which he called Meiomi, meaning “coastal” in Native American Indian, against the French version from Burgundy. The first vintage came out in 2009 and sold 55,000 cases at about $20 a bottle. 

In 2013 he sold 390,000 cases and this attracted the leading drinks company in the world, Constellation. In 2015, Constellation wrote Wagner a check for just over $300 million for the brand, which had swollen to a reported 840,000 cases.

Wagner agreed only if he could compete in the market. Constellation approved.

We spent hours with Joe Wagner at his hunting lodge near Calistoga (not far from the Grgich estate) as he happily discussed his young company, Copper Cane Wines and Provisions and the six wines he is marketing, three of which are new concepts for Pinot Noir.

BOEN, from Sonoma’s Russian River Valley, is my favorite with an intensely flavored, strongly structured Pinot that made my Top Ten Wines for the first half of 2018. It also made Wine Spectator’s top Pinots with a 91-point rating. Wagner stresses that he comes from a farming family, focusing on his roots and underlining preservation of the environment.

Copper Cane is also developing a spirits line, with a gin, whiskey and brandy.

Next week, we’ll highlight Dario Sattui and his two most unusual wineries in Napa Valley; plus Caymus, where Joe Wagner got his start.


• A family BBQ will be presented at Orfila Winery in Escondido, from noon to 3 p.m. July 21. There will be food, games and live music. This is an outdoor event and the cost is $60 for the public, $45 for the wine club membership. Call (760) 738-6500 for details.

• Vittorio’s in Carmel Valley has a four-course dinner and wine event, bringing in Chateau St. Jean from Sonoma, at 6 p.m. July 26. Make your reservation at (858) 538-5884. Price is $60 per person. 

• Tickets are now on sale for the Pacific Wine & Food Classic at Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort in Newport Beach, Aug. 18 and Aug. 19. More than 100 wine and food stations will be serving from 2 to 5 p.m. For more information, visit

• La Fleur’s Winery on Pacific Street in San Marcos has Barrel Room live music July 28 from 4 to 7 p.m. No cover charge.  Wine and food for sale. Call (760) 315-8053.