A group of Utah friends are producing wines that are now respected as some of the finest in their category.
by Rebecca Edwards
Parallel tracks left by skis in fresh powder are an enduring Utah image, and the inspiration for the name of one of Napa’s most exciting, new wineries. Founded by four couples from Park City, Utah, Parallel Napa Valley, is a hillside vineyard in Napa Valley that is the culmination of a dream the eight friends hatched on a golfing trip to California.
Val Chin, Donations and Special Events Manager for Parallel Napa Valley, was enjoying an “active vacation” at the John Jacobs’ Golf School at the Chardonnay Golf Club in Napa, with her husband and some friends when they were invited to take a look at some of the homes another friend and his wife had been checking out in the area. One thing led to another, and before catching their plane back to the “Best Snow on Earth,” the friends had taken a look at–and even put in an offer on–a winery.
“We started off on this little tour of homes,” Val shared, “And started looking at other things…little wineries. We are so spontaneous, we tried to put in an offer on this little winery in Calistoga and we were really kind of obnoxious about it, because they already had an offer. We looked at another and it was a little boxy house and 16 acres of empty land, so we weren’t really interested.”
Val went on to explain that when they were on the plane headed home to Utah, they kept calling the realtor for the winery in Calistoga. After they got home to Park City, a realtor friend contacted the couples, saying, “I understand you were looking at property, so if you’re really serious, let’s get together and talk.”
“Park City’s such a small town. The day after we got home word had spread that we were looking at a winery. So by the next weekend, the three couples met together and we started talking about this property that we weren’t enamored with–the one with the boxy house–but the realtor said that it was actually really good land.”
The three couples were now in the market for a winery and realized that while they could afford the land, they couldn’t afford to plant it. The friends came up with a solution: Cab for Ten, where they sold 10 limited partnerships in order to fund the first planting. Cab Ten is also how they found the fourth couple that made their venture complete.
“We didn’t buy a going concern, so we hired a consultant and we knew exactly how much it was going to cost us to get the first bottle on the shelf. We planted vines in 1999, and the first bottling was in 2003. We came to market in 2005,” Val said. Parallel brought on one of the best winemakers in the industry, Philippe Melka, who was named the 2005 Winemaker of the Year by Food & Wine magazine, and highly acclaimed Vineyard Manager Jim Barbour of Barbour Vineyards. The inaugural 2003 Parallel Cabernet Sauvignon was the first time these masters collaborated to create such an affordable wine. Quality and accessibility are important to Parallel. They pride themselves on being able to produce increasingly attractive vintages of Parallel, while maintaining a “very attractive price”–$55 a bottle for the Cabernet.
Park City welcomed the new Napa wine (that was founded by some of their own) with open arms. Utah sold 40% of Parallel’s production that first year. “They’ve always been huge supporters,” Val shared. “Utahns have a sophisticated palate; our wine is not cheap wine. In Park City’s case, it’s national exposure for the wine. Park City has kind of taken it on as it’s own wine and then when people taste it they go, ‘Oh my, this is great wine.’ We have one of the best wine producers in the world and great land…but loyalty only goes so far. If the consumer tastes it and it’s not worth the price, they won’t support it.”
Parallel launched their 2006 Cabernet at a Vintner Dinner hosted by Wild Grape Bistro in downtown Salt Lake City. Wild Grape Bistro, winner of Best New Restaurant by Salt Lake City magazine and Q magazine, and Best Kept Secret by Utah Business magazine, prides themselves on featuring local wines and foods. It was the first release by the winery at a Salt Lake City restaurant–and it was a rousing success.
The dinner featured ‘05, ‘06 and ‘07 Cabernet flights with the main entree. “People could see which they liked best and notice the differences in taste over the years of the same varietal and the same winemaker,” Troy Greenhawt, Wild Grape’s owner explained. And, according to Troy, there is a difference from year to year. “The ‘07 is a little bit lighter, but I also really liked the ‘05 and the ‘06. They’re all great wines, just slightly different in character and texture.”
Troy also shared that word is getting out about Parallel. “We actually had a group of 22 come in for a birthday party and he wanted to have all three Parallel wines available for people to try,” he said. Wild Grape Bistro features Parallel’s Napa Valley Cabernet, Estate Wine and their Chardonnay.
All the partners split time between Park City and their Napa Valley winery, remaining actively involved in community and culture in both states. While their story is unique and attracts a lot of attention, at the end of the day Val says with a twinkle, “Who cares about the people, it’s all about the wine.” With their growing success and reputation, it appears that it is, indeed, about the wine.
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