Behind many of Napa Valley’s most sought-after bottles stands a familiar figure: a wine consultant for hire. He’s often French, has experience making wine at some of Bordeaux’s First Growth châteaux, and has built a robust consulting business among Napa’s unofficial first-growth wine brands. These talented winemakers are the Michel Rollands and the Philippe Melkas of the wine world. And, to be sure, their influence on Napa Valley wines is a good thing by the most important measures; they’re responsible for exquisite nuance, complexity, and—technical terms be damned—an enormous yum factor in some of the valley’s best bottles.
Now, there’s a new name to add to that short list of superstar consultants: a young French winemaker with a dozen or so clients, a handful of his own labels, and one exciting partnership. Julien Fayard, having grown up in Provence (note the serious rosé cred!), checked the Bordeaux winemaking box at the likes of Lafite Rothschild and Smith Haut Lafitte. Stateside, where Fayard has lived and worked (for a time with the aforementioned Melka) for a little more than a decade along with his wife, Elan (who is from Sonoma), set out early on to become the reference point for serious, deliberate rosé under the label Azur. (Deliberate meaning the grapes were grown and picked to be a rosé from the start, as opposed to being a by-product of the saignée process, where juice is “bled” off a red wine to concentrate it.) In the world of Bordeaux varieties, Fayard now counts among his clients the coveted Purlieu and Brion. And he and Elan are partners in the exciting Coombsville AVA brand Covert, with a beautiful new subterranean winery worthy of every connoisseur’s bucket list.
To date, Fayard is a bit more hands-on than most of his French cohorts, who work with a head winemaker at each brand. To a large degree, he is the winemaker. And his bottles are giving him a strong voice in a message that’s trending in the valley. Going by the wayside are the vintners who quite openly and deliberately let their Cabernet fruit hang on the vine to reach extreme ripeness, thereby effectively obliterating any unique character the specific vineyard might have given the wine in favor of a more generic lush Napa style.
No, Fayard is clear about his intentions: “It’s my job to bring out the specific personality of each growing place. I don’t have a set equation for any wine. I am in the vineyards daily, tasting the fruit around harvest, deciding when we pick based on each specific site—not on what the numbers from the lab indicate. We make wine naturally, not artificially. The winemaking process has the least impact on the fruit; it’s the vineyard that dominates.”
That said, Fayard’s Azur 2017 Rosé ($32) reflects a deft hand with the category as opposed to a single vineyard. Its palest-of-pale salmon color and delicate rose-petal and wild strawberry aromas belie a vibrant, mouth-filling palate of lemon-lime and red berry flavors, with a long finish delivering a beautiful wet-stone minerality.
The Nicholson Jones 2014 Sleeping Lady Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($150) is a reflection of place—namely, Yountville. Concentrated aromas of briary berries, dark plum, anise, and high-toned florals give way to big, ripe fruit and tannins layered with oak spice, tobacco, and loam.
And the Covert 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon ($175) is a beautiful calling card for the Coombsville AVA in southern Napa Valley against the eastern hills, where cooling currents from San Pablo Bay play. Dark and brooding, its aromas are earthy with tobacco, flint, espresso, and savory minerality. A fresh energy comes through on the palate, with dark cherry and blueberry flavors and refined tannins.
New for Fayard this harvest is a winemaking facility where he will process all his clients’ wines. And coming soon there is a tasting space where fans with a little room in their cellars can make appointments to taste those wines.