2022 – The Year in Review


Two thousand twenty-two was quite the year. Looking back at the last twelve months, it is pretty amazing to think about how much things have changed, some for the better and some maybe not. As we get ready for our tenth year, though, I am incredibly excited about what the future holds.

The outbreak of the Omicron variant caused several of my trips in the early part of the year to be cancelled. That seems like a distant memory now. Obviously, there are a great many other moments that shaped the year to consider, starting with a tragic war in Ukraine to Argentina’s sensational triumph at the World Cup, along with the faltering economy and many other global events that have contributed to the general unease we are all working through at the time of this writing. The very top of the wine market remains red hot and shows little signs of slowing, while there is definite weakness in other market segments. At Vinous, we enjoyed our best year ever. For that, we remain incredibly grateful to you, our readers, for giving us the opportunity to do what we do.

New Vinous Maps in 2022; Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and the Sonoma Valley AVA Set: Moon Mountain District AVA, Central Corridor, Sonoma Mountain AVA, Bennett Valley AVA and Los Carneros (Sonoma) AVA.

On the editorial side, we brought on Angus Hughson to bolster our coverage of Australia and Anne Krebiehl MW, who will start reviewing the wines of Germany, Austria and Alsace in 2023. We meaningfully increased coverage of many regions with a steady stream of reports focusing on both new releases and older vintages. We also updated many of the websites and apps on our platform (4 sites and 6 apps) with the latest technology. In Maps, we published a complete set of Sonoma Valley (6 maps), Santa Lucia Highlands and West Sonoma Coast (digital for now), while making steady progress on several other maps slated to be wrapped up in 2023, including Coombsville and the Sta. Rita Hills. We also completed numerous single ranch maps.

The goal with our collection of vineyard maps is to showcase the unique qualities of each site in order to gain a deeper understanding of how those qualities are ultimately reflected in the glass. 

We were thrilled to return to live events in 2022. It was great to see readers back to enjoying themselves in public. Fall brought smaller events focusing on the wines of Bruno Giacosa and Anselme Selosse, part of our ten-year anniversary, which kicks off in earnest in 2023.

These are a few of the most memorable events of the year.

Festa del Barolo Returns to New York City

We were absolutely delighted to host La Festa del Barolo this year. Given the state of the world, we offered a hybrid program that combined virtual tastings with live events. Virtual events included a seminar on Roagna’s Barbaresco Pajè and a seminar on Brunate featuring wines from Ceretto, Francesco Rinaldi and Giuseppe Rinaldi.

In the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and its variants, we had reserved a backup date for Festa’s main events that came in handy as we pushed everything out by two months. We lowered capacity in the rooms and adopted all the necessary measures to ensure a safe and successful weekend. Thankfully, things went off without a hitch. Attendees arrived early, left late and came with tremendous enthusiasm that we all shared in being able to be together again.

The weekend kicked off with a vertical of Giuseppe Mascarello et Figlio’s Barolo Monprivato and Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio, all from magnum and back to 1989 at The Modern. It was an incredible evening. The wines were simply pristine. I was most impressed by wines from less highly regarded vintages, all of which performed admirably. The energy in the room was electric. Our Gala Dinner & Charity Auction at The Pool was a blast. Everywhere I looked, all I saw were fabulous reference-point bottles of which I was able to taste more than my fair share.

The following morning we hosted our Barolo masterclass, likely the only tasting of its kind anywhere in the world. Fifteen producers showed their wines in a seated format where attendees tasted all the wines, served at the perfect temperature, and heard from the growers themselves in what was a spirited discussion. From there, we adjourned to the Grill Room for our traditional Burgers & Barolo lunch. As morning turned into mid-day and then early afternoon, my impression is no one wanted to go home. I certainly didn’t. What a great weekend it was. For 2023 we have an expanded program that includes our first events in Los Angeles and an expanded schedule in New York.

Clockwise from top left: vertical of Giuseppe Mascarello et Figlio’s Barolo Monprivato and Riserva Ca’ d’Morissio, epic wines at the Gala Dinner & Charity Auction BYOB, the Saturday Barolo Masterclass in action, Barolo Masterclass tasting book. 

Napa in the City…A New Tradition Begins

The following weekend we hosted the inaugural edition of Napa in the City. Modeled after Festa del Barolo, Napa in the City brings together fifteen top estates for a weekend of dinners and seminars. I think it is safe to say the 2022 event was one of the most significant gatherings of producers outside Napa Valley ever. Until we try to do even better next year!

A fabulous vertical tasting of Dunn’s Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain kicked things off in grand style. This small, intimate dinner with Mike Dunn was a great opportunity to taste the Howell Mountain Cabernet back to 1985. The lively discussion and fabulous wines made for a great night. The following evening we gathered at The Pool for our BYOB Gala Dinner. Each producer hosted a table and poured two or more library wines. The selection was mind-blowing. Going into the dinner I was not totally sure what wines guests would bring, but any concerns were very quickly allayed. Just at my table and those around us, I saw everything from older vintages of Heitz Martha’s Vineyard and Ridge to a number of fabulous wines from the early 1990s, when the newer wave of ‘cult’ Cabernets was just getting started. More than the wines, though, the feeling in the room was just tremendous. To see all those bottles, the icons of Napa Valley, being shared with such generosity was really something.

The morning masterclass featured a deep selection of 2018 and 2019 Cabernets. Going forward this tasting will focus on one vintage, but in our inaugural edition we wanted to leave some flexibility, as estates release their wines at different times. One after the other, the wines were superb. Here, too, the Napa in the City masterclass is unlike any other tasting in the world. There is simply nowhere else where wine lovers can taste so many elite Cabernets side by side, served in perfect condition, and interact with owners and winemakers. The focus was on understanding the terroirs of Napa Valley, which made for a fascinating tasting and discussion as we moved across a number of AVAs and vineyards. At Vinous, education is always our primary focus. We prepared a book of our maps depicting each of the 15 estates in great detail for attendees to take home. It was hard to move from this tasting to lunch, as I think we could have all spent even more time with the wines. In the end, we managed, though, and enjoyed a fine meal at The Grill. Napa in the City is back in 2023 with another exciting program.

Clockwise from top left: A stunning collection of Dunn Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain going back to 1985, this year's attending producers, some of the wines at my table during the BYOB Gala Dinner, and our Masterclass Tasting Book with Maps Collection.

Visit to Stanford University

I was very happy to give a presentation on Vinous and a few of my favorite wines to students at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. What was supposed to be an hour-long chat stretched to nearly three hours. I found the students and their questions inspiring. It was a fabulous afternoon. And now I can tell Mom and Dad I have been to Stanford!

A fabulous tasting that ran late into the evening and some Stanford swag to take home. A perfect night. 

Inspire Napa Valley is Back

It was great to attend Inspire Napa Valley again in the post-lockdown world. Created by Kerrin Laz, Inspire Napa Valley is a charitable event to benefit the Alzheimer’s Foundation. This year’s program was jam-packed. Even so, the quintessential event at Inspire remains the outdoor dinner that opens the weekend. This year’s dinner was held at Staglin. As always, David Abreu’s Brad Grimes and his wife, Katherine, run the kitchen, this year with the help of Sean Knight of Mustards Grill and the Staglin staff. The kitchen team consists mainly of winemakers, vineyard managers, industry professionals, and me. I must have done a decent job over the years, as I started off mostly prepping vegetables, but this year was entrusted with cooking the steaks. Progress. The outdoor setting, always at a pristine Napa Valley estate, combined with amazing food and plenty of wine, make for one of the great nights of the year. I always bring bottles from my cellar for the staff, so if you happen to attend this dinner in the future, make sure to stop by the kitchen.

The rest of the weekend was very busy. Dinner at Opus One the following night was a more formal affair, while the Saturday dinner centered around auction that featured a number of very rare lots.

As always, I host a seminar on the Saturday morning. This year’s tasting focused on Coombsville and featured our new map in draft form with a stellar group of panelists including Ray Isle, Andy Erickson, Mike Wolf and Dawnine Dyer. Hearing their perspectives was incredibly illuminating. I could have listened to them all day. The Saturday walk-around tasting is an incredible opportunity to taste many elite Napa Valley wines, while the Sunday brunch at Ad Hoc is the place to recover. For readers who want to enjoy the best Napa Valley offers and support a worthwhile charity, Inspire Napa Valley is not to be missed.

Inspire Napa Valley charity dinner at Staglin, cooked by an assortment of winemakers, vineyard managers and yours truly. This dinner has become one of the highlights of my year.

And now, to our awards…

The Year’s Best Values – A Mixed Case

How should a young person start out buying wine?” It’s a question I get asked often. Implied in that question is the obvious fact that most young people do not have a huge budget. Given the massive acceleration of prices for the world’s most coveted wines, it is easy to think that all good or great wines are expensive. That is simply not the case. Wine is like many other products. The red-hot collectability of some wines is no different from the same price dynamics seen for other goods, like handbags from elite designers. Beyond those names, consumers have more high-quality, affordable wines than ever to choose from. Here’s a mixed case of wines that massively over-deliver.

2020 Brewer-Clifton Pinot Noir (Sta. Rita Hills), California, USA

2020 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy

2019 Details by Sinegal Cabernet Sauvignon, California, USA

2020 Foxen Chardonnay Bien Nacido Vineyard Block UU, California, USA

2021 G.B. Burlotto Langhe Freisa, Piedmont, Italy

2019 Giscours, Bordeaux, France

2020 Istine Chianti Classico Vigna Casanova dell'Aia, Tuscany, Italy

2019 La Ca' Nova Barbaresco Montefico Vigna Bric Mentina, Piedmont, Italy

NV Pierre Moncuit (2018) Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Delos Grand Cru, Champagne, France

2019 Ridge Vineyards Lytton Springs, California, USA

2019 Sansonnet, Bordeaux, France

2019 Turley Petite Syrah Rattlesnake Ridge, California, USA

The 2019s from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti are very special wines, but they were overshadowed by the historical significance of outgoing Co-Manager Aubert de Villaine's final presentation of the new vintage.

Tasting of the Year – Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Presentation of 2019s

The annual presentation of the new vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was especially poignant this year. The 2019s are pretty special wines, but this tasting was not so much about the wines, to be perfectly honest. This was the last new vintage Co-Manager Aubert de Villaine presented before handing over the reins to his nephew Bertrand de Villaine and Perrine Fenal, the new Co-Manager representing the Leroy’s family’s interest in the domaine. This planned transition has taken place gradually, but there was a certain feeling of finality to the conversation in the room. De Villaine was visibly moved by the moment, as I think everyone was. Few, if any, people have done more for a region or domaine than Aubert de Villaine has done for Burgundy and DRC. It was a real changing of the guard. I felt very fortunate to watch it happen.

My first dinner out with a group post-lockdown was very special and also a poignant reminder of the important role restaurants play in our social fabric.

Dinner of the Year – Marea, New York City

I can’t say this dinner in March was the best I have ever had at Marea, nor the best meal of the year. But it was the first gathering of one of my New York tasting groups since lockdown. It was such a great feeling of freedom – freedom verging on elation, to be honest – to finally be able to open a few bottles and debate them in nerdy detail with a small group of friends.

Honorable mentions go to Tentazioni, Bordeaux; Il Centro, Priocca; Le Bernadin, New York City; The Pool, New York City; Guido da Costigliole, Piedmont and Ristorante Guido, Piedmont.

These langoustines at Tentazioni in Bordeaux were every bit as delicious as they look.

Most Exciting Debut – 2021 Neotempo Cabernet Sauvignon Kiatra Estate, Napa Valley, CA

One of the great privileges of this job is seeing new projects get off the ground. Most often, these are the realization of a lifetime of dreaming and of a very clear vision. Neotempo is a new property in the southern part of Napa Valley, just outside the Oak Knoll AVA. Kia Behnia attended UC Davis, studied computer science and embarked on a career in technology. Along the way, he nurtured his passion for music by working in a record store and hosting a show at the college radio station. He also took an introductory wine class, which would turn out to be quite fateful. His wife, Tracy Borman, grew up in Cape Town, not far from Stellenbosch, and was exposed to wine through her parents’ cellar and the local wine culture. She, too, pursued a successful career in technology. The pair met in the 1990s and began exploring Napa and Sonoma on the weekends.

Kia Behnia and Tracy Borman in their vineyard. Photo by Allison Watkins.

In 2011, Behnia and Borman bought their property and built a full-time residence. They planted four acres of vineyards the following year, all Cabernet Sauvignon, Entav clones 412, 338 and 685. From the beginning, the vineyard has been farmed organically. In the early days this fruit went to Shafer and then to Darioush, which is next door. In 2021, Behnia brought on winemaker Tony Biagi, whom he first met at UC Davis many years ago. I was deeply impressed with the 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon, which I tasted on two separate occasions on my most recent trip to Napa Valley. It is bright, elegant and super-refined, as wines from this cool, southern part of the valley tend to be. Silky and impeccably balanced, the 2021 is also incredibly promising. It’s a fabulous debut from Neotempo. I can’t wait to taste it from bottle.

Lastly, I must add I was quite encouraged to see the work Kia Behnia is doing on environmentally friendly packaging. This award is based 100% on the wine, and not on anything else, but suffice it to say I would like to see other proprietors taking a more conscientious approach to bottles and packaging.

Clos Abeille is a tiny 1.72 acre vineyard in St. Helena's Spring Valley district that Tom Burgess bought in the early 1970s, later sold to Heitz and that is now part of Burgess once again. Image from The Vineyards of St. Helena & Conn Valley by Antonio Galloni and Alessandro Masnaghetti, preview of the Second Edition. © Vinous 2016-2022.

Most Impressive Turnaround – Burgess, Napa Valley, CA

I have long been a fan of Burgess, going back many, many years. The wines were at times rustic, but they always had real character.

Investor Gaylon Lawrence acquired the property at the base of Howell Mountain in 2020 and quickly set out to reinvigorate the estate. As the acquisition was being finalized, the team led by CEO Carlton McCoy had to deal with brutal fires that destroyed the entire crop and ravaged the property. The plan had always been to move production to a more modern facility that also allowed for hospitality, neither of which was possible at Burgess, which by that point had degenerated into a ramshackle set of buildings. That schedule was quickly accelerated. Lawrence and McCoy purchased the former Luna winery and vineyard in Oak Knoll and set it up as the new home for Burgess. Longer term, the former Burgess winery site will be redeveloped for the new Ink Grade estate, but that is a subject for another day.

The lineup was trimmed down to focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. Burgess now has four main vineyard sites. The original Burgess vineyard on the lower slopes of Howell Mountain has been renamed Sorenson in honor of original Burgess winemaker Bill Sorenson. Quartz Creek is a 50-acre parcel in Oak Knoll that Tom Burgess acquired in 1979. Traditionally, the Burgess Cabernets had been a blend of these two sites, hillside and valley floor. The former Luna property is being redeveloped, except for a small parcel of Pinot Gris that John Kongsgaard planted in the 1990s. The crown jewel is Clos Abeille, a tiny 1.72 acre parcel in St. Helena’s Spring Valley District, home to Joseph Phelps, the Bond Quella vineyard and Heitz Cellar that was essentially carved out from Heitz and moved over to Burgess. The dry-farmed vineyard sits next to Quella on similar rocky soils and uplifted volcanic ash but is less exposed and therefore ripens later and at lower sugars. This property has a fascinating history. Tom Burgess originally bought the vineyard in the early 1970s. In 2013, he sold it to the Heitz family, with whom he shares a close personal relationship. Following their acquisition of Heitz Cellar in 2018, Lawrence and McCoy essentially returned that vineyard to the Burgess program. It was a brilliant move.

Burgess winemaker Meghan Zobeck, seen here at Stony Hill, presented a collection of fabulous and highly promising 2021 Cabernets in her first vintage at the helm.

Winemaker Meghan Zobeck presented a stellar set of 2021s when I stopped by earlier this year. It is her first vintage at Burgess after stints working at several prestigious wineries, including Philippe Melka’s Atelier Melka consulting group. The lineup was headlined by the magnificent 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon Clos Abeille, which has the potential to be one of the Cabernets of this young vintage. It is a truly superb wine in the making. I was quite honestly blown away by what I tasted.

Wine of the Year – 2020 Les Carmes Haut-Brion, Bordeaux, France

Guillaume Pouthier has been making brilliant wines at Les Carmes Haut-Brion for a number of years since he arrived from Chapoutier in 2012. Les Carmes is an odd estate for Bordeaux, as it is ensconced in what is otherwise a very urban setting. French businessman Patrice Pichet purchased the château in 2010 and quickly went about modernizing it with a brand-new winery designed by Philippe Starck and Luc Arsène-Henry. Before that, Les Carmes was a sleepy château with a brilliant track record that had fallen into less glorious times. But the great wines, those of the 1960s, 1950s or earlier, well, those wines routinely embarrass even the most experienced tasters in blind settings, where attempts to identify vintages can be off by a few decades! Readers who want to learn more about its past may want to check out Neal Martin’s recent article.

Make sure to add two to three decades if trying to identify a vintage of Les Carmes Haut-Brion (known formerly as Chateau des Carmes Haut-Brion) blind. The 2020 is sure to join the ranks of the elite vintages made here. 

Currently, Les Carmes is highly unusual for Pessac-Léognan and the Left Bank in general in that it incorporates a high percentage of Cabernet Franc and is also vinified with a healthy percentage of whole clusters, a throwback to how the wines were made here back in the day. The wine is also aged partly in small terra cotta amphorae. Franc is of course common on the Right Bank, but stems have not traditionally been part of how wines are made in Bordeaux. Amphorae are also very new in Bordeaux. They are used in a few places, but mostly in small doses. Many recent vintages of Les Carmes have been superb, with both the Franc and whole clusters adding an exotic character that is quite distinctive but also evident. In 2020, though, all the elements are part of a seamless whole. The 2020 is 40% Cabernet Franc, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon and 26% Merlot, picked between September 14 to 26, which is early here. Whole cluster was 55%. Vinification took place over five weeks, using very gentle extraction, with no pumpovers or punchdowns. Aging was 80% new oak, 11% 18HL foudres and 9% amphorae. In tasting, the 2020 is simply magnificent. There are no soloists, just the most exceptionally vivid, breathtaking orchestra imaginable. For its completeness and sheer beauty, the 2020 Les Carmes Haut-Brion is my Wine of the Year.

Winemaker of the Year – Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, Champagne Roederer, Reims, France

The world of grand marque Champagne is very different from most other categories of wine. I am not sure if that is attributable to the luxury goods image that so many houses carefully cultivate or their somewhat staid nature, or a combination of these and perhaps other factors as well. But one thing I have noticed over the years is that many Chefs de Caves seem very content to focus just on what happens in their world. It’s as if the rest of the wine universe does not exist. To be fair, this has started to change somewhat with the younger generation, but only slightly.

Champagne Roederer Chef de Caves Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

Then there is Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, a wine person’s wine person. A native of Champagne, Lécaillon is the Chef de Caves and Executive Vice President at Champagne Roederer, making him the most senior non-family member on the board. In 1989, Lécaillon graduated at the top of his class in both Oenology and Viticulture at the prestigious École Nationale Supérieure d’Agronomie in Montpellier, becoming only the second student in the school’s history to accomplish this feat. Roederer owner Jean-Claude Rouzaud sent his new recruit to California for a year. Lécaillon worked the 1990 harvest in Champagne and then spent three years in Tasmania. He returned to Champagne in 1993 and assumed the role of Chef de Caves in 1999. Since then, he has completely revolutionized Champagne Roederer and played a critical role in the expansion and management of the estates the Rouzaud family has acquired since then, including Domaine Ott, Pichon Comtesse, Merry Edwards and Diamond Creek.

Most impressively of all, Lécaillon has taken the spirit of grower Champagne, which, at the high level is focused on sustainable farming and artisan methods of production, and married those with the luxury of grand marque Champagne. He spearheaded Roederer’s move into biodynamic farming and increased the focus on estate vineyards so that today all the Roederer Champagnes, except for the Collection (formerly Brut Premier) and its sibling Carte Blanche, are made entirely from estate fruit, from what are increasingly defined ‘domaines’ within the Roederer world. For many years, the lineup consisted of the flagship Cristal and Cristal Rosé, a range of simpler Champagnes and the Brut Premier. Over the last 15 years or so, Lécaillon has transitioned Cristal and Cristal Rosé to fully biodynamic vineyards while expanding the range to include the Brut Nature and Brut Nature Rosé, a Vinothèque series for Cristal, a new set of Coteaux Champenois, a new Late-Release Vintage Champagne and transformed the NV Brut Premier into what is now the Collection series, while increasing quality and consistency and also continuing to work on other Champagnes that have not been released yet. Notwithstanding his significant achievements, Lécaillon remains incredibly down to to earth and exudes a sense of boyish enthusiasm that runs through all of his work.

All of the above would be remarkable on its own, but Lécaillon has obviously built a very good team around him, a skill unto itself, which then allows him to also serve as a strategic advisor to Roederer’s properties around the world, including participating in final blending sessions and other important discussions. His interest and passion for wine are palpable and extend well beyond the realm of Champagne. For these reasons, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon is my Winemaker of the Year for 2022.

Luca and Elena Currado (right) and longtime cellarmaster Eugenio Palumbo (left) continue to take Vietti to new heights. 

Winery of the Year – Vietti, Castiglione Falletto, Italy

The writing was on the wall last year, so to speak, when Vietti presented a stellar set of 2018 Barolos made even more notable by how challenging that vintage was. Then this fall I tasted the 2019s, which pick up where the 2018s left off. But what truly won Vietti this very well-deserved award is the showing of their everyday wines, the Barberas and Langhe Nebbiolo Perbacco in particular.

I was very skeptical when the Cordero and Currado families sold Vietti to American billionaire businessman Kyle Krause in 2016. The circumstances around what was a forced sale were not great, but then again, family businesses are never easy. Luca Currado and Elena Penna could have taken their paycheck and settled into an easy life. Instead, they have poured their hearts and souls into Vietti, perhaps more than ever before. The Currados have added a number of crown jewel vineyards to an already impressive lineup, kept quality exceptionally high throughout the range and shown no signs of letting up on their intense travel schedules. More recently, Elena Penna started a line of spirits that tie back to her early life growing up in her family’s bars. Interestingly, Luca Currado’s father, Alfredo, also had a passion for spirits, so it is an interest that runs deep in both sides of the family.

I was very fortunate to be exposed to Vietti in high school, when my parents sold the wines in their shop. Later, as a young adult with a huge interest in wine but little money, I often bought the Vietti Tre Vigne Barberas. To me, Vietti has always been a reference point. All these years later, well, the wines have frankly never been better. The last two years in particular, I have been blown away by the quality and consistency here. Bravi!

The closing concert of this year's Jazz in July festival at the 92nd Street Y was tremendous and a fabulous father/daughter night out on the town.

Concert of the Year – Jazz in July Featuring Mike Stern, Chris Potter and Nicole Glover

On a warm summer evening, my 12-year-old daughter and I ventured into New York City for this magnificent concert at the 92nd Street Y, one of the city’s most iconic venues. It was the last night of this year’s Jazz in July festival. The world-class lineup featured Mike Stern (guitar), Chris Potter (saxophone), Nicole Glover (saxophone), Bill Charlap (piano), Bill Stewart (drums) and Peter Washington (bass) in a program that mixed classic jazz standards with compositions by Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane that later became part of their standards repertoire. It’s always an immense pleasure to hear music of this caliber, especially live, which is where jazz is meant to be experienced. Plus, Mike Stern is one of my biggest influences and was also my teacher for a while, so it’s always great to see him in his element.

What I liked most about this concert, besides the fabulous performance, was Bill Charlap’s very personal, intimate touch in introducing the musicians in depth and presenting each tune. I have never been to a concert like that. The introductions provided terrific context, and, I am sure, added to the enjoyment of concertgoers, especially those who might have been less familiar with this repertoire. I enjoyed the evening immensely and was glad to see my daughter enjoy it as well. This was an advanced and adventurous program. But mostly, it was a great father/daughter night out on the town.

Favorite Non-Wine Moments of the Year

Family Vacation, London, England

I was fortunate to have a year full of blessings and tremendous experiences. A highlight was the week I spent on vacation in London this past June. No work meetings, no tastings, no business, just me and the kids in London being tourists. It was my first time back in London post-lockdown and their first visit ever. We had an absolute blast. June is my favorite month of the year because the days are so long. I can’t remember the last time I walked so much. We hit many of the main attractions, including The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Churchill’s War Rooms and the Natural History Museum among others, although the kids especially liked the multi-level M&M store in Leicester Square. But mostly, we just walked a ton and took in a good bit of what London has to offer. Our meals ranged from fish and chips at the Borough Market to coffee at Harrods and an exceptional dinner at Oswalds. It was an absolute blast.

London's Natural History Museum is full of engaging exhibits set in a gorgeous building.

Gibson Guitars, Nashville, TN

A trip to Nashville as part of a Figeac vertical I will be writing up very shortly was one of the highlights of this past fall. I was thrilled to spend some time with Mark Agnesi, Gibson’s Director of Brand Experience. Our tour started at the Gibson factory. A few years ago I visited Gibson’s Custom Shop, which was certainly impressive. I have to say, though, I was even more impressed with the main factory, especially seeing firsthand how many important steps in the manufacturing process are still done by hand. This is far from full automation.

From there, we moved to the Gibson Garage, a new retail concept, like an Apple store for guitars. The Garage is packed with instruments, merchandise and memorabilia, literally to the rafters. A simple stage in the center of the store leads into a green room, a backstage area of sorts where visiting artists can relax and/or borrow instruments if needed. A black door opens to reveal a small vault that holds a breathtaking collection of some of the most important artifacts in the company’s history, including Orville Gibson’s tools and a stunning array of some of the most coveted instruments ever made at Gibson.

A memorable day at Gibson. Clockwise from top left: The paint room; a collection of some of Gibson's most iconic guitars: 1958 Flying V, 1959 Les Paul, 1958 Explorer; a pristine Lloyd Loar 1924 L-5 in custom ebony finish, apparently the only example made; the 1958 Explorer is an absolute delight. 

“Ever play a ‘Burst?” Agnesi asks me, referring to the sunburst Les Pauls Gibson made from 1958 to 1960, instruments that did not sell well on release but then went on later to become the Holy Grail of electric guitars. "He’s not really going to hand me a $400,000 guitar is he?” I am thinking. But before I can articulate a response, there it is, in my hands.

Vintage guitars are like wine. Today’s instruments are better made and are more consistent than those of the 1950s and 1960s, as is very much the case with wine. But, when you get the right guitar, like the right bottle of an older wine that has been stored perfectly, well, then it is magic. Those guitars play themselves; they give you the music. It’s quite a remarkable experience.

From there, I had a chance to check out a number of other pristine vintage instruments, including a 1958 Flying V and Explorer, guitars Gibson made to compete with Fender’s hugely popular Stratocaster and Telecaster. Interestingly, both were commercial failures, although they had a few exponents, including Jimi Hendrix and Albert King for the V and U2’s The Edge and Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen for the Explorer. The Flying V and Explorer had to wait until the 1980s, when metal bands started to receive considerable exposure in the early days of MTV, to experience real success in the market. The 1958 Explorer is exceedingly rare. Gibson only shipped 19 of these but many more are said to exist, sort of like the 1982 Lafite-Rothschild, if you know what I mean. My favorite, though, was the 1924 L-5 in a custom ebony finish, apparently one of a kind. At nearly 100 years of age, it is still magnificent. Timeless. And the Figeac vertical? Well, it was pretty special, too. Stay tuned…

This Figeac vertical and the 1961 will be covered in a forthcoming article.

© 2022, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

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