Let’s go walk out on a limb and consider the following: Joseph Phelps Vineyard’s “Insignia” is Napa Valley’s (America’s?) most iconic wine; nothing represents Napa Valley as impressively and for more wine lovers across the country than this one bottling of wine
Is the limb bending? I don’t think so.
You have to back up to the beginning to appreciate why this one wine might be the best and most important representation of Napa Valley wine. Joseph Phelps wasn’t the kind of guy who followed a crowd. He got in the wine game before most, building his winery in 1973. This was the man who first labeled a wine “Syrah”. He was the guy who, with his amazing dessert wines first produced in the 1970’s, demonstrated that California could produce world-class botrytis-based wines.
But it was Insignia that put Phelps on the map and eventually was as responsible for any wine in Napa Valley from spreading the gospel of Napa Valley quality.
The idea was radical: make the best wine possible by using grapes from any vineyard and in any combination. If the best wine possible was made with mainly Cabernet and Merlot, then that would be that. If the best wine would contain Cabernet, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, then so be it. The first vintage of Insignia was 1974. It remains one of the most sought after collector wines in America.
Of course blending together different varieties was not unusual. What was unusual was that it was a fine wine instead of a cheap wine that resulted from the blend. But also, giving the wine a proprietary name was groundbreaking. It was the first in California to do this. This is pretty amazing when you consider that today you can’t throw a stick down valley and not hit a bottle with some rarified sounding name on the front of the label. Insignia was an immediate hit and it made Joseph Phelps Vineyard famous.
The thing is this, however…one can’t become an icon unless you are available or accessible to many. This is what sets Insignia apart. Today, Joseph Phelps makes upwards of 20,000 cases of what is believed by many to be among the top ten wines out of Napa Valley…consistently. Anyone who seriously drinks or even thinks about great California wines must know and probably has tasted Insignia. But it gets even better.
Insignia ages and ages well. In fact, even in this age of fruit forward, accessible, early drinking $100 Cabs, Insignia’s greatness in part derives from the fact that it’s 10 and 15 year old bottles are still amazing wines.
Joseph Phelps derives its fame from Insignia. In large part so does Napa Valley. But this is not a one trick pony. At any given moment Joseph Phelps will have as many as 15 different wines available from Rhone Blends to Chardonnay to Pinot Noir. But in the end, it’s the classic, iconic, region-defining, category breaking Insignia that sets the bar not just for Joseph Phelps but for Napa Valley.