TEXTBOOK Napa Valley was founded in 2004 by Jonathan and Susan (died 2016) Pei. What eventually became a big event and had an impact on Jonathan’s life happened when he was still a teenager; his father announced that he had been transferred to France for work and that the family was moving to Paris. Jonathan spent three years in France – where, as he says, he soon learned that wine is with the food, not the milk he grew up with in the United States. Upon his return from abroad, he received a Bachelor’s degree in Agronomy from the University of Arizona and started working as a sales manager for Kobrand Corp. in New York. Jonathan remembers well the days when education was an integral part of working for the company – Cobrand often sent his employees abroad to get an international perspective on wine. When he worked in Cobran, he was smuggled into the Napa Valley. And this was only the beginning of what would become a diverse international career in the wine world.
From 1993 to 1996 he worked at Schramsberg and helped oversee the collaboration with Portuguese winemakers João Carvalho Maia and Celso Pereira. Together they founded the Caves of Transmontanas, a vetitia and sparkling wine producer near the town of Alijo in the Douro Valley. Although Schramsberg is no longer involved in this activity, Caves Transmontanas continues to produce high quality wines in this part of Portugal. He then led the international operations of Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines and eventually helped to forge a partnership between Robert Mondavi Winery and Rosemount Winery in Australia.
He discovered the potential of viticulture in Marin County through a book he read with Susan, Early Marin, which partly describes how immigrants arrived in Marin County and planted the first vines. Some of these farmers were then forced to leave Marin County after the 1906 earthquake, when the people of San Francisco crossed the bay. Today, of course, Marin County is not known as a wine country (and in western Marin, the minimum plot size is 80 hectares, making it economically difficult to grow small vineyards) – but, intrigued by what they read in the book, Jonathan and Susan decided to grow grapes. Today, Jonathan owns about 7 acres of vineyards in western Marin County and produces Pinot Noir and Riesling from old dry vines. Their first harvest in Pei Marin took place in 2002.
When they decided to make Napa Valley wine, it didn’t take long for Jonathan and Susan to identify Oakville as the area they would focus on. The winemaker’s manual he still works with today was their first source, the Alex Choice Vineyard, owned by Alex Choice. The vineyard adjoins the property of the Screaming Eagle – incidentally, a pile of topsoil was removed a few decades ago to help build the nearby Rector Dam – the remaining land of the Select vineyard is rocky and alluvial in nature.
The name Textbook came up when Jonathan tasted his first vintage in barrel. He remembers pulling out the wine in two glasses with a wine thief and noticing its dark color, density, texture and exotic flavors. He said something like: It’s a classic Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon – just like in textbooks. And the name says it all. Surprisingly, it was never registered as a trademark. His goal with his Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is to provide the expression of his breed and make people say that this is what Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon smells and tastes like.
Over the years, TEXTBOOK has collaborated with other manufacturers in Oakville and with many manufacturers in the valley. An essential part of their success is to work with the best vineyards, but also to be financially cautious – never take out a large loan, grow slowly, use a press cellar in Napa, and never buy a vineyard.
The Vineyards focuses on wines grown and produced in the Napa Valley, a style that reflects Jonathan’s European sensibility. It strives to bring out the nuances of the grape varieties, especially their Cabernet Sauvignon, rather than a force for balance and elegance. He tends to pick the grapes earlier than his neighbors – looking not only for the depth of flavor, but also the clarity.
In 2019, as the business grew and lasted longer, Jonathan TEXTBOOOK sold Vineyards to respected wine partners – a group whose parent company is Kirin Brewing Company in Japan – and which is also linked to Kirin’s subsidiary Mercian (which has wineries in Japan, France and Markham Vineyards in the Napa Valley). Today Jonathan is still active in the wine industry (during consultation with winemakers), in their vineyards and participating in selected marketing events.
From learning about winemaking in Marin County to working with some of the best wineries in the Napa Valley, it’s been a great journey for Jonathan. He remembers that their first vintage in Marin County was only 5 cases – TEXTBOOK wines used to be distributed in some full-service markets and parts of Asia.
TEXTBOOK Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (van Eiken Knoll and St. Helena area vineyards) – Medium straw color; the bouquet contains notes of minerals, honeysuckle, meringue lemon and delicious golden apple. The bouquet is elegant and inviting. This is our favourite style of Napa Sauvignon Blanc – not green, grassy, overripe and tropical. It offers aromas of grapefruit, lemon and tangerine – beautifully complemented by a spicy aftertaste. Mouth water. It has an excellent taste in itself, but its acidity makes it ideal to combine – preferably with seafood such as scallops cooked in a spicy Thai chilli sauce. This wine is a combination of fruit from three Napa Valley vineyards – all grown by hand, from pruning to harvest. After the grapes arrive at the winery, they are all pressed and ripened on their lees.
Napa Valley’s 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Merlot) is medium to deep purple in the glass, and offers a higher tinted, floral sweetness, including violets and black liquorice. Sometimes fleshy, with added flavors reminiscent of a balsamic reduction. In the mouth there are notes of ripe plum and spicy (think of the plum skin of Santa Rosa) and blackberry flavors. Very focused. The tannins are preserved, softer in texture, with a slightly dry touch and notes of dried tobacco leaf and white pepper. Has been matured for 14 months in new French oak – 30% new wood. The low alcohol percentage is 13.3%.
The TEXTBOOK 2017 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon is a rich ruby red colour with darker aromas of blackberries, cherries and blackcurrants. In addition to the fruit, there is a beautiful alliance of dark chocolate and cedar wood, with notes of dried tobacco and, further on the nose, cloves and cardamom. Well concentrated with plum and black cherry aromas – juicy, slightly fleshy and spicy. The mouthfeel is honed on the finish – anchored by a grainy, dark, well-integrated tannin and lingering cedar notes. The strength of this wine lies in its simultaneous concentration and balance. Good acidity. Now accessible, but also very combative. Each bottle is numbered – 6,000 bottles were produced in 1,000 boxes of six bottles.
The total production of TEXTBOOK is around 21,000 boxes per year, with several international distributors, including Korea and Japan, and some national outlets, including restaurants, retailers and whole food. For more information, to become a member of the wine club or to buy directly, go to: www.textbookvineyards.com.
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