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Intern Turned Wine Guru — Mumm Napa’s Tami Lotz on Sparkling Truths, Dandelion Wine and Happy Drinking

We're Talking Grapes

BY // 12.01.20

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

Mumm Napa is a beautiful place. Back in 2003, I toured the winery on a warm, sunny afternoon, ending the day seated on a terrace outside, glass of sparkling in hand. Memories of France — and a day at Maison Mumm — came back to me as I drank and admired the view.

I was scheduled for a return engagement at Mumm Napa in late September of 2019, but had to cancel, to my regret. As soon as we are able to travel safely, the winery will be one of my first destinations. Until then, I’m sampling a few bottles I received — a Brut Prestige, a Brut Rosé, the 2013 DVX Rosé, and the 2011 DVX — and taking the time to research the history of Mumm. It’s a fascinating (German) story, so if you don’t know the house’s origins get reading. (And here’s a bit about Mumm Napa’s founding.)

Mumm Napa was completed in 1987.

I’ll have review of the sparkling wines soon, including a profile of Guy Devaux, the man responsible for Mumm Napa, so look for that, but in the meantime I’m featuring Tami Lotz in Wine Talk. She oversees winemaking at Mumm, and is engaging and opinionated, qualities I like.

Lotz, a Napa native, has a degree in enology and viticulture from U.C. Davis, and has spent time in Germany, Australia and Chile (focused on wine, of course). She worked as an intern at Mumm after college, and returned to the Napa estate on a full-time basis in 2003.

FERN FREEMAN

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Let’s see what she has to say.

James Brock: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?

Tami Lotz: I tend to drink a lot of sparkling wine, so, of course, I have a couple to recommend.

First, I’ve been really enjoying the Mumm Napa 2014 Blanc de Blancs Reserve. The blend is 82 percent chardonnay and 18 percent pinot gris. I love the stone fruit and melon notes that the pinot gris contributes to the apple and citrus-dominant chardonnay. It aged for almost four years on the yeast, so there’s a lot of toasty complexity in the wine.

I think it will continue to age beautifully for another 5 to 10 years. My favorite pairing with this wine? Oysters! I love living close to the coast so we can drive out and pick up a few dozen to take home and savor. Retail price: $44

I’m always looking for new bubbles to try, and I recently came across a bottle from England, a Hattingley Valley Classic Reserve. I haven’t tasted a lot of English sparkling, and I was very impressed by the quality. The fruit was fresh, the acid bright, and the wine very balanced overall. I enjoyed that bottle with sushi, but I think a cheese board would also be nice. Retail price: $50

As you can probably imagine with my sparkling wine background, I’m a big fan of acid. I tend to seek out German wines because I love their acidity, minerality, and amazing aromatic expression. I recently opened a 2017 Juliusspital Würzburger Stein Silvaner Erste Lage trocken. It was gorgeous. The nose had a lot of pear and citrus, and the palate had a surprising amount of weight, with excellent minerality and a long finish. We went with traditional German fare that evening, and paired it with Weißwurst and Käsespätzle. Retail price: $35

Tami Lotz loves — as she should — chardonnay.

JB: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why?

TL: 1979 Salon. It’s one of only 37 vintages they produced in the 20th century and happens to be my birth year.

JB: What is your favorite grape, and why?

TL: It’s hard to pick a favorite grape, just like it is to pick a favorite wine, but I’m especially enamored with chardonnay from a sparkling wine standpoint. It provides acid backbone, elegance, and length to blends, and it is perfectly wonderful when in the spotlight as a blanc de blancs. It ages exceptionally well, and pairs with the foods I enjoy most.

JB: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? 

TL: People don’t always realize how well sparkling wine can age. I would recommend the Mumm Napa 2006 DVX Extra Brut. After eight years on the yeast, this wine was in balance with very little dosage. It still shows youth in the bright fruit and acid, but offers so much complexity in the brioche notes contributed by the yeast. The palate shows a lot of weight and creaminess, and the finish seems to last forever. It will still be beautiful in another decade.

JB: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle (outside your home and workplace)?

TL: My go-to is the Oxbow Cheese and Wine Merchant in Napa. I love that they are constantly changing their list and bringing in new and interesting wines from all over the world. It’s a great place to catch up with friends and enjoy some wine and cheese. (Note: I miss the days of being able to experience the above. My current go-to place is the back patio next to the old orange tree, and our happy hours are virtual, but still very fun!)

A sparking named after a great winemaker.

JB: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

TL: The one thing I can’t say enough is to drink what you like. I think that, too often, people drink what they think they “should” or what they think might impress someone. If we could all just take a moment and think about the wines that have made us smile, that made our day a little brighter, or that simply tasted good, and then go buy those wines, we’d be much happier wine drinkers.

JB: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

TL: I remember my first year at U.C. Davis. I was an Animal Biology major, but decided to take an Intro to Winemaking class. I grew up in Napa, was working in restaurants to pay for school, and enjoyed tasting wine, but didn’t really know much about how it was made. When it struck me that making wine was a unique blend of art and science, and that it could be a career, I changed my major and never looked back.

JB:What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

TL: A college classmate’s parents showed up with a bottle of dandelion wine for us to taste  It’s still one of the most unique tasting experiences I’ve had.

JB: What is your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

TL: Ernest Hemingway wrote that “Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing which may be purchased.” I would agree.

For more wine, travel and other stories from James Brock, check out his site Mise en Place.

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