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The Best of the West

At an eatery with a Napa-only wine list, California is king

Author John Capone

YOU’D THINK THAT PLACING a “Napa Valley only” limit on a restaurant wine list would constitute an unwelcome constraint in the eyes of sommeliers, but Kelli White and Scott Brenner of Press in St. Helena, Calif., have accepted the challenge with enthusiasm. After moving to Napa from New York in 2010 to launch Press’ wine program, the two have assembled the largest collection of Napa bottles in wine country, with vintages going back to the 1940s.

“We both had tasted older California wine on the East Coast, but the quality out here, where the wines had moved less than a few miles in their existence, was so much better,” says White. Inspired, they set about snapping up cellar collections as they became available and urging wineries to part with older artifacts.

The mission led to some exciting discoveries: five decades of cabernet from the same winery, for instance, and a few bottles of California grignolino (a tannic red rarely found outside Italy’s Piedmont region). “The project kept getting more and more compelling— brands we’d never heard of, bizarre varieties that were here before cabernet and chardonnay mania wiped them all out,” White says.

Last year Press unveiled its new 10,000-bottle cellar, accessible via an iPad wine list, and with it the true scope of White and Brenner’s work. The collection represents the region in a way few restaurant wine lists can; enjoying it, with the help of the two curators, is like tasting a museum exhibit. And the hunt is far from over. “We’re still being surprised by the weird things we uncover,” White says.

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