There are very few things as moving as a son paying tribute to his father with the one thing his father spent his career perfecting. The Vineyard House Wine is this for Jeremy Nickel, son of Nickel and Nickel and Far Niente founder Gil Nickel, who passed away from melanoma in 2003. It is even better when the product, completely developed, bottled and branded by Jeremy, is simply stunning.
Jeremy Nickel was in Dallas last week meeting with restaurants, tasting the latest release of his 2008 The Vineyard House Wine, a velvety, licorice and leather filled Cabernet Sauvignon with just a touch of earthy Petit Verdot and Malbec to round out the flavors of the Napa Valley fruit sourced primarily from vineyards in Oakville and St. Helena. I had a chance to meet Jeremy over lunch at Oak, tasting the highly acclaimed 2006, as well as the currently released 2008.
I was looking forward to meeting with Jeremy. I have been a fan of his father’s wine for years. Far Niente Chardonnay is some of the best in the valley, the wide range of diverse, luscious and elegant Nickel and Nickel Cabernets consistently deliver, making them some of the best in California, and let’s face it….is there anything better than a glass of Dolce at the end of a meal?
I did not, however, expect to be charmed by this son of Napa Valley who is driven by his goal to do something that would have made his father proud. Humble, funny and passionate, Jeremy is quick to note he wasn’t always the exemplary son, having gone through the rough patches young, somewhat reckless men do.
But that has changed, especially since his father passed and he began The Vineyard House in tribute to him. The genuine ambition and desire to create something from the ground up in honor of his late father drives him in his daily work. He acknowledges and appreciates that his name may get him in the door, but the quality of the wine is what will get him invited back again and again. He is also starting small, not overusing his family name, with distribution only in Oklahoma and Texas, as this is where he spends most of his time, along with selling directly from the winery in Napa.
He told me a story of being in Bordeaux with his father as a child and visiting the great Chateaux that many wine lovers only dream of seeing in their lives. As his father exchanged stories of growing Cabernet with the talent behind Haut-Brion, Jeremy spoke with the son about the same age as he was. The son said he was destined to work in the wine industry, as wine was a part of his blood, a party of who he was even as a child. At the time Jeremy was more interested in video games and playing with his friends than thinking about what he would be when he grew up. He asked his father if he too was going to have to be in the wine industry when he grew up.
His dad simply replied, he didn’t have to but he may get to. Something Jeremy still thinks about today.
He had decided, after attending college at SMU, that the hospitality industry was the path he was better suited for rather than wine, and got a job at Harvest Inn in St. Helena. However, his father had been sick with melanoma since his first year at SMU and shortly after he opted to go to work for the family wineries, taking a job in the marketing department at Nickel and Nickel, coming home as it would be, to work with his father shortly before his death.
The Vineyard House celebrated their first vintage in 2005 with winemaker Bill Ballentine at the helm. The actual vineyard house was the home where his father and second wife Beth Nickel, the Proprietress of Far Niente, Nickel and Nickel, and the other family wineries, celebrated their honeymoon and lived in for a number of years. Gil Nickel left this property to his son when he passed, which is Jeremy’s home in Napa when he is not at the family nursery his grandfather started in Oklahoma, or in Dallas visiting his sweetheart of five years. Calling the wine The Vineyard House just made sense in celebrating his dad, for it is his home now as it was his father’s.
In 2011 Jeremy hosted a series of blind tasting competitions putting The Vineyard House Wine up against some of the best Cult Cabernet Sauvignon from 2006 in Napa Valley. I am a huge fan of 2006 Napa Cab, with layers of tannin and earthiness with an incredible ability to age. Wines in the competition included Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Araujo, Bryant Family, Abrue Capella, Bond and many other highly regarded wines in the valley and The Vineyard House consistently came in an impressive third place…not bad for only its second year of production.
But, he also came out of the gate with gumption, charging upwards of $175 (now about $200) a bottle for his Cabernet. In a time where some wineries have had to lower the price of their highly rated wine due to the economy, Jeremy never backed down, even with a relative unknown in the winemaking world. However, it is a luscious, expressive and balanced wine that accurately portrays the beauty of Napa Valley Cabernet, especially if you are a true lover of California wine.
Jeremy carries on the philosophies his father taught him, to always work with integrity, passion and elbow grease. The elbow grease comes in handy as he, like his father, restores and races classic cars, with the current restoration taking more time than expected, a 1956 Porche Speedster than Jeremy has already spent 3 years on and still needs much more time. But the journey is often worth the result, and for visionary Gil Nickel, his mark will not only be left with the beautiful wines he created with Far Niente, Dolce and Nickel and Nickel, but also with the gift of his son with The Vineyard House Wines.
Jeremy also embraces the generosity of his father with a constant dedication to helping those in need with 10% of the proceeds from each bottle going to a group of charities the family supports, including helping develop the infrastructure, schools and an overall better living in Republic of Senegal in West Africa and a constant dedication to cancer research.