When Art Finkelstein passed away all too young in 2010, the wine world lost one of its most beloved and innovative characters. Art was a man of many talents: architect, maker of ceramics, musician, chef and, yes, winemaker. His winemaking career began at home. Most people have cars in their garages; Art’s son Judd, for whom Judd’s Hill winery is named, says that he grew up with winemaking equipment in his. By 1979, Art was fluent enough in winemaking to purchase a vineyard near St. Helena, in Napa, where he created Whitehall Lane Winery.
However, with the success of Whitehall Lane, Art Finkelstein found that business management was taking up more of his time than winemaking. And so, never one to go the road most traveled, he sold the winery and, with his wife, Bunnie, bought a 14-acre hillside vineyard and created Judd’s Hill. The “smaller is better” plan—sacrificing financial gain for happiness—was to produce no more than 3,000 cases of wine per year, as opposed to the 30,000 annually at Whitehall Lane.
There has never been anything very trendy about Judd’s Hill. “What I loved about Art was his resistance to trends,” says Francis Fecteau, whose Libation Inc. represents Judd’s Hill wines in Utah. “While much of Napa was churning out ‘black’ Cabernet Sauvignon at 15 percent alcohol, he was top-fermenting, keeping the alcohol in check, and telling me things like ‘complexity isn’t an accident.’” The Finkelsteins were the first winemakers Fecteau reached out to when he began his own career in wine, and the lasting affection between Bunnie, Judd and Francis was obvious during a recent Judd’s Hill wine tasting and tapas event at Martine (22 E. 100 South, 801-363-9328, MartineCafe.com).
Not all of the wines we tasted are available in Utah, but keep in mind that individuals can place special by-the-case orders at your favorite wine store. With Utah’s small winery exemption, wines such as Judd’s Hill are actually less expensive here than at the winery.
At Martine, I was thrilled to be seated alongside Bunnie Finkelstein, who not only is an incredible repository of wine knowledge, but is also one of the nicest and most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. If there’s an opposite of a wine snob, she’s it.
First up was smoked rock cod with salmon roe, creme fraiche and red-beet puree, prepared by Martine’s talented executive chef, Tom Grant (who’s another nice guy). The salty smokiness of the cod and roe were balanced beautifully by Judd’s Hill Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($24). It’s a lovely Sauvignon Blanc: silky and soft, with a light touch of French oak and fruity apricot and tangerine flavors.
Next at Martine was another great match: Judd’s Hill Merlot ($27) with scrumptious gnocchi in a lamb Bolognese sauce. The wine is fruit-forward, brimming with raspberry and cherry flavors, a very versatile wine that would partner well with a wide range of foods.
Somewhere before the splendid beef and Creminelli sausage paupiette paired with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), Judd treated us to an old-timey ukulele tune, which was followed by an even better treat: the stunning Judd’s Hill Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($75), which is at its absolute peak. It’s a beautifully integrated Cab, with soft tannins and classic rich black fruit flavors. This gorgeous wine was one of Art Finkelstein’s last efforts, and I’m pretty certain he’d have loved it. You’ll love Judd’s Hill wines, too.