The Napa Valley’s most interesting wine experiences often lie away from its blockbuster wineries. Our 5 hour private tasting at the Morlet Winery was offered to us by Luc Morlet, one of Napa and Sonoma’s Great winemakers. Beyond the beauty of Luc Morlet’s wines – some of which have been served at the White House – Luc is a reminder of what becomes possible when we align who we are with the work we do.

The people I most admire are those with the self-awareness to define their purpose, and the drive to make it their life’s work. With sufficient tenacity, it’s uplifting to realise just how many talented individuals go on to disprove their naysayers by achieving objectives they’d once thought unreasonable. While for most, the reward for aligning who they are with what they do may be self-employment or moderate renown, some may go on to redefine the pinnacle of their field:

Michelangelo            Beethoven               Zinédine

The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning 

Back when Patrick and I were corporate lawyers, we would particularly prize these rare types who had the honesty and self-accountability to define their purpose, and the audacity to own it. We’d share our admiration for those who created products and services that mirrored the place they defined for themselves in the world, big or small. It was the kind of intentional living that was lacking in our our own working lives at the time – and in those around us, who joined in the collective yearn for Friday evenings.

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive.
Maya Angelou

Rarely have I felt such admiration for the alignment of work and self than in the presence of Luc Morlet: a master winemaker and professional Frenchman from Champagne, now based in the Napa Valley. I met him in between leaving the law and moving to New Orleans in 2015, when we were in the midst of founding The Great Everything and preparing our future pursuits. The 5 hours I spent with Luc and my girlfriend, tasting through his entire range of wines in private, was the most memorable experience of my wine life to date.

Introducing Luc Morlet

Luc is the ultimate polymath – a virtue we all should aspire to, but which the hyper-specialization of today’s labour market discourages. He may go down as the very first fan of The Great Everything, encouraging us to execute our project before we even believed in it ourselves. Our long conversation danced from wine, to life philosophies, to politics and art with equal enthusiasm, in between expressions of our shared affection for America. In many senses, Luc was a destination unto himself and I’d have gained Great value from our exchange alone. His polymathy protruded from beneath his docile, understated demeanor.

Yet the most striking element of Luc was the clear and complete consistency between who he was, and what he had chosen to devote his days to. He exuded a quite brilliant oneness with himself. It’s not that Luc could only have been a winemaker – far from it, given his intellectual capacities and breadth of interests. It’s simply that he’d marinaded in the atmosphere of winemaking since his earliest days. To alienate himself from one of his passions in favour of more conventional employment would have resulted in an internal divorce between who he was, and what he did with his working life (which in proportionate terms, is most of our waking hours). That divorce would have created the kind of internal fracture between work and self that many initiated long ago, and few have ever corrected.

While the comfortable route for him would have been to remain in France, continuing his family’s wine-making legacy within a revered wine market, Luc’s irrepressible spark took him elsewhere. After falling in love with his (now) wife, Jodie, a Californian former schoolteacher he met in Paris (I’d love to know how many Franco-American relationships Paris sparks?), Luc faced a choice: stick to the safe route in France, or push himself to excel in the Californian New World – an area he had discovered and worked in previously for big-name wineries, but had not envisaged an entire lifetime in.

It will come as little surprise that instead of compromising on his ambitions (and on who he wished to be with), he took the plunge and assigned himself a grand mission: to instill grand cru quality in the wines of Napa and Sonoma.

 

 

The uniqueness of Luc Morlet’s wines

I’ve tasted thousands of wines in my life, thanks to an online wine venture I launched several years back. Luc Morlet’s wines are among the finest I’ve ever known, and certainly those I most value from my time in Napa (no offence to the delicious Opus One and the region’s other Bordeaux replicators). In simple terms, Luc Morlet’s wines are characterized by three features:

1. Linear precision

Luc’s wines deliver a certain purity that only the very best, non-interventionist winemakers (those who believe in letting the terroir express itself) can deliver. To taste his entire range, as we did, felt like tasting the final formula for existence. Everything within them is utterly precise: distinct yet complementary and evolving flavours, perfect weight, and my favourite of all: the aromatics of planet Earth’s natural perfumes. His wines are like a perfect date: true to their own origins and temperament, full of interesting back-story, and inviting by nature. In this sense, they are the opposite of the hyper-engineered, characterless Riojas that plague the British mass-market in particular. These are wines that take you to a place of authenticity that is all too often lacking in Napa, but which delights when it does exist (and Luc Morlet’s wines are not alone in expressing this authenticity).

2. Cultural fusion

Inherent in The Great Everything is the belief that the most interesting experiences frequently lie at the cultural edges – those areas where one culture starts to blend with another. These areas of overlap also happen to be places of comfort for me and for Patrick, with our respective bi-cultural upbringings.

When Luc left France in 1996 to join his wife Jodie in her native California, his goal was to adapt the French winemaking principles he knew so well to his new home. By taking the traditions of Champagne, Burgundy, Bordeaux and the Rhone Valley and fusing them with the rich sites and differing palates of California, Luc Morlet’s wines mesh together intensity, richness, complexity and refinement. All are matured in the finest 100% French oak barrels, which Luc also has a fascinating side-hustle importing and distributing to discerning winemakers around Napa.

The world’s leading wine critic, Robert Parker, encapsulates the cultural fusion nicely:

Luc Morlet is not only a fabulous winemaking talent; he knows how to bring the French savoir faire of complexity, elegance and precision to the ripe, concentrated, intense fruit of California.

3. Wine stories

To this cultural fusion, Luc adds his personal story in crafting his wines. Each wine has a narrative behind it, like a secret diary – some are dedicated to his family and to his wife Jodie, without whom Luc’s efforts would lack the organisation and audience required for success. Others tell the story of a micro-parcel of land Luc specifically designated for its propensity to yield grapes of particular character. In this sense, a part of Luc’s endearing heart, or mind, is present in every bottle produced. To identify yourself so closely in the product of your work is to reach the summit of working life.

 

Luc Morlet’s wines are so exclusive that the majority are reserved for his hugely over-subscribed distribution list (as well as for the White House, now and then), which you can sign up to if you’re willing to wait. Others can be found on Wine Searcher. If you’d like an overview of how my favourite bottles within his range taste, at their best, then you’re in luck. We’ve included brief tasting profiles below to help you find your match, because that’s just the kind of thing we like to do. You can click through each tab below for the notes.

Luc Morlet’s wines are the taste of a person who’s aligned all of himself with all of his work. Some might call that the taste of success, very simply. Either way, they’re a product of beauty. I urge you not to miss them if you have some $$$ saved up for a special occasion.

A harmonious blend of the three classic white Bordeaux varietals grown in the Golden State’s Sonoma County, this unique cuvée was handcrafted using classical winemaking techniques inspired from Pessac-Léognan. In a nod to the architectural arts, its name is ‘The Golden Ratio’ or ‘La Proportion Dorée.’

Everything about this wine is an instruction to take pleasure – I think it could put the gyrating ‘Rabbit’ out of business. This beaut’ is all candied lemon, muscat, and honeysuckle flavors intermixed with sweet notes of ripened apricot and fresh quince. Opulence all-round. Let’s go again.

Located on the river bench of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, this hillside vineyard benefits from ideal conditions for the Chardonnay vines, and is renowned for its excellent quality and richness. This richness originates from the typical petite size of the berries. This wine is dedicated to Luc’s daughter, Claire Morlet.

Straw yellow colour. Aromas and flavours of lemon, apple skin and my favourite aromatic touch of all: fresh herbs (or chamomile, says Luc). Its rich texture coats the palate for quite a while. Built to age for over a decade. 

From the same hillside vineyards as ‘Ma Princesse’, this unique cuvée was carefully blended from a strictly limited number of selected barrels displaying outstanding features. It is Luc’s ‘Heart’s Astonishment’ or ‘Coup de Cœur.’

Straw yellow colour. I love this wine for its intriguing contradictions. Complex bouquet of candied lemon, citrus oils, apple juice and strong notes of nut and white truffle, which is a flavour I love but hard to find outside of Rhone Valley whites. Minerally driven, the mouth feel is rich but still deft and delicate. That’s hard to pull off! Full of subtlety, yet so long on the finish – another rare combo. With a very high ageing potential, this could keep for over a decade. Which is more than Michael Owen can say.

Crafted with a passionate, uncompromising pursuit of quality, this judicious blend draws on only the finest barrels from the beautiful vineyards located on the Oakville bench of Napa Valley and Luc’s manicured vineyards on the foothills of Knights Valley and St. Helena. The name comes from a French saying, which goes ‘Je t’aime, un peu, beaucoup, passionnément’ (I love you, a little, a lot, passionately). This personal pearl of a wine is of course dedicated to Jodie Morlet.

Dark purple. Intense and complex bouquet of red and black berries intermixed with notes of blueberries, crème de cassis, plum and the whiff of a cigar box. Full bodied, the palate mirrors the nose, with a creamy texture and ridiculous intensity. The luscious tannins, the intense aromatic complexity and the depth of flavour make for an amazingly expressive wine with a verrry long, smooth finish. This charmer is the very best of what Napa Valley and Knights Valley have to offer. It is simply the ne plus ultra of the Morlet wine production. That’s right – so fancy, it warrants latin.

Luc and Jodie’s unique estate lies on the western foothills just north of the town of St. Helena. It stands out for being an ideal location for Cabernet Sauvignon vines. They restored the 1880 stone winery, which is illustrated on the label. As such, this wine represents the precious essence of a very special place, which Luc’s family calls home.

Dark and deep with a hue of deep bright ruby red. Intense and complex bouquet of red cherry and blackberry intermixed with flavours of rocks, licorice, fresh tobacco and a a drop of blackcurrant. Quite tannic, but fine at the same time, this seems like it could age for a long old time. Morlet Estate shows what can come from volcanic soil, a sunny mountain climate and the low-interventionistic winemaking approach that Greats are made of.

Capturing the strong, rich and dense character of the Cabernet Franc grapes from the famous Beckstoffer-To Kalon vineyard in Oakville, this wine pays homage to Luc’s great grandfather, Gaston Morlet, and his reputation as a ‘force of nature’ in his native village of Avenay-Val-D’Or, in Champagne. Crafted from 100% Cabernet Franc, this wine is truly a ‘Force de la Nature.’

All of the good stuff, served up straight. Intriguing wine laced with coffee, spices, rosemary, and smokey dark raspberry jam. It’s been highlighted by critics for possessing stunning depth and richness, with endless layers of fruit that wrap around the powerful, imposing finish. This is a big banger of a wine with a mammoth structure and oodles of fruit!

Located on the Sonoma Coast, on the Eastern slope of the second ridge from the Pacific Ocean, this unique hillside vineyard benefits from both the cool maritime breeze and the mild and sunny mountain climate – hence these are the ‘Noble Hillsides’ or ‘Côteaux Nobles.’

Very intense raspberry and kirsch flavors with earthy notes (graphite), rich, round and seamless with a very fruity lingering finish. Could be kept for 5+ years.

Made from the very best section – the ‘heart’ – of the excellent ‘Coteaux Nobles’ vineyard located on the Sonoma Coast, this unique wine is also named after the typical seductive character of the Pinot Noir grape: it’s the ‘Charming Character’ or ‘Joli Cœur.’

Woh! Crazy intense red and black cherry and raspberry coulis flavors with a bit of earth sprinkled in and the odd crumble of granite. Rich and concentrated (like me in my dreams), with a lingering finish. Will probably age better than you will, for ages to come.

This wine is made from an exceptional hillside vineyard located in Bennett Valley, where natural conditions are ideal for growing Syrah. Handcrafted by using classical winemaking techniques of the Rhone Valley. Named after the most famous culinary herb bundle, the ‘Bouquet Garni’, to honour the first of Luc’s relatives to emigrate to the US (who was, by profession, an accomplished chef).

Imagine intense violet and black cherries crushed over the leathery saddle of a horse, seasoned with white pepper and clove – it might look a mess, but the taste is pure art. Neat lingering spicy finish. Will age gracefully, for yonks.

Growing in the gravelly soil of an ancient river bed in the beautiful Alexander Valley of Sonoma County, the old Sémillon vines benefit from hot afternoons and cool, foggy mornings. This handcrafted wine is also the result of meticulous farming practices. An extremely small yield and multiple selective picks leave just the most concentrated fruit. Just as one receives a note from one’s sweetheart, Luc views this wine as a ‘Billet Doux’ or ‘Love Note.’

Crystal clear gold. I know I’m going to love this before the glass even parts my lips. Intense and complex bouquet of dry apricot, juicy peach and those Reine Claude yellow plums you get in France, intermixed with notes of quince, honey, and a hint of sweet vanilla. Full bodied, the palate is reminiscent of the nose, with a creamy sweet texture, mega power and delicious viscosity. Emphatic finish, going on for quite a while after swallowing. I’d like to drink this wine every day, all days, forever.

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