I knew it was the perfect day to visit Larkmead when we pulled up to the Calistoga property and saw that spring was in full force: sun shining, the vineyard awash in picture-perfect yellow mustard flowers, Cabernet buds just starting to appear, birds chirping. It was the kind of bucolic scene that makes urban dwellers go green with envy. Then Dan Petroski, winemaker, greeted us with a grin that suggested he had something even cooler in store for us.
Weeks earlier, a gentleman contacted Petroski regarding several cases of Larkmead wines dating from the 1930s. He was moving and wanted the bottles off his hands. The gentleman’s father-in-law, Elmer Salmina, had been the Larkmead winemaker back in those days, the son of Felix Salmina (the F. in F. Salmina & Co. – pictured above – that had farmed the property since 1895). And so the bottles returned to their home, and our visit was as good an excuse as any to sample a couple of them.
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I had tasted wines as old before. It’s not uncommon to come across the occasional bottle of Madeira from the 19th Century, and I had been lucky enough to pull the corks on some Huet Vouvrays from the 1920s when I worked as a sommelier. But California wines from that era? From a vineyard that’s still producing to this day? Those don’t really turn up, ever.