A Sonoma pinot on Everest? (From the Fall 2011 issue of SONOMA)
Seeing as my name’s on every list of louche reporters in this market, I receive about 25 missives a day, each pitching arts and entertainment, travel and leisure or food and epicurea stories. They’re all welcome and I’m liable to spill ink if someone merely spells my name right. Pour me a glass of wine while doing so and I’ll likely spill ink AND wine. The only reason my professional gluttony doesn’t spill over my belt like an inner tube filled with fois gras is that I burn so many calories walking around, looking for my car the next morning.
I managed to avoid this fate when, after receiving a particularly interesting lead, I recently strolled into the lounge of a luxury hotel whilst a certain Sonoman was being feted on account of the release of his namesake vintage.
Mind you, every other chap in Wine Country has put their name on a bottle of vino (I’ve even got one up in Dundee apparently), but few have the humility not to flaunt it all over town. Which is why I was intrigued when I received a message about the release of Hirsch Vineyards’ “Ngima’s Cuvée” pinot noir 2009, at San Francisco’s Mandarin Oriental hotel.
Let’s break this down: It’s not the “Hirsch” part that’s compelling (though I’ve been compelled to finish more than a few of their fine wines). It’s the “Ngima” part. I only know one gent with that particular moniker who is remotely connected to the wine trade–Sonoma’s own Ngima Sherpa. On this side of the planet, most of us know Ngima as a friendly face at Meritage Restaurant and Oyster Bar. If you happen to be knocking around the Himalayas, however, you would be pleased to know that the gentleman who helped you choose a wine can also get you up and down Mt. Everest such that you might drink another day.
Nepalese by birth, Ngima has led over a dozen expeditions up Everest, with more to come. The base camp he and his crew were enjoying at the Mandarin (the very same fellows one might see chatting over their morning coffee at EDK, who have likewise scaled Mallory’s mountain) was a markedly different affair. By about the third round, I realized their tolerance to elevation was just one of their many superpowers. Simply put, I was high, they were not. Ngima tried to explain the physiological reasons for this but I had to redirect what little bandwidth I had left to interview Nicole Kosta, the hotel’s luminous wine director, who has overseen the Hirsch Vineyards partnership for several vintages.
“For this 2009 vintage I invited the sommeliers from the USA properties to come out to California and blend the wine with me. We spent about three days together in Wine Country and after visiting Hanzell we went to dinner at Meritage where Ngima took amazing care of us,” recalled Kosta. “He was humble and gracious and is exactly what Mandarin hotels stand for in our service across the world. He was pretty inspiring, especially with all his stories about taking wine up to Mt. Everest–he’s just a cool cat!”
Now, I’ve heard of people bringing oxygen bottles up Everest–but wine? Can you get more Sonoman than that? “We wanted to create a pinot noir that showed great balance and complexity but certainly represented the rugged terroir of the Sonoma Coast,” said Kosta.
Balance, complexity and ruggedness are likewise apt descriptors of the man whose name is on the vintage. Congratulations, Ngima Sherpa. Now, if only you could help me come down without a hangover.
Daedalus Howell hovers around sea level at SonomaReporter.com.
From the Fall 2011 issue of SONOMA