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 Robert Parker Awards Three Perfect Insignia Scores in Historical Tasting Report

We are pleased to share Robert Parker's Insignia Historical Tasting (1974-2012) report for The Wine Advocate, which includes three perfect 100 point scores for the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages

"To say I was honored to be at the table with Joe and Bob (Parker) discussing a wine like the 1974 Insignia, would be an understatement. I will always cherish that afternoon," said Winemaker, Ashley Hepworth. "I am continually impressed by how beautiful the 1974 Insignia is as well as the 1978, 1985, 1991, 1993, 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2002. It's impossible to pick just one favorite."

"The 1974 Insignia was truly amazing. My favorites from the other decades would be the 1985, 1994 and 2002. The 2012 is going to be spectacular," commented Director of Winemaking, Damian Parker. "2012 Insignia is only getting better and better with each day of barrel aging."

"I was so very pleased my father was able to attend the tasting," stated Bill Phelps. "Joseph Phelps Vineyards is one of my father's great accomplishments. For me, the tasting continued my love affair with the 1991 Insignia. I thought the 1974 and 2002 vintages were also stunning. 2007 Insignia onward were just incredible, but they really are still so young and have yet to reveal their full greatness."


2013 Napa Valley Harvest

The 2013 Napa Valley harvest began with the picking of Sauvignon Blanc on August 14th, which was two weeks earlier than in 2012. Our first reds were picked on September 13th at the St. Helena Home Ranch, which was approximately sixteen days earlier than the last three vintages. The dry growing season and nearly perfect weather pushed the vines forward almost two weeks, starting with bloom occurring early and veraison following a similar pattern.  The warm weather over Labor Day weekend pushed sugar levels in many vineyards; we carefully irrigated and waited for the rest of the flavors in the grapes to catch up with the sugars before picking. Our final day of picking took place on October 16th, again at the St. Helena Home Ranch. 

"The moderate weather all summer developed great flavor, color and tannin across the board. We had plenty of fermentation space and the flow of grapes was very consistent. Early tastings indicate that 2013 will be another very high quality year," said Director of Winemaking, Damian Parker. 

"There is a great purity of fruit in the 2013 wines, good structure and overall an excellent winegrowers vintage. Wines are all in barrel aging at this point and evolving beautifully," stated Winemaker, Ashley Hepworth.

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In the late 1960’s, Joseph Phelps was running one of the largest construction companies in the U.S., Hensel Phelps Construction Company, when he won the bid to build Souverain Winery (now Rutherford Hill) located a few miles outside of St. Helena.

Enamored with the beautiful Napa Valley and contemplating a career change, in 1973 Joe bought the 600-acre Connolly cattle ranch in Spring Valley, and began planting vineyards and construction of a winery. The first harvest in 1973 yielded Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Johannisburg Riesling bottlings, all custom crushed at nearby wineries. The Joseph Phelps winery was completed in 1974 in time for harvest, crushing grapes for the first Insignia and the first Syrah bottlings. It was a period of unparalleled activity, creativity, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and risk-taking. It put Joe Phelps and his Joseph Phelps Vineyards on the map of top Napa Valley wine producers.

Four decades later, the flagship wine, Insignia, is recognized as one of the world’s great wines. Thirty-one of thirty-seven vintages have been rated 90 or more points by various wine publications, including three perfect 100 point scores for the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages from Robert Parker’s The Wine Advocate in Mr. Parker’s Historical Tasting of Insignia report, published in November 2013. The 2002 vintage of Insignia was also awarded “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator magazine in 2005.


Over the years, the goal of becoming 100% estate grown resulted in carefully planned acquisitions of prime vineyards in the Napa Valley. Today, the Phelps estate consists of the Spring Valley Home Ranch outside of St. Helena, Banca Dorada in Rutherford, Backus Vineyard in Oakville, Las Rocas and Barboza vineyards in Stags Leap, Yountville Vineyard in Oak Knoll, Suscol Vineyard in South Napa and beginning with the 2011 growing season, Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in Carneros.

Estate-grown wines include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Insignia, Cabernet Sauvignon Backus Vineyard (the single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from Oakville) and Eisrébe, a dessert wine made from the Scheurebe grape. Additionally, estate-grown Syrah was produced from the Larry Hyde & Sons Vineyard in 2012.


Joe Phelps has had a life-long love affair with the wines of Burgundy and a desire to craft wines in that style. Originally Pinot Noir and Chardonnay were sourced from St. Helena, later from Yountville and then from Carneros. Through the years, however, Joe continued to search for the ideal spot to grow both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. His search ended when the perfect combination of climate, soil and location was found in Freestone, located in the Sonoma Coast AVA, a mere six miles from the Pacific Ocean. In 1999, Phelps began developing 100 acres of vineyards just outside of Freestone. In 2005, construction began on a new winery which was completed in time for the 2007 harvest. Today, 80 acres of Pinot Noir and 20 acres of Chardonnay produce remarkable estate-grown wines bearing the Joseph Phelps name.



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At Joseph Phelps Vineyards, our philosophy is to maintain, preserve and (where possible and appropriate) ecologically enhance the natural vineyard environment.

While this goal is essential for present vineyard practices, it will have an even more profound effect on the development of maturing vineyards in the future. In order to achieve the greatest possible ecological health in and around our vineyards, we continue to build upon the sustainable vineyard practices we have been using since the early 1980s, and gradually but steadily we are embracing a style of farming known as “biodynamic agriculture” or simply, “biodynamics.”


The Biodynamic agriculture we practice at Phelps rests upon an ecological foundation of seven key elements:

  1. Appropriate Production is the very basic building block of all good farming. It involves a very careful selection of what to grow and where.
  2. Biodiversity is nature’s fundamental premise. It aims at helping as many plant and critter species as possible grow, coexist, and mutually support each other.
  3. Soil Fertility includes a focus on proper levels of organic matter, good humus content and healthy microbial activity in the soil (bacteria, fungi, yeasts, protozoa, etc.). At JPV, we have produced our own biodynamic compost since 1999 to foster our soil humus.
  4. Natural Crop Nutrition. This means that we are increasingly feeding compost to our vines and cover crops, herbs, flowers and orchards. Done correctly, compost produces nutrient-rich, microbial-rich, moist, spongy, sweet-smelling and long-lasting humus.
  5. Whole Farm Self-Sustainability. Creating heal thy soils and producing a bio-diverse set of crops is the ideal of any self-sustaining farm.
  6. Integration of Domestic Animals. Currently, we do not have any large domestic animals but we are contemplating having some in the future. We bring manure from a local dairy farm to make our compost and use as much of our own plant rests as possible, such as pomace from our winery.
  7. Biologically Integrated Pest, Disease and Weed Prevention and Management. Healthy plants grown on healthy soil are better fit to naturally resist pest and disease attacks. Thus, this system produces the optimal foundation for pest and disease prevention.
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Inside information

The quality of the wine Insignia represents the classic big Napa wine, with an abundance of jammed black fruits, profound toastiness with vanilla, and a mouth-filling, opulent texture with tender tannins. The terroir The secret of complexity in the Insignia relies on the blend of Cabernets from various sites. The high awareness of the soil compositions and their interaction with vines and rootstocks are well understood and followed by biodynamic practices. The grapes used for Insignia originate from four different vineyards with deep soils and various compositions – silty clay, gravel, volcanic rock, and pebbles. It is the combination of all these that gives Insignia its complex flavour. Philosophy in winemaking In the beginning Insignia was made from the best grapes available during any given year, but the concept changed slightly in 1977. “We wanted to make the best blend of Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc – from our vineyards and that continued until 1989. At that time our focus changed from sourcing grower fruit to using our own estate vineyards.” Kathie Fowler, Director of Communications points out. The 2004 was the first 100% “Estate” Insignia. The most significant change in production and style came about because of phylloxera. “When we replanted to better rootstocks and clones, and employed better vineyard architecture (soil preparation, drainage, spacing, trellising) and better farming techniques, the quality and the expression of the wines improved.”

Forty years after the inaugural vintage, Insignia is recognized as one of the world’s great wines. The 2002 vintage was awarded “Wine of the Year” by Wine Spectator magazine in 2005 and in November 2013, Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate awarded three perfect 100 point scores to the 1991, 1997 and 2002 vintages of Insignia in his Historical Tasting of Joseph Phelps Vineyards Insignia (1974-2012) report.

Owner: Phelps Family Founded: 1972 First vintage: 1974 Location: St Helena Vineyard size: 72 acres Average age of vines: 10.5 years Production: 14,000 cases Vineyard manager:Philippe Pesserau Winemaker: Ashley Hepworth

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8 different wines with 42 vintages


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Wine Moments

Here you can see wine moments from tastingbook users.    or    to see wine moments from your world.

 Christer Byklum / Leading Scandinavian wine blogger, Wine Writer (Norway)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  43 wines 

2013 Domaine Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet / Pale lemon yellow. Lemons, vanilla, minerals, spices, some floral notes, brighter expression for Bâtard, lighter. Fresh acidity, fresh and fruity, apples and citrus with more subdued minerals beneath, detailed and long. 95p

16d 8h ago

 Jan-Erik Paulson, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  20 wines 

This was a fabulous lunch. Six vintages each of Dom Perignon, Roederer Cristal and Veuve Clicquots Grande Dame followed by 12 Bordeaux from 1986. I preferred Dom P in most vintages. The premier crus are good in 1986 but many others are getting too tannic as the fruit dries up.

1m 19h ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  27 wines 

A Taste of Greatness -tasting with perfect wines like Martha's Vineyards 1974, Harlan 1994, Sassicaia 1985, Pingus 1995, Yquem 1899 etc.

6m 2d ago

 Mario Sculatti / Sleeping Lady Vineyard, Wine Maker (United States)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  14 wines 

Napa Valley 2011 Vintage tasting with some superb Gargiulos.

7m 28d ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  24 wines 

Amazing Magnum-tasting with quite a few 100 points wines like Latour 1982, Mouton 1982, Haut Brion 1989, Martha's Vineyard's 1975...

8m 13d ago

 Hans Mayer, Wine Dealer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  14 wines 

Winemakers from around the valley agree the Napa 2013 vintage holds exceptional promise and potential and exceeded expectations following on the heels of 2012 – another year that has been described as “nearly perfect.”

9m 7d ago

 Doug Hill / Wine Importer, Pro (Canada)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  22 wines 

Tasting Napa vintages 2010 and 2011 - both great to drink already.

9m 10d ago

 Georg Linde, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  25 wines 

“Hermitage La Chapelle 1978 / "Youthful colour. Deep bouquet of cedar, cassis, hrbs. On the palate a nice melange of eukalyptus, candied fruits, silky tannins. This bottle was extremely young and almost forbidding until it opened up."”

1y 4m ago

 Achim Becker / Wineterminator.com, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  2 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  13 wines 

“A Grand-tasting in Munich with vintages 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2005.
Sassicaia 1985 100 points and Grange 1975 97 poins + so many more....”

1y 7m ago

 Jan-Erik Paulson, Wine Writer (Germany)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  7 wines 

“Joseph Phelps Eisele Vineyard 1975 / Good looking normal size bottle in a good condition and has bottom neck level. Colour is ruby red, and looking evolved and deep. On the nose it is intense, refined, ripe and generous. The taste is focused, with silky tannins, full-bodied, with balanced, well-structured and concentrated structure. On the palate it is layered and has tropical fruits, truffles, vanilla, leather, honey, blackcurrant, meaty, mineral, spice and toasty flavours. The finish is long, extensive, lingering and pure. This wine is sophisticated, transparent and sexy. Perfectly stored bottles are still very worthy and will last well for another 10-15 years and decant at least 1h before tasting.95 points”

1y 9m ago

 Pekka Nuikki / Founder of the Fine Wine Magazines, Pro (Finland)  tasted  1 wines  from  Joseph Phelps . In a tasting of  9 wines 

“Munich Tasting Part I / 1975 vintage / Best ones were Penfolds Grange 1975 and this 1975 was Joseph Phelps Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 97 points / Good looking normal size bottle is in a excellent condition and has bottom neck level. Colour is brick red, and looking bright and deep. On the nose it is intense, wide, fresh, seductive and tempting. The taste is fresh, full, vigor, elegant, refined, with silky tannins, full-bodied, with perfectly balanced, well-integrated and concentrated structure. On the palate it is layered and has perfumed, leather, blackberry, meaty, mineral, mint, spice, tobacco, vanilla and chocolate flavours. The finish is long, extensive, flavorful, pure and vibrant. This wine is transparent, outstanding and masterpiece. Perfectly stored bottles are still very worthy and will last well for another 10-15 years and decant at least 1h before tasting.”

1y 9m ago

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