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A Conversation with Karen MacNeil, A.C.W.P.

Lamb and wine

If learning about premium winemaking in extraordinary facilities sounds like the career- and life-enriching experience you’ve been looking for, consider the Napa Valley Intensive. Karen MacNeil, the creator and instructor of this course for industry professionals, is chair of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA at Greystone and author ofThe Wine Bible. Here, Ms. MacNeil shares her thoughts about the Napa Valley Intensive and the Napa wine region. 

Why is the Napa Valley such a unique, premium wine-growing region? 
In Napa Valley, we have six of the world’s 12 soil orders, a very rare confluence of soil conditions for such a small area. This makes for a stunningly diverse and exciting range of possibilities for varietals and winemaking styles. Also, the Napa Valley has numerous microclimates that offer optimal growing conditions for particular grapes. 

For a century and a half, the Napa Valley has epitomized American viticulture and winemaking, and it’s magical to be able to take students behind the scenes and let them experience Napa Valley and its wines in a way that few people ever do. 

How are the wines of Napa Valley as a whole covered in the two-day Napa Valley Intensive? The Napa Valley is small enough that even with such a diverse spectrum of wines and winemaking styles, it’s possible to wrap your head around its 14 appellations in both an intellectual and visceral way in these two highly focused days. In addition to laying a foundation in the classroom through systematic tastings and discussion, we also explore the Napa Valley through field trips to some of its highest mountain locations on down to the valley floor. Issues we explore along the way include how a given site influences the flavor and style of a wine, why two wines from nearby vineyards can nonetheless taste radically different, and the factors that need to be in place for a wine to achieve greatness. 

Can you tell us a little about the wines that are tasted during the Napa Valley Intensive? Our tastings are extensive, exciting, and irresistible, and I know of no other class in the country where you could taste as many sought-after wines in such a short period of time. 

Among the dozens of wines tasted in the Napa Valley Intensive are quite a few made from small producers that are often snapped up by collectors and which many people never get a chance to taste. Although they change from class to class, past Napa Valley Intensive wines have come from producers such as Araujo, Shafer, Groth, Cain, Blackbird, Duckhorn, Hyde de Villaine, Lokoya, and Corison. 

How do you think that taking the Napa Valley Intensive will cultivate lifelong learning not only of Napa Valley wines, but of wines in general? There are no wine classes in the United States that conduct the sort of “long format” teaching we do at the CIA. In order to really grasp the complexities of wine, you can’t take a one-hour class. Some of the things we teach in the two-day Intensive have taken professionals like me years to learn. Our state-of-the-art classrooms, access to legendary wines, and immersion approach mean that students come out of the two days of education having learned a lifetime’s worth of important concepts regarding great wine. 

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