Tags Posts tagged with "cabernet sauvignon"

cabernet sauvignon

Acumen – the importance of the human factor

looking across Acumen’s Edcora Vineyard – photo used with permission from Acumen

The exceptionally heavy and much-appreciated rains seen in California this winter have people through the region feeling as though California’s recent drought is at least temporarily over. While vineyards throughout the lower-lying areas of California’s North Coast were under water in places, vines were dormant and there should be no negative effect during the growing season. On the positive side, water stores are refilled, and the aquifer is presumably at least partially replenished. Most of all, vines have access to natural groundwater in the soils again, which is a benefit as it serves overall vine health more readily than irrigation usually does. How the 2017 vintage goes will depend on the weather during the upcoming bloom and fruit set period, and then of course during ripening.

Because of the rains I had to postpone my scheduled visit to Acumen estate in the Atlas Peak AVA of the Vaca Range on the eastern side of Napa Valley. Though its high-elevation vineyards and well-draining volcanic soils meant flooding was of no concern on site, for some time roads throughout the region were underwater, and landslides were an issue in places as well. Travel through the valley was so difficult that I put off my meeting on the estate with Acumen president Steve Rea (pictured below) until a dry day in March by which time the roads had cleared and the vineyards were dry enough to walk.

Acumen may be a new project for the region – with its 2013 vintage their first and current release – but the wines are built from a much older site, the Attelas Vineyard, planted in 1992 by Dr Jan Krupp. Krupp is known throughout Napa Valley for having had a considerable influence on the Pritchard Hill and Atlas Peak subzones. Although Antica was the first to plant in Atlas Peak, Krupp established one of the region’s most famous sites, the Stagecoach Vineyard, sold just last month to Gallo. Krupp began planting Stagecoach in 1995 having already planted Attelas.

Part of what makes Atlas Peak unique as an appellation, besides its high elevation (reaching 2,663 feet at its highest), is its sizeable amount of…

To keep reading this article, including tasting notes on all of their 2014 wines, continue to JancisRobinson.com

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/acumen-the-importance-of-the-human-factor

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

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Larkmead Block Designate Cabernet Sauvignon

Larkmead winemaker Dan Petroski

In 2013, winemaker Dan Petroski helped shift the winemaking program at Larkmead Vineyards to include what are essentially block designate Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Continuing to make the recognizable white label wines, the new program has added an additional black label tier with three Cabernet Sauvignons differentiated by block. Importantly, what differentiates the three blocks is the soil.

Until 2013, Larkmead Vineyard was dealing with relatively young vines thanks to a massive replant in the second half of the 1990s. The replant was a move common throughout Napa Valley as many sites faced uneven vineyard architecture thanks to the relatively young region sorting out its own best techniques and practices. Much of the Valley had also been hit by phylloxera thanks to the notoriously vulnerable AXR1 rootstock.

When Dan began his winemaking career at Larkmead in 2006, then, he was working with vines generally under 10 years of age. For the variety, younger vines tend to produce more tenacious, angular wines. For overall balance of structure to flavor, mouthfeel and pleasure, then, it can be necessary to allow young-vine fruit to hang longer on the vine to soften up the structure and create a more approachable wine. Bigger wines, then, are often arrive the result, especially in warmer subzones like north Napa Valley.

By 2013, however, vine age at Larkmead had surpassed the ten-year mark and the winery was ready to start getting to know the unique expression of their heritage site. With this in mind, Dan also instigated a winery expansion increasing the number of tanks in the cellar to allow for block specific fermentations. Prior to the winery expansion blocks were blended in the cellar and bottled as a general Larkmead Cabernet. By expanding the winery tank count it became possible to translate the honed block-by-block farming in the vineyard into tank-by-tank fermentation in the cellar. The change allowed greater synchronicity between vineyard focus and winemaking execution. In late 2016, the effort uncurled into the release of Larkmead Black Label Cabernet Sauvignons.

While the 2013 vintage of Larkmead’s black label Cabernets capture the soil specific blocks from the North Napa site, it also marks a larger shift in expression for the house. 2013 across the region carries the hallmarks of both a warmer, early harvest and the drought effect. Wines simultaneously express fruit and structure – a combination missing from the comparatively lighter tannin, more up front fruit and hollow-bodied 2012 vintage seen throughout California’s North Coast. At Larkmead, the 2013 wines carry the purity of the new block-designate practice while also delivering the thrust of the vintage. It means intriguing and attractive wines distinctive from each other with character that feels expressive of site. By 2014, the block-designate wines are very slightly lighter bodied and fresher. Barrel and then tank tasting with Dan through the 2016 wines, the trend continues lighter until by 2016 the Cabernets feel as though they show a purity and lightness for the variety delicious, while unexpected from Calistoga.

The lightness being unexpected, however, comes, perhaps, less from the innate long-term characteristics (or terroir, if we must) of North Napa Valley than the lumbering weight of young vines that have dominated many sites of the subzone. Additionally, until recently, it has been far too easy for Cabernet of Napa Valley to come in big, even sweet, and dominated by oak as the market allowed, or even encouraged, such a stylistic approach – not that Larkmead was expressing that stereotype.

With the increasing complexity in stylistic interest happening in the global wine industry – there is not just a greater interest in lighter bodied wines that many people talk about but instead an increasing plethora of stylistic interests – it has become more and more necessary for wineries to get clear on what stylistic interests are driving their winegrowing and winemaking choices. To stand out in the wine industry today, stylistic choices must be intentional. It is harder to just meet market demand when market demand has bifurcated into multiple styles. All of this is to say, the shift in style that Dan is executing at Larkmead speaks to a bold, while necessary choice, as well as one that is well executed. He and the Larkmead team have chosen to take this particular moment when their vineyards have finally come on line with necessary age to capture a level of freshness both admirable and timely in Napa Valley.

The new Black Label series from Larkmead includes three block designate wines – The Lark, Dr Olmo and Solari. The Lark takes a four year release cycle, placing 2012 as its current release vintage, while both Dr Olmo and Solari are currently 2013. Soil differences in the three blocks stand as important because of the textural and palate weight differences they bring to the wines.

The Lark grows from white rock, bale loam soils that offer a seductive textural palate resembling the fine-grained tannin of benchland soils that stretch from Oakville through St Helena. It is comparatively a more luxurious wine with the elevated presence of the best sites of Napa Valley. It also does justice to the vintage capturing the purity possible from a year with a more upfront profile while harnessing a greater seriousness through its aging regime.

Dr Olmo grows from gravel dominated soils with the high tone and fresher aromatics and style common to that soil type while also delivering comparatively more rustic tannin – I love the freshness combined with distinctive elevated black floral character of this wine. It feels like hallmark Calistoga with its overt black notes – black herbs and black rocks lifted by anise. The block behind Solari carries a mix of gravel and loam. It’s a combination that brings a natural density and power to the wine still lifted by aromatic, built to age and yet able to deliver in its youth.

Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

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Hawke’s Bay

on the way to visit Bilancia VIneyard in Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay hosted the Classic Reds Symposium last month, as well as a day in the area’s subzones of Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, immediately following the Pinot Noir NZ event. The organization of the Classic Reds Symposium impressed me.

Producers in the region were quite willing to offer an honest presentation of their wines and discuss appropriate critique of their quality as well. Additionally, it was bold for the Symposium to immediately follow the Pinot Noir NZ event, even if that makes sense in terms of tasting order by palate weight. It’s a rather easy move, generally speaking, for a wine critic to like Pinot Noir these days – the variety’s lighter general weight and style is on trend compared to naturally fuller framed or more structured wines that so readily receive criticism these days. So, to follow an event of a popular wine type with a less celebrated weight category is a bit of a brave move. I felt the tasting of both Cabernet Sauvignon blends and Syrah wines from New Zealand, as shown at the Classic Reds Symposium, was among one of the more insightful tastings in which I’ve been able to participate. It is a rare thing to find a region so willing to be open to that level of discussion and it speaks well to their long term commitment to quality. By the end of the Symposium I felt genuinely excited for the quality of wines coming out of Hawke’s Bay and especially for where it feels the region is headed. Vineyards there have reached stable vine age and the winemakers are genuinely committed to incremental improvement. There are good wines from the region today and we are going to keep seeing better wines in the years to come as well.

The day following, where we tasted from Bridge Pa and Gimblett Gravels, was also fascinating and well done. The regional vintners’ groups came up with truly creative ways to show us the character and growing conditions of their regions. Their techniques are shown in the following photos, as shared at the time via Instagram.

❤️#Repost @somm_arthurhon ・・・ Afternoon #selfie #winenz #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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About to take off with Jen. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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One of the original 1982 Syrah vines rescued and planted own rooted by Allen Limmer here in Stonecroft Vineyard, now known as the MS clone or Mass Selection. The MS is believed to be the selection originally brought to New Zealand by James Busby, more famously known as the father of viticulture in Australia. The variety seems to have been throughout vine regions of New Zealand beginning with Busby’s arrival in the 1840s. Thanks to Prohibition it was greatly diminished and almost completely lost until in 1982 Limmer rescued the last canes of it in the country and brought it to what is now known as the Gimblett Gravels subregion of Hawke’s Bay. These vines as the mother block for the country. As other clones have been brought to the country vintners have experimented with the new selections but many say they return again to the MS. #nzwine #hawkesbaywine @nzwinegrowers @nzwineusa

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Copyright 2017 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Post Edit: This article will be available Tuesday, January 24, 2017, rather than Monday, January 23. Sorry for the confusion!

This autumn I was able to spend time with Antoine Donnedieu de Vabres, general manager of the Eisele Vineyard, previously known as the Araujo Estate, in Napa Valley. Together we walked the site, and discussed what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking ownership of the property from the Araujo family in 2013. We were also able to taste the current-release 2013 vintage Cabernets, the first made by the new team, alongside previous vintages of Araujo, and take a look at their new Sauvignon Blanc programme.

In the summer of 2013 the Araujo family sold their famed Calistoga estate to French business mogul François Pinault, who also, through his holding company Artemis Domaines, owns Château Latour, a property on Bordeaux’s left bank, Domaine d’Eugénie in Vosne-Romanée and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The 160-acre (65-ha) property included 36 acres of vines, historically known as the Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu was made general manager with Hélène Mingot as winemaker. Steve Matthiasson, who began working with the vineyard under the Araujo family, stayed on as viticulturist. At the same time, previous vineyard foreman Victor Hernandez, who has been with the estate for years, was promoted to vineyard manager, working with Mingot and Matthiasson. Most of the vineyard crew, who have each been with the property for over a decade, also remained the same.

In 2016, Artemis Domaines decided to change the name back to its original, Eisele Vineyard, named for the family that established Cabernet Sauvignon on the property at the end of the 1960s. As a result, all wines from the estate bottled from 2016 onwards will be called Eisele Vineyard. Donnedieu’s explanation is that the vineyard name emphasises the site as the focus and source of quality for the wines, rather than any particular owner. It is also a way of celebrating the history of the site, which in turn emphasises their long-term vision for the property.

The rest of the article gets into the details of what changes the Artemis Domaines team has made since taking over the Eisele Vineyard, what their primary goals are for the wines, what made they decide to buy the estate, and how the wines from the new team compare to the previous Araujo wines. 

To keep reading, head on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/eisele-vineyard-pinaults-california-outpost

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

Wine & Spirits Dec 2016The Northern Paradox: Refined Cabernet from Napa Valley’s Warmest Climates
by Elaine Chukan Brown

Calistoga Canyons

One of the earliest signs of up-valley Napa’s potential to grow great cabernet was Eisele Vineyard, a site planted back in a rugged Calistoga canyon created by a seasonal creek. The site has been continuously under vine since the 1880s, when it was primarily growing zinfandel and riesling. Cabernet arrived in 1964, when Napa was beginning to turn its attention to Bordeaux varieties.

The soils of the canyon’s alluvial fan (rare in mostly volcanic Calistoga) grew ample, silky cabernet that caught the eye of vintners like Paul Draper at Ridge, who bottled a single-vineyard wine from Eisele in 1971. The cabernet has been bottled as a vineyard designate ever since: Joseph Phelps claimed it from 1972 until 1990, when the Araujo family began bottling their own wines from the site. Such an ongoing library of site-specific cabernet is unusual anywhere in Napa Valley. Most of the current vines were planted in the 1990s and have reached a healthy maturity.

To keep reading check out the just released December 2016 issue of Wine & Spirits MagazineThe rest of the article digs in further to the growing conditions at Eisele Vineyard. The article then turns to Larkmead‘s new block-designate bottlings, also from Calistoga, and then moves south to St Helena to speak with Cathy Corison of her eponymous winery and Aron Weinkauf, winemaker at Spottswoode

Considering how very much there is to say about the two regions in North Napa, the look at the four producers is only a very quick dive into the good work people are doing in the area but it looks at some of the factors that have helped make that work possible. 

The current issue of the magazine also celebrates organic farming in Champagne, quality wines from Verduno, and the return of classical Kabinett, along with a look at this year’s top rated wines in each of those categories as well as Rioja, Port and Alsace. 

The editors even managed to sneak in a contributor photo of me with blond hair – I couldn’t believe it. They snapped the photo without my knowing at their recent Top-100 event. 

Cheers!

View from Howell Mountain

Elaine’s review last week of Cabernets with the general Napa Valley appellation stirred up some strong reactions, including on our members’ forum. She addresses some of the issues raised by the first of her two articles on Napa Cabernets in this introduction to the second one, a report on a total of 90 Cabernets with one of the many Napa Valley sub-appellations described below. A report on Napa Merlots will follow. Elaine’s picture was taken on Howell Mountain.

The over-arching region and AVA of Napa Valley includes 16 sub-appellations ranging in their combination of growing conditions – elevation, soil types, drainage, mesoclimate – to create unique subzones that offer their own stylistic range and expression.

Producers within Napa Valley can chose to label their wines with the Napa Valley appellation as long as 85% or more of the fruit going into their wine is from the region. Labelling requirements for the sub-AVAs of Napa Valley are similar. For a wine to be labelled with one of the 16 sub-appellations the wine must be made predominantly from fruit grown in that subzone. Additionally, any of the sub-AVAs fully within Napa County must include reference to Napa on the label. For example, a wine from the Rutherford AVA has to be labelled with both Rutherford and Napa Valley. The two exceptions are Carneros, which stretches across both Napa and Sonoma Counties, and Wild Horse Valley, which includes land in Solano as well as Napa County. (See the online World Atlas of Wine map of Napa Valleyfor many of the sub-AVAs.)

Many of the most delicious wines of the region come from producers focused intently on specific subzones who label their wine with their relevant sub-appellation. In many cases, the growing conditions of a specific sub-AVA are expressed in the bottle.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-subappellations-heartening

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

From the Mayacamas looking into Napa Valley

In the first of two major reports on current releases of Napa Valley appellation Cabernets, her first for JancisRobinson.com, Elaine Chukan Brown reviews 57 wines, but finds frustratingly few to get excited about. A report on Cabernets labelled with one of Napa Valley’s 16 sub-appellations will follow. Elaine’s picture looking east over fog in the Napa Valley was taken from 1,800 feet up in the Mayacamas Mountains.

With its dry Mediterranean climate, Napa Valley offers ideal growing conditions for vines and, with good farming, the potential for abundant flavour with resolved tannins and plenty of natural acidity. Even so, economic pressures from land prices and labour shortages currently dominate the region, making Napa Valley Cabernet one of the most expensive wines in the world to farm. So, while vintners in the region benefit from propitious weather and overall growing conditions, they need to produce wines at high prices in order to afford production costs.

The result, unfortunately, means the average price for a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet is substantial. Retail prices per bottle are generally well over $100, easily reaching upwards of $200 and more. Exceptions occasionally appear from producers who have owned their property for decades. Among Cabernets carrying the all-encompassing Napa Valley appellation, Stony Hill Cabernet at $60 is one of the most affordable quality examples, with lovely purity throughout. The Galerie Plein Air at $50 was another nice surprise offering the firm structure and ageing potential of the 2013 vintage with varietal character married to judicious oak presence. (Other examples can also be found in wines labelled with one of the 16 Napa Valley sub-appellations to be described in my next instalment).

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues. You’ll need a subscription to read it.

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/napa-valley-cabernets-depressing

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

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Spending the Day at Frog’s Leap with John Williams

John Williams was kind enough to meet photographer Stephen Smith and myself to spend the day sharing and showing us the Frog’s Leap story.

The three of us met first thing in the morning to walk the vineyard and winery in the heart of the Rutherford Bench, then drove north through Napa Valley to see Frog’s Leaps other estate vineyards. Frog’s Leap is known for its Bordeaux varietal wines – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc – and Chardonnay and also makes a succulent, fresh Zinfandel inspired by California’s old field blend style. At the vineyard near his home, Frog’s Leap recently planted an experimental block testing to see what new varieties respond well to the specific conditions of Rutherford. In a different block of the same site they also farms a collection of mixed-black old vines that go into the Frog’s Leap Heritage blend.

Frog’s Leap doesn’t just grow vineyards though. John has brought his focus to sustainability in farming practices such as dry farming while also focusing on sustainability of overall estate management. To preserve the economic health of the Frog’s Leap team, the winery established year round food gardens that are used on-site for winery meals and by winery employees. The gardens are also maintained by the winery and vineyard staff so that in the months when vines need less tending the garden keeps them busy and employed.

John’s inspiration for California’s old style can also be found in his restoration of the historic winery building from the 1880s that serves as part of the structure for his own contemporary winery, as well as his love for old trucks and cars.

We drove up the valley together in his 1969 Chevy. It was the fulfillment of a dream I’d had to cruise Napa Valley backroads in John’s iconic pick-up truck. That truck is an important part of Napa Valley history, full of Frog’s Leap stories. Incredibly, the three of us had so much fun that the day culminated finally in this…


Over the course of the day, while I interviewed John, Stephen documented our time together in photographs. He’s been generous enough to let me share his photos from the day here. I love the way they tell the story on their own.

Visiting Frog’s Leap in Photographs by Stephen Smith

Frog's Leap Winery

Frog's Leap Winery

Flowers at Frog's Leap

Starting the Garden at Frog's Leap

The Orchard

The Vineyard

The Vineyard

Bottling Frog's Leap

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

The Historic Winery

Inside the Winery

Entering the Winery

John Williams

Discussing Winemaking

Inside the Winery

Driving in the 1969 Chevy Pick-up Truck

The Old Vines

Inside the Old Winery

Dinner with John

Thank you to John for the great day and to Stephen for the fantastic photos.

Check out more of Smith’s photography at his own site: http://www.iamstephensmith.com/ and follow him on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/iamstephensmith/. I really enjoy following his photographic travelogs online.

Copyright 2016 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.

Mondavi Retrospective

The Robert Mondavi 1966 Cabernet Unfiltered

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Robert Mondavi Winery on the Oakville bench of Napa Valley. To celebrate, the winery put together a two-day event for 25 journalists from throughout North America, offering us the opportunity to taste 24 vintages of Mondavi’s flagship Cabernet Reserve, as well as spending time with many of the key winemakers and viticulturists of the winery’s history.

It is difficult to think of any other Napa Valley Cabernet of which such a historic vertical would be possible. Wineries with a longer history such as Beaulieu and Inglenook have nothing like the continuity evident at Mondavi. There have been subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle changes of direction in winemaking here but in essence the team and intentions have remained the same, and the ownership has changed only once when in 2004 the Robert Mondavi Winery was sold to the giant Constellation. Its founder died four years later at the age of 94 (see Jancis’s appreciation of Robert Mondavi).

When Mondavi started his eponymous winery in 1966 the goal was to show that California could make wines to compete with the very best in the world. A mere 10 years later two of Mondavi’s original winemakers – Warren Winiarski, who helped start the wine programme at Mondavi, and Mike Grgich, who soon took over – would go on to win the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris in red and white categories respectively that did so much to establish the region’s reputation for world-class wines.

To keep reading, heading on over to JancisRobinson.com where the article continues accompanied by tasting notes for 24 vintages of the Mondavi Cabernet Reserve rather evenly spread from 1966 to 2013. This article appear behind a paywall. 

Here’s the direct link: http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/mondavi-retrospective-a-napa-history-lesson

Subscription to JancisRobinson.com is £8.50 a month or £85 per year ($12.20/mo or $122 a year for you Americans) and includes searchable access to the new 4th edition of the Oxford Companion to Wine ($65) and the 7th edition to the World Atlas of Wine ($50) as part of the subscription costs, as well as interactive discussions on the Purple Pages. Click here to sign up.

 

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Winemaker Jeremy Weintraub

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the vineyards of Adelaida estate

Jeremy Weintraub in the midst of the Adelaida Cellars vineyards, July 2015

Last year I fell in love with the wines of Jeremy Weintraub. Though I’d enjoyed his wines from Seavey before, I’d done so unwittingly, drinking them simply for pleasure without knowledge of the winemaker. Then last summer I had the good fortune of touring Adelaida Cellars in the historic Adelaida District on the western side of Paso Robles, enjoying vintages early in its history, then forward again to the first of Weintraub’s. After the visit I continued tasting newer releases of Adelaida wines, and discovered too his own Site Wines label.

Last month Weintraub hosted me again for a unique opportunity to discuss his work across labels, tasting current releases of Site, Adelaida, and an older vintage of Seavey (2009) side by side. What proves central to Weintraub’s approach to winemaking is a quest for intimacy with the vineyard rooted in an eye towards refinement.

Weintraub began consulting with Adelaida’s Cabernet program in 2012 and became winemaker in 2013, moving from his winemaking position at Seavey in Napa Valley that he’d started in 2008. As he began at Adelaida he also started his own small production Site Wines label, focused on vineyards of Santa Barbara County. Weintraub’s experience is extensive. Prior to his work at Seavey he had already worked in both Paso and Santa Barbara County, interned in Tuscany, Central Otago, Martinborough, and Long Island, and earned an MS in Viticulture and Enology from UC Davis.

Seavey 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon

It is Weintraub’s previous position as winemaker that makes the sense of refinement central to his approach most obviously visible. Prior to Adelaida, Weintraub led the winemaking team at Seavey, one of the most under appreciated estates of Napa Valley. It’s one of those vineyards that reminds us of the very specific value of site, showcasing a quality that surpasses that of its neighbors.

The Seavey’s dry-farmed, hillside vineyards, in the heart of Napa’s Conn Valley, are well-placed to absorb ample sun, delivering dark flavor characteristics and abundant tannin. Yet it sits close enough to the cooling and mineral influences of Conn Creek and Lake Hennessey to also intimate notes of rose, violet, iron and spice, a complexity infused with dusty elegance. Picked to celebrate the wash of acidity possible with the site, vinified for judicious tannin management, and clothed by just a sheer chiffon of oak spice, Weintraub’s 2009 Seavey Cabernet reminds us what Napa Valley does at its best is seamlessness. It’s one of those rare wines that brings a pinching sting to remember, the thought that I might not drink it again.

But, while Weintraub’s time at Seavey clearly showcases the refinement of his approach, it is perhaps in his current work at Adelaida that his talent for it becomes most apparent. When a winemaker is lucky enough to work with a site like Seavey it can be easy to mistake the important synchronicity of winemaker to vineyard as either based all in site quality or all in winemaking. Through his work at Adelaida, a more complicated and varied site than his prior home in Napa, the skill of his craft becomes more apparent.

Established in 1981, Adelaida began farming and planting its own vines in the early 1990s, having sourced fruit prior to then. The site now includes a unique range of varieties from the high elevation Cabernet of their Viking Vineyard, to the steep, rolling knoll of Michael’s dry-farmed, head-trained Zinfandel; the limestone established Rhone varieties that sweep the property, and the swailed chute of historic Pinot Noir, Gamay, and Chardonnay in the 1960s-planted HMR Vineyard. All together Adelaida’s estate vineyards include 145 planted acres, one-third of which is dry-farmed while the rest is being weened over to dry farming, a shift made in response to the recent California drought and in conjunction with hiring Weintraub.

Adelaida HMR Pinot

Adelaida HMR Pinot from 2013, 2009, 2002, 1995; HMR was planted in 1964 in a distinctly cooler microclimate on the western side of the Adelaida estate

Tasting through vintage verticals of Adelaida wines, most particularly the famous HMR pinot, Weintraub’s shift in quality becomes apparent. Established in the mid-1960s, then purchased by Adelaida in 1991, the earliest vintages of Adelaida’s HMR Pinots have aged beautifully, picked for freshness and woven through with accents of American oak. By the early 2000s, the winemaking has shifted entirely to French oak but also to greater extraction and apparently less age-ability. Then in 2013, like an optometrist flipping the lens in an eye exam, the wine moves into clear focus and the vineyard character reads distinctly, a wine fine-boned and persistent with creamy cherry blossom, and spicy crunch, nice tension and length.

The HMR also offers another revelation.

Adelaida 2014 Gamay

Part of the uniqueness of the HMR Pinot rested in its inter-planting of 51-year old Gamay vines, by far the oldest Gamay in California and an unheard of gold mine hidden in the hills of western Paso Robles. Prior to Weintraub’s arrival, the Gamay had been vinified into the HMR Pinot. By 2014, Weintraub convinced the Adelaida team it was time to uncover their treasure and take the Gamay seriously as its own wine. Borrowing a guiding insight from Cru Beaujolais, they foot stomped their Gamay with 50% whole cluster inclusion. The result is an energetic, pleasantly structured, earthy wine with hints of spice, a wash of minerality, and just enough fruit, with the lifted aromatics of a pretty Brouilly.

Current Release Site Wines

Site Wines 2013 Roussanne, 2012 Grenache, 2012 Syrah, 2012 Red blend

Weintraub’s work in his own project, his small production Site wines, makes clear his ability to read a vineyard. The quality of winemaking for his own label thus confirms the promise of his on going work with the Adelaida estate. In sourcing fruit from a range of sites in a region in a committed fashion, a winemaker is given the best opportunity to get to know the distinct overall characteristics of that region, but also to express most clearly his or her own winemaking aims.  Here, Weintraub has chosen to focus on Santa Barbara County. The result is a collection of five distinct Rhone wines, two varietal whites and two varietal reds and a red blend.

My favorite of the Site wines proves to be one of the prettiest Roussannes in California in both the 2012, and especially the 2013 vintage, sourced from the Stolpman Vineyard of Ballard Canyon. He also produces a Viognier that, in both 2012 and 2013 by avoiding the exuberant aromatics commonly found in California Viognier, masquerades as delicate until its persistent, while still subtle, expression across the palate becomes apparent.  And finally also two concentrated while still mouthwatering Rhone reds, a Grenache from Larner Vineyard of Ballard Canyon, and a Syrah from Bien Nacido of Santa Maria Valley, plus a Rhone red blend from Larner, each with the promise to age.

The Site wines are delicious and freshly energetic but it is also in speaking with Weintraub about each of these vineyards that his perspective shines. The intimacy Weintraub shows with the sites is impressive and detailed, the insights of a winegrower with as much a love for biology as beauty. The same balance shows in his on going familiarity with Adelaida’s vast vineyard holdings.

Adelaida Current Release Wines

Adelaida Cellars new look: 2014 Picpoul, 2014 Gamay, 2013 Viking Bordeaux blend, 2013 Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet

Weintraub’s winemaking at Adelaida produces a broad range of delicious and drinkable wines, but it is also an enormous estate with a vast range of plantings. In practical terms, such a large site also takes time for any winemaker to know, whatever their depth of talent. It can also mean some of the vineyards’ wines seem to have greater synchronicity from vine to wine through winemaker than others.

While each of the wines of Adelaida today is far more than drinkable, I find that synchronicity most elegantly through Weintraub’s 2014 Adelaida Gamay and Picpoul. While the 2013 Picpoul was a lovely wine, the balance of mouthwatering acidity to pretty fleshiness in the 2014 is inspiring. As paradoxical as it can seem when considering Paso Robles heat, it is the Adelaida whites, especially the Rhone varieties, and lighter reds I find most thrilling. In these I eagerly await seeing how they develop with on going vintages.

Turning to the more robust wines, the recent release of the Viking Estate Signature Series Cabernet, the 2013, is not yet showing what it has to offer – currently feeling sweet and simple on the palate as it finds its way through its first years of baby fat while also promising to become more lithe and agile with age. The Viking Bordeaux blend from 2013, on the other hand, delivers an earthy grace that by the third day open is singing, an early indication of where it will get with age.

Speaking with Weintraub about his ongoing intimacy with the estate, I am excited to continue following the development of the Adelaida Rhone wine and Cabernet program. While the Adelaida Estate will never deliver a wine like Seavey that is also its gift. Paso Robles carries vastly different character than Napa Valley. In the respectful hands of a winemaker like Weintraub its a character he’ll continue to hone with refinement.

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