2017 'Napa Valley' Cabernet Sauvignon
Just as we have come to observe variations in wine style and character among the different villages producing Cabernet Sauvignon in Bordeaux, a study of the Napa Valley will also show a broad range of specific traits we find in wines from the same variety. The earthy richness of Rutherford Cabernet, for example, is a dramatic contrast to the bright minerality of the fruit grown in the hills east of St. Helena. The soft texture and floral aromas of Oakville differ from the attractive suppleness of Howell Mountain. Just as the charm we find in wines made from different terroirs in the Médoc, we now see and appreciate the differences from grapes grown throughout our complex valley.
My years at Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Mayacamas taught me to look for these distinctions, and I developed an appreciation for them. At Mayacamas the Cabernet was a blend of powerful fruit from the hills west of Napa, softened by the addition of more elegant wine from grapes grown on Spring Mountain. At Phelps we blended hillside St. Helena grapes with strong, flavor-packed wine from Calistoga, made more elegant with the addition of fruit from Oakville.
Our property in Conn Valley, Neyers Ranch, gives us a range of flavors and textures because of the soil and exposure variations within this 50 acre parcel. It rises from 400 feet elevation to almost 1000 feet elevation, and the soil changes from gravel to sandy-loam to rocky basalt.
As fond as we are of this style, our winemaker, Tadeo Borchardt and I were also drawn to Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown further to the south, especially in the cool temperature vineyards of southeastern Napa Valley. In 2017, we purchased Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Ron Smith’s 25 year-old vines in Oak Knoll, a mile or so south of the Stag’s Leap AVA. These are vines grown in conditions even cooler than in Stag’s Leap, thus exaggerating the length of the growing season and extending the fruit hang time. We added to this wine about 5% Merlot grown on the Johnson Vineyard, an equally cool-weather parcel in nearby Coombsville. Adding an extra week or two to the normal ripening pattern gives us fruit of ideal physiological ripeness, grapes that make a wine both balanced and complex, a wine with an especially bright future. We fermented the wine using native, wild yeast, and extended the maceration to 45 days, which contributed further to the wine’s natural softness. After we drained and pressed the must, the wine was aged 20 months in 30% new 60-gallon French oak, barrels, then bottled without fining or filtration. Our objective here was a finished wine that combines both charm and grace, with a long, satisfying finish. I’m especially fond of the wild cherry and dark chocolate flavors that are highlighted by the subtle aroma of cedar and mineral.
- Bruce Neyers