Septembe 12, 2007,
Excerpt From Michael Lonsford’s column in the Houston Chronicle.
"You've got mail — and it's merlot"
Ever heard of a portable vineyard?
But there is one, of sorts, in California's Napa Valley.
It's high up on Spring Mountain, on the west side of the valley, and it belongs to the Keenan Winery.
I was at the restaurant T'afia recently, talking with Michael Keenan. He's a good guy, friendly, interesting, has some fine wines, too.
In fact, Keenan Winery has been in business on Spring Mountain since the late '70s, after Michael's dad, Robert Keenan, bought 180 acres of a former vineyard. He planted chardonnay and cabernet sauvignon, and later merlot — still the mainstays today.
Three deserve special mention. The Cabernet Franc is one of the best in California. 'Nuff said.
And while Keenan makes a full-bore Chardonnay, he also makes a "Summer Blend," an unusual mélange of marsanne and viognier; the platform is chardonnay, which sees no oak. It's a light- to medium-weight white that's very refreshing. No puréed tropical fruit salad here.
"It's designed to be drunk young and cold," Keenan said. "We release it on the summer solstice."
We had tasted through about half of his wines when we got to the Reserve Merlot. Stop the presses, I wrote in my notebook, this wine is a killer.
"Well, thank you. It comes from our Mailbox Vineyard."
Strange name for a vineyard."
"We used to have a block of merlot near the mailboxes on Spring Mountain Road, and we got some great fruit off it. Our first Mailbox-designated vintage was 1997 (a great year)."
"But then we had to rip out the merlot and replant (due to the plant louse, phylloxera).
"So we decided to rename our Lower Bowl Vineyard ... Mailbox, because it was our very best merlot plot. We even put a fake mailbox in the vineyard. But we put it in a plastic bucket so that we could move (it) if we had to."
"I guess I was the first winery to have a portable vineyard."
Here's hoping he doesn't have to move that mailbox any time soon. That piece of ground sure gives up some bodacious merlot.
IN THE WINE CART
• 2006 Keenan "Summer Blend" * * * * 1/2 good fruit, fairly crisp, with a touch of minerality; serve well-chilled; $25.
• 2005 Keenan Chardonnay * * * * bigger, riper, fuller than the "Summer Blend," with a hint of butterscotch; $31.
• 2003 Keenan Merlot * * * * good red fruit with a touch of earthiness; although the vintage has been panned, Keenan said wines made from hillside grapes were better in '03 than those made from valley-floor grapes, where it was hotter; $37.
• 2004 Keenan Reserve Merlot "Mailbox Vineyard" * * * * 1/2 (1/2 ) like the best of Bordeaux mixed with the best of California; a mélange of red and black fruit, minerals, cedar, cocoa, a hint of bacon; very complex wine; $67.
• 2003 Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon * * * 1/2 round, supple, with dark cherry-plum nuances; not as complex as the merlot; $48.
• 2004 Keenan Cabernet Franc * * * * 1/2 chocolate, pencil lead, a hint of cedar, some cassis and blueberry notes; terrific and basically sold out; $58.