These winemaking stories from our fearless leader—Keenan Winery Owner and President, Michael Keenan—span an entire decade. Here, he encapsulates in his usual charismatic way the ins and outs of winemaking. We learn about more than one remodeling project on the property, wine shortages, the sugar and acid composition of juice, creation of a brand new wine, some of the best-ever wines produced on the estate and a big secret.
2016 Spring / Summer
Winemaking Stories From the President’s Desk…
In two weeks we will have our Open House and for the first time the wine that I will pour from barrel will be a finished wine, the 2014 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. In past years we have offered wines that we blended just for the Open House but this year I wanted to do a ‘True Premiere’ of a finished product because I think this wine is so outstanding that I want to give as much focus to this wine as possible to our best customers.
In the theme of ‘Never Seen That Before’ (like the cover shot of seeing the moon in the Northern sky!) during the early stages of fermentation of the estate 2014 Cabernet Sauvignons I saw layers of subtle descriptive flavors in the midst of the powerful overall mountain structure that I had quite simply never seen before. The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon harvest was from vineyards that were 16 and 17 years old. To see new subtle flavor layers at that mature age blew my mind. I was under the impression that after the age of 8 all the inherent traits of a vineyard had appeared. The Mailbox vineyard showed its distinctive and unique terroir stamp in its seventh leaf. The 337 Cabernet Sauvignon Clone showed a new sweet cherry streak and a finer tannin profile in its 8th leaf. All the other estate blocks showed all their cards by the 6th leaf if not sooner.
Seeing something new (and outstanding!) at the advanced age of 16 and 17 truly amazed me. I commented to the team as we tasted the fermenting 2014’s on the crush-pad that I truly felt like a pioneer. No one has ever farmed this land like we have, we are quite literally seeing things that no one else has ever seen and I think that is very exciting.
Those who attend this years’ Open House will get the first glimpse of this remarkable vintage and will hopefully say,” I’ve never tasted that before”.
Cheers to the future!
Winemaking From the President’s Desk… THE SECRET WHAT?
In August of 2006 I came up with a new wine (I literally dreamed it up) for the Premiere Auction, which takes place in Napa every February. Then a month later thought I had a brilliant outside the box idea to promote it. Every October I’d meet with a very famous wine critic who would review the vintage we had just bottled and two barrel samples of the vintage still in barrel. His review would come out at Christmas, in time to generate some buzz for the February auction. Well for the first time this wonderfully talented assessor of wines’ true virtues didn’t rate our barrel sample, great plan shot down. Nonetheless at the Auction that year the wine, on its’ own merits, generated a great buzz throughout the room and we ended up getting a record price and made some great new friends from Arkansas.
Coming home after the auction I then had the idea to make this wine as a ‘secret’ wine. A wine that would be at the top of our Bordeaux portfolio but would never be rated by any wine critic and never be shown in public. If a restaurant bought it they couldn’t print it on their list and if a retailer bought it they couldn’t put it on their shelves or advertise it on their website or anywhere in public. It would be a total back room ‘secret’ wine!
I remember the first time I told Reilly, our son, about the ‘secret’ wine, he thought I had lost my mind. He’s slowly coming around on that topic. Now there are 5 wines in the ‘secret’ portfolio and it’s time to start the ‘secret’ club! These are all small production wines ranging from 100 cases to as low as 50 for the latest edition, a single vineyard Merlot from the 2013 vintage, which btw, is the greatest Merlot vintage I have ever seen. Some of the wines are from the ’06 and ’07 vintages, so we are able to age these even more than our current releases.Some of these wines are one of a kind, meaning I will not ever make them again.
I don’t know when we will launch the ‘secret’ club , or any of the details right now; even if I did I would only divulge the details to the members who have signed up! I don’t even know if there will be a shipment every year, there might not be enough wine. Membership will no doubt be extremely limited so if this vague club suits your fancy I suggest you sign up now!
Cheers to the future!
Serial Remodeler Winemaking Stories From the President’s Desk…
The big remodel is actually completed and we are all very excited to host everyone at the annual open house on Fathers Day weekend. We all love being in the new space and take great pride in showing it off.
The winery is actually the 4th major remodeling/reconstruction project we have done in the last 10 years. 5 if we count the kitchen remodel/new roof/ exterior and interior paint job and new deck on the Point House where Matt and his family live. That kind of sounds major now that I have listed its scope.
8 years ago the barn had the distinction of being the oldest (and most useless!) building on the property. An old wooden structure that was admittedly charming to view but hazardous to enter. So we tore that ol’ gal down and built a new (can’t recall if we had a permit??) state of the art barrel storage facility. How did we ever live without it?
Next up was the White House where Randy, Laura and their kids lived for years. One day it simply expired so we tore it down and built a beautiful 2 story 2600 hundred square foot four-bedroom house in 5 months! Another Sandy Walker Design no less.
Next was the 1930s original chicken coop that was turned into a 2 bedroom 70s style dark house in 1978. We tore most of it down, opened it up, went from two bedrooms to one (“Where will we sleep?” the children asked.) and built a massive deck overlooking the Chardonnay vineyard (“On the deck,” I responded!). Well done Sandy and Jennifer again.
Only one decrepit yet oh so charming vintage building remains unchanged in the inner campus: The Love Shack! AKA the former guesthouse. The Serial Remodeler in me is dying to tear it down and put up another Sandy/Jennifer work of art. But what to do, will it be a guesthouse, a family house, my personal office? The Committee has not turned in a verdict yet. Perhaps the committee will convene the night of the Open House when we will be all together again…
Cheers to the future!
I Can Almost Taste It: From the President’s Desk
As much as we all have enjoyed our temporary headquarters in the building formerly known as ‘The Love Shack,’ we are all very anxious to move into our fabulous newly renovated building. The design that my father in law, Sandy Walker, has done is truly a work of art. And to compliment his wizardry, his daughter, my lovely bride Jennifer, has spun her artistry outside and in to create a wondrous space that has truly exceeded my vision and expectations of what this project would end up feeling like.
The dates on the cover of the newsletter correspond to the three different phases of construction that our building has gone thru. 1904 being the year that the Conradi’s built the original building. We have no idea what the roof and upstairs looked like but the cellar remains pretty much the same.
Phase two took place in 1977. All that remained from phase 1 were the four stone walls of the very well constructed cellar. Most of you reading this are familiar with what phase 2 looked like, a windowless (except for the office) loft open to the cellar below. Charming as it was as we were demolishing it for phase 3 I couldn’t help but think on more than one occasion why on earth did they do that! Two separate levels. Why? The kitchen (I’m sorry, employee break room!) doubling as a very narrow hallway between the tasting room and the bathroom. Why? No obvious entrance. I can’t tell you how many times I have been asked by new arrivals who pull up while I am on the deck grilling lunch, ‘which way is the front?’ I doubt I will ever be asked that again.
I’m sure my father sweated over every aspect of that project as I have this go around. And at times I felt strangely emotional about undoing all of his efforts. I do know one thing, he did his project alone, He was in between marriages and had no partner to help with all the decision making that goes into creating a wonderful environment. I have been far more fortunate, I cannot imagine having had to do this project without not only the support of my wife Jennifer but her considerable talents as well. Thank you my love.
Alas there is one more small chapter to write before phase 3 is complete and that is coming to terms with the seemingly ever changing ADA requirements that the county keeps coming up with.
So close, so close…
Cheers to the future! Cheers to sharing winemaking stories!
2013 has indeed turned out to be a lucky year . We got very lucky with the summer and fall weather . After the driest and quite possibly the warmest winter and spring any of us can remember we got blessed by a mild summer and harvest period allowing us to bring a good sized crop to perfect ,stress free maturity . We had very little water retained in our irrigation pond so a hot summer and harvest period would have been disastrous .
We are now in our 13th month of the building permit application process to remodel our tasting room (have you noticed I have less hair?) .But now after crossing every ʻTʼ and dotting every ʻI ʼ that the County has thrown at us ( new well, new septic system, new road enhancement plan) we WILL be getting our permit this month.
My daughter graduated from college this year and the number 13 goes very deep with them, very lucky number.
My son accompanied me to a trade tasting in August (the 13th!) and practically got hired on the spot to work at a very cool wine bar called Enoon Geary St . right off of Union square. Of course they now serve Keenan Merlot there like itʼs going out of style! The grilled cheese-sandwich (they use a French word) is not to be missed.
My wife and I are off to Las Vegas next week to celebrate our 26th Anniversary (thatʼs 2×13! And yes I am doubly lucky!) .
And last but not least I had a hole in one this year. On what hole you ask ? Why on #13 at the Claremont Country Club, a hole aptly named ʻDevilʼ! Thatʼs just dumb luck .
Holiday Cheers to a lucky year!!
Remodel – Getting the Band Back Together
Spring-Summer 2014 Winemaking Stories
The most satisfying job of my contracting career was the 2nd (and final!) remodel on our house in Oakland in 1997. First off because I realized I would be able to enjoy the results of this project for years with my family by being able to live in it as opposed to the usual handing it over to clients upon completion.
And secondly because it was the best creative team of owner (essentially my wife, Jennifer) and architect (my father in law, Sandy Walker) that I had ever had the pleasure to work with.
Every building project was a triangular team of owner, contractor and architect and sometimes they didn’t all get along. Quite often the client was the weak link, becoming overwhelmed by a project that they had no prior experience of thus often rendering them poor and untimely decision makers. No such problem with the “Dream” team of Jennifer and Sandy.
Now we are back at it with the long awaited remodel of the upstairs of the winery. Yes we have a permit! And we are well underway to shaping the upstairs into a very special place that we will be able to enjoy and share with our family, friends, and guests for decades to come.
Cheers to the future!
Never Seen That Before
“Never seen that before” is becoming an increasingly common part of our lexicon at the winery in the last couple of years. In 2008 we had a freak frost in April that drastically reduced our Cabernet Sauvignon yields; never seen that before in 36 years of grape growing on Spring Mountain.
In 2009 we had a two and a half inch rain event on 10/12 that was the biggest October rainfall since 1962 that postponed the Giants-Yankees World Series for a week. I was 4 then and not tracking the Giants like I am now so this also counts as “Never seen that before”.
2010 saw the “Summer that never was” capped by a six and a half inch rain event that occurred 10/22-24 with half the crop still hanging on the vines. This led to our latest harvest in our history, never seen that before.
2011 was marked by the “Spring from Hell” which reduced yields in all varietals except Cabernet Sauvignon which bloomed so late it managed to miss both rain events in June. Another cooler than average summer led to another record-breaking date for the finish of harvest, November 2nd.
This year has been the driest year in our history from January to now. It has also been the fastest we have ever seen the vines go from bud break to flowering. I leave for a week and cannot believe how much new growth I see when I get back.
My favorite item by far though on the list of “Never seen that before” is seeing our daughter Maddy graduate from Colgate University cum laude this May. Sheʼll be in the tasting room this summer on the weekends helping Laura attend to our guests and I encourage you all to visit and say hi to the newly minted college grad. She came back home yesterday after her first day and I was amazed how many ideas she had to improve the place!
Cheers to next generation!
Wine Shortage? Winemaking Stories to Thrill You.
Seemingly unthinkable a few years ago was the notion that we would be facing an inventory shortage. When the ʻ07ʼs were in barrel and we were releasing the ʻ05ʼs three years ago it seemed like we had an ocean of wine to sell. Not only was inventory strong but the economy was abysmal. I woke up in the middle of the night several times in the summer of ʼ09 thinking that our business was no longer viable. Through creative marketing (read crazy deal-making!) and a slowly recovering economy we turned our cash flow from negative to positive by the end of ʼ09.
Now the last 21 months have been the strongest sales that we have ever seen in our 35 years of being in business. Ten years of very strong reviews from some of the worldsʼ most influential wine critics, consistent marketing all over the country combined with three out of the last four vintages being below average yields has brought us to todayʼs situation: not much wine to sell.
It is amazing how fast the wine market has turned. The consistent refrain from distributors 3 years ago was,” What kind of deals do you have?” Now itʼs, “This is all I get?”
Believe me, I wish I had ten thousand cases of ʼ08 Reserve Cabernet to sell but thanks to a freak frost in the spring of that year I donʼt know if weʼll have any left by Open House Day.
Thankfully this spring has been near ideal grape growing weather, sooooo much nicer than last yearsʼ spring from Hell. Perhaps four years from now this column will be trumpeting the greatness of the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon in both itsʼ quality and quantity. In the meantime get the ʻ08ʼs while you can.
Highlight of the Year: Winemaking Stories You’ve Never Heard Before
Itʼs not that often where you have one event in a year that really stands out as exceptional. 2011 had that singular event for us at the winery.
At this time last year we got the notice from the Napa Valley Vintners Association asking us if we wanted to offer a dinner at the winery for the Wine Auction in June. We hadnʼt done an event for the Auction at the winery for several years and I felt the time was ripe to do another one. I asked Jennifer if she wanted to take charge of this time-eating and non-paying endeavor and she agreed. Well after butting heads with the Auction rules and requirements for two weeks we decided to give up on participating with the Vintners and just throw a dinner at the winery for our 40 top direct buyers and thus was born the ʻTop 40ʼ party.
I asked my great friend Chef Kurt from the Coach House in Oklahoma City to come out and do the dinner and he readily agreed. Chef Kurt is not only enormously talented but rends asunder the notion that great Chefs have to be enormous prima-donnas. Not only did Chef plan the entire meal, he brought out his GM and his top server to help execute the service. And when word got out that he was coming to Napa to do a dinner, four of his former protégés, who are now Bay Area Chefs in their own right, volunteered to help. Iʼve never seen so much talent in our humble little kitchen.
We did the dinner in the cellar, which Jennifer transformed with red carpet, candles and amazing table decorations. It was truly a transformative experience. This was more than just a dinner, it was a night that made me feel an immense sense of pride; in our setting, what our team has accomplished wine wise in the last 12 years, watching my daughter trailing behind the pros carrying every dish down that oversized flight of stairs, and having the kind of friends who can cook like that! I ate every morsel that was set before me. I never do that at wine
Needless to say, we want to do this again in 2012. Mark your calendars for Saturday August 4th and stay tuned to find out how to qualify!
Cheers to memories,
Best Ever Winemaking Story?
For several years my close friends have been teasing me about my over-usage of the term “best ever”. Each new vintage would be brought forth as the best we have ever produced. Truth be told I do feel that the last ten years in Napa (and certainly for us) have been the best decade ever, perhaps for any wine region anywhere.
Nonetheless I have of late restrained my usage of the term “best ever”, partly because I was tired of hearing myself say it and partly because itʼs like arguing over whom the best baseball player of all time is (oh wait that would be Willie Mays!).
For about eighteen months, roughly when the first ʼ07 Cabernets were being released from other Napa wineries, I have been repeatedly asked by people in the trade if the hype about the ʻ07ʼs was true and did I feel it was the best vintage ever for us. Due to my newfound sense of restraint I would not answer yes directly but just try to describe what I thought were the signature markers of this vintage.
Well if you like deep, dark, rich, sweet fruit flavors with a seemingly endless finish and tannins that are beyond silky, this just might be your cup of tea. I will never forget one of our ʻ07 blending trials. It was mid March 2009, the low point (I hope) of the latest recession. We had just concluded a rather bleak financial meeting in the office and I felt I was literally dragging myself into the tasting room to work on the ʼ07 cabs. After only about five minutes of smelling and tasting the estate cabernets I felt completely transformed. I looked up from my notes and asked Matt and Randy if twelve years ago if they had ever even imagined that barrel samples of estate cabernet could ever taste this incredibly rich and ridiculously smooth. They both answered no, they had never even imagined this.
Best ever? I wonʼt say it – but you can!
Wine Shortage Part 2?
For the first time in the history of this newsletter (14 years) there will be no current release Reserve or Napa Cabernet Sauvignon on the order form, ditto for the Chardonnay. The 2011 Chardonnay will be officially released in March of next year and the two Cabernets in April (if you come to the winery before March Laura might pour you a sample!). In addition three of the ʼ09 reds that we just released this fall, Cab Franc, Carneros Merlot, and Zinfandel are already in very short supply. The Cab Franc might not even make it till Christmas.
So to fill out the order form for this newsletter I thought we would include four wines from the library, the ʼ97 Napa Valley Merlot, ʼ04 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, ʼ05 Napa Merlot, and ʼ05 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. I cannot emphasize enough how important aging is to the enjoyment of fine wine. We hold our wines back before release a little longer than the norm but that being said they are still just beginning their drinkable period.
Two of my drinking highlights this year were library wines. In September I did a dinner at the Meadow Club in Marin. The first wine served during walk around appetizers was the 2010 Chardonnay, delicious, made a great first impression. Then for the first seated course we had the 2005 Chardonnay with angel hair pasta with scallops in a light saffron cream sauce. The first smell and taste of the ʼ05 registered as quite different than the 2010. The ʼ05 was darker, earthier, a little nuttier, more complex, and a little dare I say ʻBurgundianʼ, clearly older. The magic came as we began eating the pasta course and sipping the wine. With each bite and sip the wine appeared to get younger and show more fruit, by the time the course was finished it was difficult to tell the wines apart, an amazing transition.
The other library wine that really made my highlight list this year was the ʼ97 Reserve Merlot Mailbox Vineyard. I showed this wine in San Diego the week before Thanksgiving during a seminar on Merlot. I was quite struck by the now 15 year old wine and the core of bright, sweet, red cherry fruit that it had retained; it still is a ʻyoungʼ wine!
So if you have not had the chance to try some of our older wines and you really want to buy some Keenan Cabernet this Christmas I heartily recommend taking advantage of our current offer – while it lasts!
Highlights of The Drinking Year: Winemaking Stories that Surprise and Enchant
My favorite trade event of the year is the Napa Premiere Auction in February. For this event we make a unique auction lot blend and people from the trade and media come from all over the world to bid and enjoy a week in Napa going to open houses, parties and all manner of special events. After the auction last February our friends from Arkansas took us to the Martini House (sadly now closed) to celebrate another successful auction (they have purchased our lot several years in row). On the way out the door to dinner with Jennifer I thought that I should bring something special to celebrate. We had been drinking barrel samples of the auction lots most of the day and young current release wines most of the week so I grabbed a magnum of 2001 Napa Merlot and a magnum of 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon. We ordered the famous Martini House Mushroom specials and began to pour the Merlot.
My, oh my, how mighty damn good that Merlot was with those mushrooms! Chris Robertson, one of the Arkansans, exclaimed, “Michael, that might be the best damn Merlot I have ever had!” When I told him how much the wine had retailed for five years ago ($30/750ml) he then muttered something about those damn French wines being so ridiculously expensive!
Speaking of French, highlight #2 was at Fandango, a French Bistro in Pacific Grove, Ca. They had recently ordered the ʼ07 Carneros Merlot so imagine my surprise when the ʼ02 Napa Merlot was presented. This wine didnʼt even need any food; it opened up immediately and showed copious rich red cherry fruit and a velvety deep texture that just said pure pleasure! I donʼt even remember what I ate with it – it simply didnʼt matter.
Highlight #3 was in Tampa, Florida at Bernʼs Steakhouse the first week of November. Could be the greatest wine list in the world. 1943 Cheval Blanc, it still took an hour to open up! 67 freakin years old! Tannins still had a little grit to them, lovely violet like perfume coming out at the end, sublime. I heard that back then everything went into the crusher, stems, leaves; no such thing as a sorting table.
The theme here is age. You simply canʼt in any way replicate what time does to a great bottle of wine.
Speaking of time: in the past year the wine business seems to have rebounded from the abyss of winter/spring of 2009, and for this I would like to give a very special thank you to our loyal wine club members who have played a very large part in making this last year a year worthy of giving thanks for.
Director of Social Media/Raker of Leaves
That is the title on my son Reilly’s freshly printed Keenan Winery business card. He has been working for us on and off for the past couple of years, mostly under Randy’s guidance in the cellar or any where on the property where work needs to be done. He is the bottom man on the totem pole, hence, on occasion is asked to clear the driveway of leaves.
A few months ago I had what I thought at the time was a brilliant idea: let’s put Reilly in charge of starting our Facebook page! He’s young, computer savvy, always connected to his friends and would have no trouble figuring this out. I hear about Facebook seemingly all the time from our customers and industry colleagues and they all say that the winery should be on it. I have no clue how to do this. I’m pretty sure I was in the bar having a beer with Betty White when they had the seminar on what Facebook was all about!
Having a teenager is a lot like being in the stock market these days. One day they are up and full of promise for the future and the next day they are lying slack-jawed on the couch seemingly unable to feed themselves. When Reilly and I met a while ago to talk about our Facebook thing I showed him another winery’s page and just said, “Make it better than that.” He replied, “That’s not a very high bar to jump over.” I looked at our page last week and thought I’m not really sure he has done much jumping.
I do encourage any of you who use Facebook to hit the link on our homepage and do whatever it is you do there on our page. If you have any ideas/requests let Reilly know. Reilly@keenanwinery.com. And if you come to the tasting room this summer on a Saturday you may run into him. He’s easy to spot; he’ll be the tallest, skinniest, blondest fellow in the room. If you get a chance ask him to tell you the story of when the Fed-ex guy imitated him
using the leaf-blower last winter, it’s hilarious.
Amazing how easy it is to imitate a teenager, probably because we have all been there!
Cheers to the 3rd generation, our future!
30th Anniversary Vintage: A Winemaking Story to Remember
One of the things that I have realized recently is that I have had to “unlearn” some of the fundamental axiomatic truths about wine that my father instilled in me many years ago. For him great wine was all about intensity, structure, complexity, and the ability to improve through the aging process. This is why Dad only looked for property in the mountains, thinking this setting would better achieve this dynamic than a valley setting. He was absolutely right about Spring Mountain. Grapes grown here are more intense. To further augment intensity watering, like in France, was prohibited. Nothing was done to enhance soil health, this would “spoil” the vines, and to achieve greatness the vines must really struggle! This theory, while sound on paper, ended up producing wines that were a little too intense with tannins that only a father could love.
It took me years to realize it but augmenting intensity was not the way to go. Our appellation does enough of that on its own. Enhancing soil health through sustainable practices such as growing cover crops and applying organic compost is the way to go. And for Gods’ sake if the vines need water let them have a drink! This produces wines with a better tannin texture and a more expressive nature.
But the biggest surprise for me over the last decade has been the relationship between quality and quantity. One of the great axioms in the wine world is that lower yields produce higher quality. While I’m sure this must be true for other appellations this has surprisingly not been so up on the mountain.
2006, our 30th vintage, produced a record Chardonnay yield and a record Merlot yield. Quite frankly we were all a little shocked over the Chardonnay yield and I decided to keep it a state secret until the wine sold out for fear that people would think less of it had they known how much of it there was. But now I feel comfortable enough about these truths to talk about them in real time.
The wine on the cover, the 2006 30th Anniversary Reserve Merlot from the Mailbox Vineyard is simply put the most mouth watering, delicious Merlot that we have ever put in bottle. I’m sipping on a glass right now: the depth of fruit, the spiciness, the big rich velvety texture, oh my- oh my!
Well, here is to thirty years of living and learning on Spring Mountain and feeling our identity forming!
Sugars and Acids together, oh my!
We saw something in the vineyards in 2005 during the ripening process that we had never seen or heard of before. That is for about a week we saw acids and sugars go up together. Normally acids and sugars have an inverse relationship, when the sugars are going up during the ripening process the acids are going down. And the trick with hitting just the right time to pick is catching the moment before the spread
between sugars and acids
gets too big.
The weather in September of !05 was not the usual textbook California dry and warm weather. We had an unusual cool period near the beginning of the month. The sugars had begun to rise and the acids had begun to fall but when the cool weather hit they both reversed direction. This is rare but not unheard of. Now when the sun came back out and warmed up the vineyard the sugars made the U turn and began to go up again but what was really unusual was for almost a week the acids kept going up as well. We had literally never heard of this before.
The weather generally remained somewhat mild for the rest of the harvest season and we were able to pick at a relatively calm pace and with slightly higher than normal natural acid levels. The resulting wine in barrel showed a wonderful precision of flavor, bright, defined notes, seamless velvety tannins, and a remaining dark sense of undefined richness. My overall assessment, or grade, for the vintage was very high, equivalent to the rich and robust !04 vintage. In the back of my mind though, I wondered how Parker would rate these wines. The !05s were decidedly more elegant and refined than the very rich !04s. The !05 vintage, more like great Jazz or classical music compared to the rock and roll of the !04s, and the general assumption about Parker is that he prefers rock and roll.
Not so surprisingly he did rate most of the wines a point or two lower. The reason I am bringing all of this up is that I have been genuinely surprised by how much the !05s have matured in the bottle in the last six months. We released the Napa Cabernet in April and the Reserve Cabernet this week. I had not tasted either wine for 6 months prior to release and I was quite amazed at how much richer and more defined these wines have become with more bottle time. Parker rates the wines when they are very young, two months after bottling. Not so surprisingly the Wine Enthusiast, which tasted the wines very recently for review in their August issue, rated all the wines two points higher.
I had a very special feeling about the !05 growing season as it was unfolding which I mentioned in newsletter #14. I feel this may be one of our longest-lived and most interesting vintages.
Cheers to the Future! Cheers to winemaking stories to remember from the past!
Cabernet Franc the Fourth Reserve wine
Even though it doesn’t say it on the label or in the shape of the bottle we consider the Cabernet Franc our fourth ‘Reserve’ wine. When my father planted it thirty years ago I don’t think he ever imagined that we would be bottling it as a single vineyard wine. Now we have an as yet unresolved debate going at the winery as to which Bordeaux varietal is our strongest. A case can be made for each of the three, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Each has received scores in the nineties for every bottling in the last five vintages from Robert Parker. To confuse matters further our blend Mernet has garnered the highest ratings of the four reserve wines in that same five years.
Fortunately unresolved debating makes me very thirsty, I think I’ll go and open a bottle of wine…ah, that’s better.
Not being able to see into the future in 1975 or even at the time of the great replanting of 1997 we did not put in much Cabernet Franc, thinking that it would be used primarily for blending. Wrong-o. The ’01-’04 bottlings of Estate Cabernet Franc became our hottest and most allocated wine. We couldn’t even put the ’04 on the order form on the website.
Blessedly, Mother Nature gave me a wonderful idea at the conclusion of the ’03 harvest. We ended up with a record Merlot crop even though we had to abandon a two- acre block at the top of the ‘Upper Bowl’ because it got too ripe before we could pick it. Needing more Franc and less Merlot the decision to graft over that block to Franc seemed like a no-brainer. Walking into the vineyard the day after the grafting was done was one of the more shocking sights I have ever seen. The vines had been cut off at the knees and for all intents and purposes looked quite dead. “I will surely pay for this in the after-life”, I thought, “what was I thinking”.
Thankfully vines are semi-miraculous life forms. Within weeks of the butchering, new shoots were coming out of the seemingly lifeless stumps. There was even a teeny crop in ’04 and a shockingly robust yield in ’05. No wonder ancient cultures worshipped these plants.
Happily for the first time I have been able to show the Cabernet Franc to the trade and public and yes, put it back on the website. So remember in this time of economic madness and stress great wine makes everything better.
Criticizing Robert Parker as of late has become a cottage industry nearly as big as Parker himself. He has been blamed for the Parkerization” of the wine industry; that is every winemaker is now making overly alcoholic, overly oakey, overbearing wines that have no sense of balance or !place”, yet receive high scores from Parker thus driving demand and prices ever skyward. This is a little akin to blaming the weatherman when it rains (or doesn”t!). Parker merely rates the wines, he isn”t holding a gun to anyone”s head to buy them.
A case can be made that the man truly responsible for the modern state of wine making world-wide is none other than a Frenchman, Dr. Emile Peynaud. He began preaching in the late 50″s for the French to thin crop load and let the grapes ripen longer than had been traditional. He was the first to say that great wines should not need 20 years in bottle to mature, they should be in balance from the very beginning. By 1982 he and his star pupil, Michelle Roland, had the ear of most of the top Chateaux in Bordeaux. The weather that year was quite warm and a very ripe and rich vintage resulted. The established old guard of critics (mostly English) declared the vintage mediocre at best and certainly to be short lived. Parker stuck his neck out and singularly declared it to be one of the greatest vintages of the post war era. History has sided with Parker on the “82 vintage; out with the old guard, in with the new.
No doubt there are countless examples on more than one continent of winemakers taking the good doctors” advice a bit too far, especially when it comes to hang-time. Next to determining what to plant and where our most important decision is when to Matt and I, after ten years together in the vineyards, have really begun to dial in that precise moment, catching that first window of true physiological ripeness and maintaining a wonderful amount of natural acidity. The wine on the cover of this issue, the “04 Reserve Cabernet, I think is a fabulous example of great timing. Along with obvious elements of delicious ripe mature fruit in this wine is a hint of bell pepper, one of the signature markers that help tell you that you are drinking cabernet. Any more hang-time and this marker would
be gone as would some of the mouth-watering acidity that this wine has retained. As my father said to me many times growing up, the key to life is balance, taking anything to the extreme is usually a mistake.
P.s. Still no thank you note from the IRS! These are some serious winemaking stories.
Big Numbers and why the IRS is my new friend: A winemaking story to remember
Big numbers have dominated this past year on our family calendar. In May our daughter Maddy turned 16 (clean the shotgun!). In July my lovely bride Jennifer turned 50 (she has never looked better!). In September our son Reilly turned 18 (check the airbags!). Next week Jennifer and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary (gold star for both!). And in two very short months I will turn 50 (I know I!m forgetting something?!).
In the wine industry this past year we saw some big numbers as in prominent Napa Valley family run wineries that sold out to very large corporate entities for some very large numbers. Rumor on the street has it that there will be more next year. This echoes a larger trend in the wine business as a whole in that we have been the seeing the consolidation of many family run wholesalers (just the type of company we seek to do business with) into a small number of multi state behemoths over the last several years.
The point I!m trying to get across here is that the small family run estate winery is becoming an endangered species. Of the myriad challenges our type of business faces the most difficult is surely the hand off from one generation to the next. Not only do you have to find someone in the next generation who has the drive and the ability to forge ahead into the uncertain future, but you have to have the financial wherewithal to appease the suddenly inquisitive IRS.
A large proportion of my energies in the past year have been directed toward the survival of this newly intimate relationship with the IRS. It has been wonderful to discover what an engaging and deserving group they actually are, so generous with their time, so understanding of my plight. They totally understand that I can!t possibly produce the mountain of cash that they so richly deserve. And in this tight credit market today where
lenders have become much more reticent to extend their dwindling cash reserves to strangers who need loans, the IRS is there for me, and with such great rates!
Lastly, and by no means least, this last harvest finally gave us a full and very deep crop off the big cab vineyard.
So cheers to future, I strongly believe that we will have one!