Here’s an interesting statistic I recently uncovered: back when Your West Coast Oenophile started in the wine industry, Gallo commanded a 27.7% share of the domestic wine market. In those days, the other dominant players in the wine world were divisions of some of the world’s largest food & beverage producers: Heublein, which owned Inglenook, Italian Swiss Colony, and BV; Nestlé, which had Beringer; Seagram’s owned Paul Masson; Coca-Cola of New York controlled Franzia, Mogen David, and Tribuno, which later became the foundation of The Wine Group; Coca-Cola of Atlanta held Monterey Vineyards and Sterling, which they subsequently sold to Seagram’s.
Most of the wine then came in 3L jugs and magnums. What was most interesting, though, was the degree of conformity among these mega-producers. Everyone, of course, produced a White (labelled as Chablis), a Red (usually called some variation on Burgundy), and a Pink (either Rosé or Pink Chablis). Across the board, varietal bottlings consisted of the Big Eight, no matter where the winery was situated or what the soil and climate might warrant: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chenin Blanc for whites; Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, and Napa Gamay (Valdiguié) for reds. And please—don’t even think to ask what passed for Sparkling Wine back then!
Even when Robert Mondavi founded Woodbridge to produce quality, affordable wines—again, mostly in 1.5L bottles—followed by the twin labels, Glen Ellen and M. J. Vallejo, that Benziger created, this same lineup remained compulsory (I still hold a particular fondness for Woodbridge’s “Bob White” and “Bob Red”). It wasn’t until the late 1980s, when a new strain of phylloxera forced nearly every winery to replant their vines, that current system of growing wines to reflect the character of the AVA and the particular terroir of a site became predominant.
Ironically, even with this more sophisticated focus, Napa retains the greatest degree of conformity, not to the old orthodoxy but to an extremely narrow concentration of varietals, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, along with Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, for the most part. Cabernets and Meritages are almost exclusively blended in accord with Bordeaux strictures, and the majority of varietal bottlings tend to derive from the other components of these assemblages: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec.The upside to this phenomenon, however, is that the wines tend to be damn, damn good!
33) Returning to my exploration of Oakville’s finest that I began in my previous installment, I was pleased to find the eclectic Flora Springs pouring here. Though both the winery and avant-garde tasting room are based in St. Helena, they source their quintet of Single Vineyard bottlings from various AVAs throughout the Napa Valley, with the exemplary 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Holy Smoke Vineyard representing the apex of their Oakville efforts.
32) I’d be remiss in not extolling the incredible wines Harlan’s other label, Bond poured. Like Flora Springs, this winery offers five single vineyard bottlings of Bordeaux blends they somewhat immodestly call their “Grand Crus,” though perhaps the 100 points Robert Parker awarded their 2007 Vecina gives warrant to this classification. Hyperbole or not, this Médoc-style vintage still presented a vastly impressive mastery of œnology.
31) It may rhyme with dud, but any comparison stops way before here. The extraordinary 2006 Oakville Estate Red from Rudd proved a multilayer
ed, nuanced wine, ripe and ready, yet easily ageworthy for a decade or longer.
30) Adding to the increasing obfuscation of yet another geographically-labeled wine operations within this sub-AVA, Oakville Cross nevertheless comprises an exceptional labor of love, a micro-estate planting of 2100 vines that yield their single offering, the highly prized 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Truly a rare pleasure to enjoy.
29) DeSante has built a relatively young virtual winery that sources much of its fruit from Tierra Rioja and Raugh Family Vineyards in Oakville. Here, they proudly poured the pinnacle of their viticultural endeavors, the 2007 Oakville Terraces Cabernet Sauvignon, a scant 85 case bottling.
28) JP Harbison has offered boutique production of Cabernet Sauvignon for the past 10 years, sourcing fruit from a variety of Oakville sources to produce upwards of six barrels. Having planted enough vines on a Silverado Trail tract to yield 11 tons (~22 barrels), they debuted their 2009 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon here, a delectable albeit early bottling.
27) Volatility has been a phenomenon in the wine industry long before I founded Sostevinobile. The trials and tribulations of Cosentino Winery have been well documented elsewhere, and while their Lodi facilities have been shuttered, it was good to see that new owner Larry Soldinger decided to bring back founder Mitch Cosentino. Validating this decision was the quality of the wines poured here that still bore Mitch’s imprimatur, especially the 2008 Estate Merlot, a wine that nullifies any denigration of this Bordelaise varietal.
26) A few years back, I met Ronald Nicholson by chance at Jack Falstaff, the former PlumpJack enterprise where my friend Annette Yang (Nettie’s Crab Shack) held sway. Ron was hawking his fledgling wine operation, Kelham Vineyards,
door-to-door, and during the course of our conversation, he poured me a
glass of his inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon, which he was showcasing for the
sommelier. This day, however, I found myself particularly
cottoning to the 2003 Merlot, a wine that had reached a splendid peak eight years after its harvest.
25) Textbook Vineyards only sounds pedantic. OK, maybe their single effort, the 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon Mise en Place has a slightly abstruse tone to its nomenclature, but the wine easily rivals the more familiar Pinot Noirs this operation bottles under its Pey-Marin and Pey-Lucia labels.
24) Teaderman, on the other hand, conveys more of a “come sit and put your feet up” aura. Its amiable wines emulate Bordelaise conventions, with the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc clearly standing out.
23) Speaking of Sauvignon Blanc, the progenitor of its alter ego, host winery Robert Mondavi, demonstrated no diminution of its prodigious viticultural artistry since its absorption by Constellation, showcasing a remarkable 2009 Fumé Blanc Reserve, a perfect wine to counterbalance the profusion of Cabernets that give Oakville it well-warranted cachet.
Now if only I could find a way to counterbalance the profusion of wines I inexorably sample for Sostevinobile and the endless flow of words with which I chronicle each…