Thursday, July 31, 2008

Back to the Beginning

To find the killer of his father, Inigo Montoya follows the advice of fellow n'er do well, Vizini, and "goes back to the beginning."

To reclaim our Cabernet soul, we are going back to our original mission of focusing our attention on producing world-class, small-lot Cabernets that tell a story about a special place. While our production has never been large compared to more well-known brands, we will be concentrating a lot more energy in sucking the marrow from our Cabernet sites to provide the biggest small "wow" we can.

Beginning with the sold-out releases of our first two Premier Cabernet Collection wines (Ghielmetti Vineyard, Clone 4 and Smith Ranch, Clone 8) in November, our goal is to produce 4-5 Cabernets per year that our indelibly linked to a site and philosophy of winemaking. While the first two wines released this year number fewer than 30 cases in production, the PCC wines released next year will be in the 50-case range.

Smallness has its advantages. We strongly believe in a business model that favors the face-to-face transaction: we like to know who is drinking our wine and whether we succeeded in its production. We can't know this if we are producing thousands of cases of wine. We also like to be able to offer our club members and winery guests something unique and new each time they come to visit. Most importantly, though, is the ability to control more of the things that bear directly on quality.

Our goal has always been to produce Cabernet as great as any in the world. Going back to this original impulse, this first commandment, will give us the opportunity to succeed or fail.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Is California "First-Growth" Worthy?

The Wine Spectator's, Jim Laube, had an interesting take on the recent sale of venerable Napa winery, Chateau Montelena. After detailing some of the difficulties this particular brand has had (made even more glaring after all their early success), he concludes that many of the old superstar wines such as Mondavi Reserve Cabernet, Stag's Leap's Cask 23, Montelena's Cab, have seen their best days, and that, by implication, restoring their former glory is next to impossible.

In the past, there have been calls - mostly by wine writers - to create a classification system in California modeled after the 1855 classification in Bordeaux. The four wines that were originally rewarded with "first growth" status were the most expensive (equated, then, with quality) Bordeaux wines made. In the intervening sesquicentennial, only one change has been made to the the first growth rank: Ch. Mouton-Rothschild was moved from second to first in 1973.

Whether Ch. Montelena's (and Mondavi, and Stag's Leap) "fall" is a symptom of America's seemingly insatiable appetite for the next new thing, our still-young wine culture, or an indication of French inflexibility, it is hard to imagine a California brand achieving the consistent highest level of quality for as long as the French wines have.

One of the benefits of the American search for the new is the ability for a wine region like the Livermore Valley to be lifted, through the efforts of the truly dedicated growers and winemakers, to the highest levels of quality. America reinvents itself constantly. What was accepted wisdom for one generation is the peculiar footnote for the next.