Gotta Get That Money (Road)

Today’s Story: Gargiulo Vineyards

Gargiulo is a small, family-owned winery in Oakville, Napa Valley that produces about 3,400 cases of wine each year from two vineyards. Owners Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo bought their first vineyard, Money Road Ranch, in 1992 to fulfill their winemaking dream, adding to the property in 1997 by purchasing the 575 OVX property. Founded as a Cabernet Sauvignon estate, Gargiulo produces three different Cabs and a Sangiovese, though they also have Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, and Merlot planted for blending in their G Major 7 Cab. Gargiulo produces small amounts of Chardonnay from Frank Wood Ranch and a rosé of Sangiovese as well.

The Gargiulo family and their winemaker, Kristof Anderson, follow a more hands-off approach to winemaking, who in their words say is “gentle and patient.” When it comes time to harvest the grapes, they do so by hand at dawn, hand sort the grapes three times, and use gravity flow methods for winemaking. This arguably preserves the natural fragrances and flavors of the wines by removing pumps and machinery, and is a reason I believe Gargiulo wines are consistently elegant yet structured to go the distance.

I previously wrote about Gargiulo in Italy’s Favorite Grape…from California? back on October 20, 2019 and have recreated the background above from my previous post. If you’d like to see pictures from my visit to Gargiulo last September, some can be found at the link above.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Money Road Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.8% ABV

The 2009 Money Road Ranch Cab is medium to deep ruby in color and slightly transparent. I let this open up in the glass, and after about 30 minutes the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, baked red berries, licorice, volcanic earth, cedar, mushroom, baking spice, and oak. There is still a bit of heat as well. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry compote, black cherry, redcurrant, jammy wild strawberry, cigar box, sweet tobacco, damp loamy soil, green herbs, syrupy cola, and a hint of vanilla. This is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, fully integrated medium (-) tannins, and a long finish. Though this is not my favorite vintage of this wine I’ve had (it’s a bit jammy/syrupy compared to others), this is not showing any signs of slowing down and easily has another 5 years left. 883 cases produced.

Price: $80 direct from winery upon release. In regards to price, this is fairly priced but I would argue to spend a bit more to try their G Major 7 or 575 OVX bottlings, otherwise explore the incredible options around the $80 from other producers. Pair this with steak, roasted lamb, a good burger, or beef short ribs.

Baby BOND

Today’s Story: Mascot Wine

Mascot Wine was “founded” in 2008 with their first commercial release, however this wine was produced by Will Harlan years beforehand to be shared with family and friends. The Mascot started as Will’s personal experiment, born from the youngest vines of Harlan Estate, Promontory, and BOND when he convinced the winemaking team (and his family including father Bill Harlan) to spare a few barrels of wine. Though Will grew up in his family’s vineyards and winery, eating some of Napa’s most precious fruit off the vines in his backyard, The Mascot marked his foray into experiencing the dramatic complexity of fermenting, blending, and producing wine first-hand, a craft he continues to master.

Fun fact: “The engraving of ‘Prince’ was commissioned over one-hundred years ago, by the president of the Farmers Deposit National Bank of Pittsburgh, for the bank’s stock certificates. The dog, an english bull-terrier, lived at the bank (greeting customers and employees alike), and became a beloved symbol of their down-to-earth, loyal, and personal customer service values.” Source: The Mascot

Today’s Wine: 2014 The Mascot

100% Cabernet Sauvignon (this is the only variety listed on the Mascot website, though I have seen sources that claim these wines are 90-94% Cabernet Sauvignon and the balance Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot); 14.8% ABV

The 2014 Mascot is an opaque deep purple/ruby color almost black at its core. This needs an hour decant and only gets better after that, with the nose emitting aromas of blackcurrant, wild blueberry, jammy plum, redcurrant, cedar, violet, anise, graphite, tobacco leaf, pine, and slight oak. Once in the mouth, this showcases notes of blackberry, black cherry, blueberry, redcurrant, tobacco, silt, a hint of smoke, chocolate, black pepper spice, and oak. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, refined and tightly knit medium (+) tannins, and a long finish dominated by black fruit. This wine shows a lot of promise and drinks like a baby BOND, and since the last vintage I tasted (2011) I can tell improvements and finesse are being added.

Price: $100 direct from the winery ($140 average retail price in the US). If Harlan Estate, Promontory, and BOND are your style, this is an absolute steal on value. Though this is very big, opulent, and somewhat jammy in style (I typically steer clear of these), I cannot argue this is a great wine for those who love fruit-forward, high-quality Napa juice. It is at its core an excellent look through the developmental lens of “the Big Boys” mentioned above that start at $600 per bottle and sail past $1,000. Pair this with filet mignon.

Bonus Picture:

The Mascot and my family’s mascot.

A Fierce and Violent Storm

Today’s Story: Realm Cellars

Realm Cellars was founded in 2002 with a focus on producing high-quality, limited production Bordeaux blend and single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines. I previously wrote about them back on October 23, 2019 in “This Blessed Plot, This Earth…” when reviewing the 2016 The Bard. For further details on their wines, inspiration from Shakespeare, and backstory on their first estate vineyard I suggest reading this prior post if you haven’t already.

Today’s Wine: 2013 The Tempest

86% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.6% ABV

Realm’s 2013 The Tempest is an opaque deep ruby color and there is a slight amount of sediment developing in the bottle. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, cassis, plum, cedar, damp loamy soil, worn leather, chocolate, coffee grounds, and a hint of vanilla. In the mouth, I get notes of jammy blackberry, blueberry, wet forest floor, wet slate, tobacco, dark chocolate, black licorice, espresso, slight oak, and a hint of baking spice. Overall this is a very bold and powerful Bordeaux blend that is full-bodied with high acidity, medium (+) grippy tannins, and a long dark finish dominated by black fruit and mocha.

Price: $140. Like the last bottle of Realm I drank, this is worth its price and reminded me how great often-overlooked Merlot can be. Pair this with roasted duck, beef bourguignon, or roasted vegetables.

The Beginning of Modern Winemaking in Napa Valley

Today’s Story: Heitz Wine Cellars

Heitz Cellars was founded in 1961 by Joe and Alice Heitz with the purchase of a small 8.5 acre vineyard planted to Grignolino in the Napa Valley. Joe was previously enlisted in the US Air Force during World War II, though afterwards he started taking classes at UC Davis in viticulture and enology and graduated in the inaugural class of 1951 with half a dozen others. Though Joe first worked for Gallo, he transitioned to Beaulieu Vineyard in 1951 and worked under legendary winemaker André Tchelistcheff as assistant winemaker for 10 years. When Joe and Alice went into business for themselves by starting Heitz, this was a time when Napa Valley wineries were reduced to their lowest decline since Prohibition and even preceded Robert Mondavi’s namesake winery founded in 1966.

In 1964, Joe and Alice Heitz purchased a 160 acre ranch property to expand their production and this land included a stone cellar built in 1898, a farmhouse, and vineyards first planted to vine in 1880. Though Heitz wines became well-known in the Valley, his breakthrough came in 1965 and 1966 with the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. In 1965, Joe purchased his first fruit from friends Tom and Martha May who owned a 34 acre vineyard in the Oakville AVA. Though he bottled this wine in 1965, it was in 1966 Joe decided the Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet deserved its own standalone bottling and this iconic wine became the first ever in Napa Valley to be labelled with a vineyard designation. With a handshake, Joe and the Mays entered an exclusive agreement where Heitz would be the sole purchaser of Martha’s Vineyard fruit and production of this historic wine continues today.

In 1974, Joe and Alice’s son David joined the family business having graduated from UC Davis with an enology degree. Little did David know, his first vintage working with his father would produce arguably the most legendary Cabernet Sauvignon produced in the Napa Valley: the 1974 Martha’s Vineyard. This wine is the first Martha’s Vineyard bottling with a commemorative label, a series that would see a new label for one vintage each decade, but is certainly not the reason for this bottle’s fame. The 1974 Martha’s Vineyard is one of the highest quality and spectacularly age-worthy wines in the world, to this day coveted by collectors and listed as one of the Top 100 Wines of the World. This is even included in Assouline’s The Impossible Collection of Wine: The 100 Most Exceptional Vintages of the Twentieth Century of which I have a copy. Though for all the fame the vintage of this wine holds in the California wine world, it holds a special place for me since I was able to drink a bottle and it is my single favorite wine I’ve ever had. There are a couple bonus pictures of the bottle I consumed at the end of this post.

In 1976, Heitz Cellars entered another exclusive agreement with Barney and Belle Rhodes who owned an 18 acre vineyard in the Rutherford AVA. Fruit from this plot of land goes into the Heitz Bella Oaks Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. As Heitz remained a family operation, they expanded yet again by purchasing the Trailside Vineyard in Rutherford in 1984 (though they had been purchasing fruit from the property since the early 1980s) and this marked their first exploration into organic farming. The Trailside Vineyard Cabernet was bottled separately in 1989. Though Joe Heitz suffered a stroke in 1996, he remained frail but lucid to his death in 2000 and Heitz Cellars came fully under second generation management. In April, 2018, Heitz Cellars was sold to the Lawrence family but thanks to their deep roots in agriculture and a dedication to the same core values of the Heitz family I am confident this legacy will live on with success.

Note: Heitz Cellars practices organic farming in 100% of their vineyards (CCOF certified) and they are transitioning to biodynamic farming in the near future.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Napa Valley Cab is an almost cherry-like medium ruby color and is moderately transparent. Give this about an hour to open up and expect aromas of blackberry, plum, cassis, black cherry, violet, cedar, mint, lightly scorched earth, slight pepper, and vanilla. Once in the mouth, this Cab showcases notes of blackcurrant, redcurrant, blueberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy soil, green herbs, eucalyptus, leather, and a touch of oak. The wine is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $55. I’ve consumed countless bottles of Heitz over the years from their Grignolino to the Martha’s Vineyard Cab and am a proponent of the great value these wines offer. Alongside the Ridge Estate Cab and Jordan Cab, this is one of my favorites in the price range. Pair this with steak, a good burger, or lamb.

Bonus Pictures:

The 1974 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard, tasted alongside a 1978 Château Lafite Rothschild in January, 2017.
That same bottle of 1974 Martha’s Vineyard, laid inside my copy of The Impossible Collection of Wine: The 100 Most Exceptional Vintages of the Twentieth Century.

Diamond Mountain Perfection

Today’s Story: Lokoya

Lokoya was founded in 1995 by wine industry visionary Jess Jackson. Though Jackson had a well-established portfolio of wineries beginning with Kendall-Jackson in 1974, he established Lokoya to produce four distinct bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon from some of the Napa Valley’s most famous mountain appellations. 24 years later, Lokoya produces some of the highest quality limited-release wines from Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain, and Diamond Mountain that are all 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

Though all four wines from Lokoya are produced in the same manner, each bottling eloquently displays the unique terroir of these diverse mountain appellations. The Mount Veeder bottling, for instance, comes from a vineyard on the western ridges of the Mayacamas Mountains at an elevation of 1,800 feet. The Mount Veeder vineyard is planted in volcanic soil that forces the vines to struggle in seeking nutrients which in turn creates intense, concentrated, and age-worthy wines. The Howell Mountain bottling comes from the W.S. Keyes Vineyard planted in 1888 at an elevation of 1,825 feet (high above the fog line) and with quick-draining soil forces the vines to struggle and produces wines that are incredibly concentrated and earthy. The Spring Mountain bottling came along during the 2005 vintage and fruit is sourced from three vineyards on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains. Though Lokoya has an estate vineyard on Spring Mountain (Yverdon Vineyard at 2,100 feet), they also source fruit from Wurtele Vineyard at 1,000 feet and Spring Mountain Vineyard at 1,800 feet. Last but not least, the Diamond Mountain bottling comes from the northern end of Napa Valley overlooking Calistoga and is sourced from select blocks of three vineyards. Though this includes the estate vineyard of Rhyolite Ridge at 1,200 feet, the Diamond Mountain includes fruit from Wallis Vineyards at 1,500 feet and the Andrew Geoffrey Vineyard at 1,800 feet as well.

In producing the Lokoya wines, winemaker Christopher Carpenter intervenes as little as possible in both the vineyards and the cellar. Though the vines do demand constant monitoring and attention due to their high elevations and tough growing conditions, Christopher believes he must not lay a heavy hand so the fruit can express itself as naturally and transparently as possible. To this end, all wines are fermented with natural yeasts and are bottling without fining or filtration to showcase the diverse terroir of each vineyard.

Today’s Wine: 2009 Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.4% ABV

The 2009 Diamond Mountain Cab is an opaque deep ruby color with purple/black variation at its core. Once this opens up in the decanter, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cassis, black cherry, redcurrant, licorice, cedar, pine, wet rocky soil, chocolate, tobacco, and graphite. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry, blackcurrant, black plum, black cherry, anise, earth, volcanic ash, cigar box, ground herbs, cardamom, vanilla, and a hint of oak. This Cab is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, elegant and refined medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $400 direct from winery. It is always a treat drinking a bottle of Lokoya and this was magnificent for our New Years Eve dinner. Pair this with steak, lamb, or a cheese plate.

View from the tasting room’s terrace where we enjoyed a glass of Ruinart Champagne.
A tasting of each of the Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings.
The center of the tasting room.
The library in the tasting room.

The Maestro

Today’s Story: Beaulieu Vineyard

Beaulieu Vineyard is one of the most historic wineries in Napa Valley, founded in 1900 by Georges de Latour and his wife Fernande. I previously wrote about their history in A Winery Synonymous with Napa Valley Itself back on December 8, and if you are unfamiliar with the winery or their history I highly suggest reading this prior post.

Though I won’t rewrite the entire backstory here today, I do want to give more color on the Maestro Collection which my wine today is part of. As I discussed in my prior post, world-renowned viticulturist and enologist André Tchelistcheff joined BV and brought European methods of cultivation and pruning with him. His contributions from the start seem endless, from his tasting of the 1936 vintage of the BV Private Reserve and encouraging Georges de Latour to bottle it separately to his experimentations with micro-plots of different grape varieties and small-lot fermentation. As one of the most influential and iconic winemakers in the Napa Valley, André worked with BV for 40 years as winemaker and gained the nickname the “Maestro.” Though André retired in 1973, he joined BV again in 1991 to help the winemaking team study the effects of vintage and bottle age on 50 vintages of Private Reserve Georges de Latour and he also helped experiment with small-lot wines. It is these small-lot wines produced using unique varietals, vineyard lots, and blends that make up the Maestro Collection, justifiably named in André’s honor.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 Red Blend

I unfortunately could not find a percentage breakdown of varieties in this wine, though I do know this to be Cabernet Sauvignon dominant (I assume ~70-75%) blended with Merlot and a splash of Petit Verdot. 14.8% ABV

The 2010 Maestro Collection Ranch No. 1 is medium ruby in color and almost entirely opaque. This needs about an hour to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of blackberry, cassis, plum, dried earth, cigar box, chocolate, nutmeg, and oak. Once in the mouth, I get notes of blackberry, blueberry, black cherry, sweet tobacco, slate, leather, vanilla, and a hint of licorice. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, dusty medium (+) tannins, and a long finish with herbaceous overtones.

Price: $95. While this is a delicious wine and the Maestro Collection is fairly limited, I find it hard to justify paying twice the price of a BV Tapestry Reserve which I consistently find to be good value. Pair this with steak, a good burger, or lamb.

Napa Fruit Bomb

Today’s Story: Nickel & Nickel Winery

Nickel & Nickel was established in Oakville, Napa Valley in 1997 by Gil and Beth Nickel. Though Gil was born in Oklahoma and has a background in the nursery business (his family owned Greenleaf Nursery which is one of the largest wholesale nurseries in the country), Gil and Beth moved to Napa Valley in 1976 where they founded Far Niente Winery in 1979. I reviewed a Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon in Historic Napa Cab back on November 11. Not too far from the Far Niente property, the Nickel & Nickel winery is located on an 1880s-era farm established by John C. Sullenger following his purchase of the land in 1865. The grounds are beautiful, with a restored farmhouse and barns (built during the 1880s) set amongst flowers and horse stables. With the intent of producing only single-vineyard 100% Cabernet Sauvignon wines, Nickel & Nickel today offers roughly 20 different bottlings from vineyards in Oakville, Yountville, Calistoga, Rutherford, Oak Knoll District, Diamond Mountain District, Stags Leap District, St. Helena, and Howell Mountain. They augmented this portfolio with Chardonnay, Merlot, and Syrah with the Merlot and Syrah bottlings a bit tougher to come by.

Like many premium wineries in Napa, Nickel & Nickel institutes sustainable practices throughout their farming and winemaking processes. Before their considerations in the vineyards themselves, Nickel & Nickel is proud to be a net-zero user of electricity thanks to solar panels, they collect process water from winery operations to irrigate the vineyards, recycle extensively, and replaced company vehicles with hybrid alternatives. In the vineyards, Nickel & Nickel practices organic farming in an effort to preserve the natural tendencies of the soil while getting the best fruit possible from their vines.

Naturally, when a winery offers a wide portfolio of wines from different terroir but of the same variety it can be fun to taste several of these side-by-side. I had the opportunity to taste a couple this way in the past and found it incredibly cool to read about the different soils which you can get a glimpse of here. If you have the opportunity to taste several of these wines together, it is also fun looking at the map of the vast Nickel & Nickel vineyards here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Branding Iron Cabernet Sauvignon

100% Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% ABV

The 2016 Branding Iron is an opaque deep purple/ruby in color. This certainly needs some time to open up, so I recommend decanting the wine. On the nose, I get aromas of blackberry, blueberry, plum, redcurrant, purple florals, wet stone, saturated earth, baking spice, sweet tobacco, chocolate, vanilla, and oak. Once in the mouth, this wine continues the fruit-dominated theme with notes of jammy blackberry, blackcurrant, cherry, pomegranate, green herbs, forest floor, baking spice, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, velvety medium tannins, and a long inky finish dominated by dark fruit and baking spice.

Price: $100. Though you can tell the quality is there, I think this is priced too high given that the wine comes off as an inky people-pleaser. Though I would place a hefty bet that the majority of today’s Napa Cab lovers would enjoy this wine, I think the price-point is a deterrent for many. Pair this with steak or a good burger.