I had hoped to taste the first Levy & McClellan Napa Valley Cabernet today, and I came very close. But when Martha McClellan arrived in my office in Napa this morning, she was missing one thing—the 2004 barrel sample I wished to try.
The wine didn't make it, because it had just been racked this week, she explained. McClellan and her husband-partner Bob Levy decided it wasn't ready to be shown.
When wine is racked, it's moved from one container to another, usually barrel to barrel, or barrel to tank, before it's bottled. The process clarifies it. Unracked wines are usually cloudy and contain sediment from the bottom of the barrel, and racking unsettles the wine, masking its true character.
The wine, a blend of 92 percent Cabernet Sauvignon with small amounts of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, will be bottled soon. Meaning I won't be able to taste it for at least two months—wine needs to 'rest' for a period after it's bottled so that it can come together.
Many of you have asked me about this wine since I wrote about it earlier this year, and while I can’t say what it tastes like, I can share a few thoughts.
It's the most controversial new wine to come from California this year, thanks to its $350 a bottle price tag—a sum that puts it behind Screaming Eagle, at $500, yet equal to Harlan. It’s an audacious move on behalf of Levy & McClellan.
Those interested in buying the wine can try to order it on Levy & McClellan's website. While the wine may be sold out already, with many people seeking 12-bottle cases and larger format bottles, the couple is hoping to make three-bottle cases available to about 1,200 people. So far, more than 700 people have signed up to buy the wine, which must be paid for in advance.
Of course the wine is expensive, some might say outrageously so. It’s out of my league, and frankly, even the owners couldn't afford to buy their wine, or even drink it on a regular basis.
That said, Levy and McClellan are both stellar winemakers. Levy is the winemaker for Harlan and Bond; McClellan is winemaker for Sloan and, as of 2006, winemaker for Blankiet as well. The couple has mortgaged their home in St. Helena to finance their dream venture, and it’s unclear whether it will ever turn a profit.
Planted in 1999, the vineyard produced enough grapes to make wine in 2002 and 2003, yet the owners didn’t think the wine met their standard of being at least as good as Harlan and Sloan. They're counting on '04 to make a successful debut.
“It’s a hard thing,” McClellan said of their business. “We want to give [our] customers the quality level that we’re accustomed to [with Harlan and Sloan]. “We live in a modest house and we’re doing [this business] with laptops on the dining room table.”
Living up to the Harlan or Sloan standards comes at a price—small crops, at two tons per acre, with extreme selection in the vineyard and from the barreled wines.
I asked McClellan if the $350 price is intended to maximize their profits and perhaps minimize those who will flip the wines at auction. It’s easy to image this wine selling for two or three times more in the auction market.
“We’re charging what we think the wines is worth,” McClellan said. “People do with the wine what they want to [and flipping] is not something we can do anything about [and it’s] not something we worry about.”
She compares making a wine like this to creating a piece of art; it will appeal to some, yet be beyond the means of most.
The steep price tag has drawn the ire of at least one potential customer who wrote Levy & McClellan, complaining, in effect, “How dare you,” said McClellan. “We knew it was a risk [and we] knew it would cause a reaction.”
Others, she adds, are both supportive and understanding. “They’ve said ‘good luck, we’re excited for you guys.’”
This year’s first big conversation piece will be released next year.
Brent L Pierce — St. Helena, CA — January 18, 2007 8:10pm ET
Glenn S Lucash — January 18, 2007 8:11pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — January 18, 2007 8:36pm ET
Totv — La Quinta, CA — January 18, 2007 8:58pm ET
Tom Breneman — eau claire, WI — January 18, 2007 9:27pm ET
William J Beitz Jr — Brighton, MI USA — January 18, 2007 9:56pm ET
John Kmiecik — Chicago, IL — January 18, 2007 10:09pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — January 18, 2007 10:52pm ET
Steve Calbi — South Barringnton, IL — January 18, 2007 10:59pm ET
Everett Love — January 19, 2007 1:06am ET
David A Zajac — January 19, 2007 8:34am ET
John Poggemeyer — Cleveland, OH — January 19, 2007 8:44am ET
Joshua Masur — Redwood City, CA — January 19, 2007 9:28am ET
Massimo Marinucci — Pound Ridge, NY — January 19, 2007 11:19am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — January 19, 2007 11:37am ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — January 19, 2007 12:01pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — January 19, 2007 12:50pm ET
Tim Sylvester — Santa Monica, CA — January 19, 2007 1:20pm ET
David A Zajac — January 19, 2007 1:32pm ET
Paul Manchester — Santa Cruz, CA — January 19, 2007 2:19pm ET
Scott Boles — San Diego — January 19, 2007 2:47pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — January 19, 2007 2:58pm ET
Robert Caruana Jr — East Islip, NY — January 19, 2007 4:07pm ET
David A Zajac — January 19, 2007 4:15pm ET
Jay J Cooke — Ripon CA — January 19, 2007 5:03pm ET
David Nerland — Scottsdale — January 19, 2007 5:23pm ET
David A Zajac — January 19, 2007 6:43pm ET
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — January 19, 2007 8:36pm ET
Deryl Robinson — HB, CA — January 19, 2007 10:09pm ET
David Nerland — Scottsdale — January 19, 2007 11:53pm ET
Don R Wagner — Illinois — January 19, 2007 11:57pm ET
Deryl Robinson — HB, CA — January 20, 2007 4:33am ET
Jeffrey Nowak — scottsdale, arizona — January 20, 2007 7:19pm ET
Claude Pope — Raleigh, NC — January 20, 2007 9:41pm ET
David A Zajac — January 21, 2007 8:52am ET
John Wilen — Texas — January 21, 2007 10:26am ET
Arnaud Tronche — Chicago — January 22, 2007 1:53pm ET
David A Zajac — January 22, 2007 4:06pm ET
Totv — La Quinta, CA — January 23, 2007 2:05pm ET
David A Zajac — January 23, 2007 3:46pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — January 24, 2007 7:48pm ET
John Stickler — nyack ny — March 5, 2007 2:01pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — March 5, 2007 2:14pm ET
Rob Freelen — SF, CA — January 25, 2008 5:08pm ET
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