I am often asked why we use the more general Napa Valley appellation on our two Caymus Cabernets, instead of a more specific subregion such as Rutherford or even a single-vineyard designation. My thoughts on this subject might be considered controversial.
Designating a vineyard on a label is supposed to mean that the wine expresses something special and unique about the place from which it comes. At Caymus, we grow grapes for our wines from Calistoga to Carneros and, in the hills, at elevations of up to 1,600 feet. We taste all our lots (about 60 small ones) blind, starting the January following harvest. Surprisingly, we just don’t find the differences you might expect.
French winemakers have traditionally supported creating an image of a wine that tastes of a place: the concept of terroir. Logically, then, if it works for France then it should work for Napa. I have a problem with this belief, and think that some winemakers’ egos have a tendency to skew reality.
If you bought a piece of land and paid more than a quarter-million dollars for each acre, you certainly would want to promote it as unique. I think there are more than a few owners hoping in vain for distinctive character from their land. For some, the plan to use a vineyard designation on the label takes root before planting the vines!
Some vintners are caught up in the theory that wineries should continue making "classic by appellation" wines. The "classic" they are talking about is based on the style of wine that some winemaker made during a previous period. Well, this is now, and now should be different. Winemakers need freedom to fight off making boring wines … and they should be given a loose leash.
I recommend that consumers follow the wines of a winemaker that they like, and stick with him or her. Whether that winemaker sources fruit from hither or yon in Napa Valley, you will probably like the wines.
I feel that Napa Valley is a source of world-class red wines. Maybe one-third the size of Bordeaux, it nonetheless has about 34,000 acres of grapes, and maybe 600 growers! But as strong a force as we are, I worry about the hype and confusion that is brought about by teams of marketers; enough, please, about microclimates and how one 5-acre site has some wonderful distinction--and produces a ton per acre!
In my opinion, Napa Valley proper has three distinct zones: Carneros, the mountains and the rest of the valley.
When speaking generally about the Napa Valley, Cabernet grapes that are grown right and farmed in appropriate sites can yield similar and delicious wines. Yes, we have the sweet fruit and chocolate tannins from our land here in Rutherford, the “plaque”-ish tannins and black color from the Napa area, and the dark fruit suppleness of Calistoga and St. Helena, but these differences are less than one might expect.
Our top wines have more to do with the grapes and the winemaker than with the terroir of a particular site or subappellation of our valley.
To me, what is most important is how, where and when the grapes are grown and harvested—along with a measure of common sense. I say “No” to the mystifying number of microclimates, and “Yes” to simplification.
Kirk R Grant — Ellsworth, ME — February 14, 2007 8:15pm ET
Everett Cowan — Brentwood, TN — February 14, 2007 8:34pm ET
Christian Janssen — Lawrenceburg, TN — February 14, 2007 10:11pm ET
Matthew Wessler — February 14, 2007 10:26pm ET
Joe Rance — Denver — February 15, 2007 12:02am ET
Tim Corliss — livermore,ca — February 15, 2007 1:16am ET
Jennifer Awbrey — Austin, Tx — February 15, 2007 2:50am ET
John Lahart — New York — February 15, 2007 1:26pm ET
Cesar Venta — VERACRUZ , MEXICO — February 15, 2007 8:24pm ET
Jonathan Lawrence — February 16, 2007 6:51am ET
Peter Czyryca — February 16, 2007 10:38am ET
John Wilen — Texas — February 16, 2007 1:16pm ET
Thomas A Mobley Iii — Tallahassee, FL — February 16, 2007 1:50pm ET
Paul Manchester — Santa Cruz, CA — February 16, 2007 2:00pm ET
Robert Boyle — California — February 16, 2007 3:50pm ET
Jason Fernandez — Boston, MA — February 16, 2007 4:00pm ET
Steve Moore — San Diego, CA — February 16, 2007 4:21pm ET
Steve Barber — Clayton, CA. — February 17, 2007 1:43pm ET
Bernard Kruithof — San Antonio, Texas — February 17, 2007 2:05pm ET
Ben Brady — Ames, — February 18, 2007 11:06am ET
Alanson M Short — February 20, 2007 11:29am ET
Pascal Valadier — Portland, Oregon — February 20, 2007 1:25pm ET
Scott Oneil — UT — February 20, 2007 3:13pm ET
Ron Brooks — February 23, 2007 3:49pm ET
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions