Ric Forman was about the last person I expected to change his wine style, but he has. Sort of. As much as Ric Forman changes anything, which is to say that it’s rare and even then the shifts are subtle.
At age 65 his back is not as strong as it once was, but he is still more or less a one-man show in his winery, with a little help from time to time from his son, Toby.
When I arrived at his place in the hills near Meadowood, east of St. Helena, last week, Forman was hand-washing buckets a day after bottling his 2007 Cabernet, and he returned to that chore two hours later when I left.
“There’s not a barrel (here) that has ever been racked by anyone but me,” he says matter of factly. The simple reality is Forman likes doing it all himself. He has help in the vineyard, with some 30 acres planted to Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot and Merlot. The vines he planted 26 years ago are the source of his Cabernet (he buys some Chardonnay from Star Vineyard in Rutherford and makes a Chablis-style, barrel-fermented but non-malolactic Chardonnay). And while he believes the vineyard and the site have their identity, he says his tastes have changed, if ever so slightly.
“I have evolved. My tastes have changed,” Forman said while discussing his career, which is now a rather remarkable string of 43 vintages in Napa Valley, including winemaking stints at Sterling and Newton. Peter Newton hired Forman at Sterling, then promptly sent the 22-year-old U.C. Davis grad to Bordeaux to learn how to integrate other Bordeaux varieties into Sterling’s Cabernet.
The shift in style has been toward slightly riper Cabernet. “I found some of my [Cabernets] were a little shrill and I wasn’t enjoying them as much,” he said. When he tasted other Napa Cabernets, “I liked the new style,” he said, which prompted him to pick his grapes a shade riper. But it’s hardly a sea change. “The property has a style, an identity, and [the wines are] made by one person.”
After touring the vineyard, we tasted the 2003 to 2008 vintages of Cabernet and all were excellent. Forman’s style has always borrowed from Bordeaux with its restraint, balance, complexity and age-worthiness. The new wines may be a bit riper, but they’re certainly not among the ripest versions made in Napa these days.
The 2003 has a wonderful richness and depth to its currant, anise, mineral and sage flavors. The 2004 is somewhat brighter and more elegant, with vivid, detailed currant, black cherry and spicy floral scents. The 2005 was more sleek and restrained and offered an herbaceous edge, with tobacco leaf and sour cherry and blackberry fruit. The 2006 ($75), the current release, is firm, dense and concentrated, very closed, with loamy currant flavors. The 2007 had been bottled only one day but displayed a complex, seamless, pure mix of currant-laced Cabernet fruit. The 2008, drawn from a barrel, also showed a dense, plush, focused core of Cabernet fruit.
As we left I noticed a few Forman bottles on a shelf and Forman looked too, before commenting. “See, I haven’t changed much. It’s still the same label.”
And he’s pretty much the same guy, too. His winery remained small, with about 3,000 total cases, and grew only when he could afford to pay for new equipment and buildings. “I don’t have any debt,” he allowed, which is not something most vintners can claim.
Garen Staglin — Rutherford, CA — August 5, 2009 9:13pm ET
Gary Lipp — Napa, CA — August 7, 2009 1:04pm ET
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