Snowden Vineyards has a lot riding on the 2005 vintage.
After a run of excellent vintages from 1993 to 2001, including solid efforts in the challenging years of 1998 and 2000, this Napa Valley Cabernet specialist hit a huge pothole – two in fact.
Its 2002 vintage developed a low level of brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast, in bottle, and that problem seemed to get worse with time.
After blind-tasting several samples last fall, I rated the wine 82 points, noting the flavors were muddled, earthy and leathery -- nothing like the rich, opulent, focused wines from 1994, 1995 and 1997, each of which earned 93-point ratings.
Scott Snowden, the winery owner, didn’t disagree with my 2002 review and found the wine problematic as well, prompting him to cut the price from $65 to $50.
Then, after examining the next two vintages in barrel, Snowden detected brett in some of the 2003 barrels and decided to declassify both the 2003 and 2004 vintages.
With the 2003 vintage, he said, the winery sold 170 barrels on the bulk market (roughly 4,000 cases) and kept only 15 (375 cases), which will be sold under the winery’s second label, Lost Vineyard, as a red table wine.
All of the 2004 Snowden is also being declassified to Lost Vineyard because it isn’t up to the winery’s standards. The financial impact is enormous. The winery will postpone a needed replanting of its vineyard, and plans to build a winemaking facility will also be put on hold. But Snowden said he thinks that the Lost Vineyard wines, which are priced at around $30, will represent good value and the winery will weather the tough financial times caused by the declassifications.
“The decision to declassify the wines [and protect the winery’s name] was easy, but it was a murderous business decision,” Snowden told me when he visited my office in Napa recently. “But we’re in it for the aesthetics. This [vineyard] site is spectacular.”
|Diana Snowden Seysses is taking over production at her family's Cabernet winery.|
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