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A New Face in Napa Valley

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Nov 9, 2006 12:51pm ET

On Monday, Kapcsandy Family Winery brought in the last of the grapes for 2006 from its State Lane Vineyard in Yountville, wrapping up its fourth harvest.

Earlier this year, I reviewed the winery’s debut wine, a rather oaky 2003 Cabernet-based red. I found it too woody.

A few days later, Lou Kapcsandy (pronounced "Kop-chandy"), the owner, wrote to me saying that though the wine had been submitted for review, it was not intended to be released.

The 2003 “really did not represent what we’re doing,” he said. The wine ($90) is only for sale at the winery, and people can try it before they buy it. He added that he had some better wines in the works—and he was right.

Monday’s visit allowed me to meet Kapcsandy, who is 70. I also met his wife, Roberta (Bobbie), and son Louis, 34, who is in charge of sales and marketing for the winery.

I toured their new winery, a handsome above-ground facility off Yountville Crossroad. We discussed their well-known State Lane Vineyard, made famous by Beringer, and they poured their lineup of wines.

The Kapcsandy's are long-time Napa Valley wine fans and connoisseurs, with an extensive knowledge of wine from around the world. Lou has been visiting the valley since the early 1960s, and he has known many of the valley’s great winemakers.

After he retired as chairman and CEO of Baugh Enterprises, a $600 million general contracting company in Seattle, Lou and his wife bought State Lane in 2000. They replanted it in 2001, on the advice of John Wetlaufer. Helen Turley (Wetlaufer's wife) designed the winery, and the couple, who own Marcassin Vineyard, worked as consultants for a brief period.

State Lane has been an excellent source of Cabernet for Beringer; the grapes from there were often used for the winery’s Private Reserve line of Cabernets. The Beringer 1995 and 1998 that Lou poured for me both showed lots of character and complexity. The most recent vintages, however, were less impressive to me, perhaps because the vineyard needed to be pulled and replanted. (For tasting notes on the '95, click here.) 

“Fundamentally we’re trying to bring great stewardship to the land,” said Lou, a Budapest native who also owns Grand Cru Imports, a Bordeaux specialist. “We’re progressing, we’re improving with each vintage.”

I tasted the Kapcsandy 2003 and 2004, as well as three barrel samples from 2005. The style of the wines is more Bordeaux-like, subtle and restrained, than some of the riper, more opulent Napa Valley Cabernets.

The 2003, which is 90 percent Cabernet and 10 percent Merlot, spent a lot of time in new oak, Kapcsandy said. He thinks it may still come around in the bottle.

The 2004, which is a 60-40 Cabernet-Merlot blend, is being released soon, at $90. It is richer and better balanced, with an elegant seam of spice, cedar and currant.

The 2005s, for me, were the best, with all of the wines showing outstanding potential.

I was especially impressed by the Roberta’s Reserve bottling, which is 91 percent Merlot and 9 percent Cabernet Franc. It is rich and polished, with plush loamy earth and currant flavors.

The 2005 Estate Cuvée is a Bordeaux blend, anchored by Cabernet. It, too, was showy, supple and balanced, with cherry, currant, anise and spice.

The State Lane bottling is similarly elegant and stylish, with ripe currant and light toasty oak flavors, ending with firm tannins. It is 80 percent Cabernet.

I consider Kapcsandy to be a winery worth watching. The owners, who have a very positive attitude, are dedicated to quality and to improving their wines. And the best are yet to come.

Don R Wagner
Illinois —  November 10, 2006 12:32am ET
Jim,$90 on a "spec" (?)- "better in the bottle" (?) - He's a former CEO of a big company - he should know better! I happened to read your 1st review/article - it's about the wine, not the enthusiasm. I was in SF a couple of weeks at the tasting; let the Cab producers be mad at you for 03 -- keep it up; your comments about Pinot are well founded! DRW
William Gladstone
Honolulu, HI. USA —  November 10, 2006 10:05pm ET

As a fine wine importer and wholesaler I am fortunate that I have had the opportunity to drink what are considered as the greatest wines produced in the last 100+ years. I am often surprised at the 1st and 2nd Growth Bordeaux's how they can be either 'other worldly' or disappointing and yet still be spoken of as if they are the same.

I recently had the opportunity to taste the Kapcsandy Family wine in a blind tasting event in Malibu, California that included some of the classified Growth Bordeaux's. All but one of the experienced wine tasters at the tasting selected the 2004 Kapcsandy wine as the finest wine of the day over a legendary Pichon Lalalnde amoung the selections offered. The only divergent opinion selected the Pichnon 1st and Kapcsandy 2nd.

The fruit is ripe, elegant and velvety almost like Cashmere. It is obvious that the selection process in the vineyard was as severe as any of the greatest Chateau's in the world applies in their harvest.

Some people instinctively have vision through their developed senses and can taste the current state of all of the flavors and discern fruit that has just begun to yield her complex array of character, and some folks cannot taste that unless it hits them over the head.

There is an obvious quality right now in the 2004 Kapcsandy Family wine that left everyone at this tasting event recognizing the greatness that a wine can deliver that humbles us as great art sometimes does, and others who will need to wait 2 years and the fruit has yielded her beauty more.

By that time the Kapcsandy wine will be drinking in the same zone of pleasure, depth and satisfaction as many of the great 1st and 2nd growths and probably be available for a good deal more then the current price as a first release.
Charles Mathis
Germantown, —  November 13, 2006 12:37pm ET
James, in your September blog report I responded as follows: ....James, I signed up for the Kapcsandy mailing list about 18 months ago when I read about them on the Wine Spectator Forums. I submitted my order for their first release, the 2004 vintage, in March or April 2006, and am awaiting delivery within the next two months. A reduced 2003 vintage was bottled, but I was told they did not release it. I had a tasting of the 2003 at the winery last month, and understand your conclusions, completely. However, I think that 2003 is not a good example of what the Kapcsandy product is about, and I'm astounded that they did not send you a bottle of the 2004! So, I visited Kapcsandy last month to see what kind of purchase I had made blindly. Well, I was thoroughly impressed; chai, vineyard, 2004 tasting, and all! I even added to my order. When you have the chance, I would hope you could stop by Kapcsandy to see their winery, taste their 2004 vintage, and perhaps give us a glimpse of their 2005. Then hopefully, we could discuss this further....... Well let me say "thank you" for your new Kapcsandy report; especially exciting were your comments about the 2005 vintage! I have just received my order of the 2004 Kapcsandy, and plan to take a bottle to a NY tasting later this month with some WS "Forumites"! I had posted on the WS Forums about the excellent quality I found at Kapcsandy, and it's really good to have that opinion validated. Thanks again.
James Laube
Napa, CA —  November 13, 2006 12:51pm ET
Charles, you're welcome, of course. I ended up trying the 2004 Kapcsandy red in a blind tasting at the office and it was tremendous, even better than when I had it at the winery, oddly enough. Moreover, I remain open minded about every wine, and I am perfectly willing to say when I think I've missed it. So, the 2003 is fair, 2004 is great and the 2005 very promising.
William Gladstone
Honolulu, HI. USA —  November 13, 2006 4:30pm ET

James, I appreciate your honesty and integrity in saying you missed it, that is highly honorable of you. I apologize, I should not have reacted with the anger that I did. Rather I should have explained that it is always important to bring the seperate elements of; the age of the wine, what is the flavors you can taste from the fruit, and then any other factors that may be affecting those flavors which in this case it is important to understand the influence of the particular French Oak barrel that was selected because that is going to cause the fruit to be evolve in a particular and unique way and provide the backbone and influence how the fruit is showing.

Tasting the separate flavors of the berries from everything else going on in the evolution is the view required of this very youthful wine.Like the blend of spices in cooking before those spices have had the full time required opening, the 2004 Kapcsandy wine is in its infancy and understanding that wine is an evolving photograph that is not something that is a final developed photograph.

The characteristic of the fruit is a tightly wound berry that is just beginning to show its nature and complexity. Revealing only something I can describe as what the great 1st Growth Bordeaux's strive for. The characteristic of the berries is ethereal and rare. There is a harmony of flavors that is beginning to show that is rare to taste.

What makes this wine so unique is that it is made from California grapes and yet does not seem to be aiming to be a California wine. I would differentiate as something immediately and obviously understandable to the drinker versus something that requires some thought and investment of self. Or similarly in music, the same difference exists between 'Pop' music to Classical and Jazz music. The listener is required to invest more of them to appreciate the art.

I do appreciate your honesty in sharing your new awareness. That is big of you.
Dale Johnson
Steamboat Springs —  November 14, 2006 8:55pm ET
James,I have 3 different bottlings of Merry Edwards wines from 99. Windsor Gardens, Olivet Lane, and Klopp Vineyard. All are drinking far better than even two years ago and are simple stunning. In this case patience has paid dividends.Dale JohnsonSteamboat Springs, Co
Herb Fisher
November 15, 2006 5:01pm ET
KapcsandyState Lane Vineyard Napa Valley 200493 points | $90 | 900 cases made | RedFirm, intense and concentrated, with rich, focusedcurrant, anise, blackberry and spicy, cedary, toastyoak, then hints of violet and wild berry. Impressivefinish, too, where the fruit and tannins are well-integrated.Best from 2009 through 2014.¿J.L.

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