JUST WHEN YOU start getting used to something, they change it on you. After 29 years of penning the best winery newsletter around, Bob Travers won't be delivering the news from Mayacamas Vineyards anymore.
He'll be writing from time to time, but now the inside scoop will come from his 26-year-old son Chris, who vows to keep the newsletter's uncanny sense of humor, hope, analysis and perspective.
Fear not, Mayacamas fans, that doesn't mean Bob Travers is retiring from winemaking.
But it's time for a change and so Dad, now 59, will keep working with the wines and Chris will move into sales and marketing.
WRITES CHRIS, "Dad's been improving with cellaring for a long time now, and by God he's still down there. ...We break him out for parties, but otherwise we let him be. ...When we ask him about it, he just says he'll let us know when he peaks."
The Mayacamas newsletter is a throwback to the old days when mailing lists were an integral part of the mom-and-pop wineries' communiques and sales pitches to customers.
Bob Travers' writings, though, were the best. He has consistently entertained me and thousands more with his clever, insightful observations.
With 29 years under his belt, he was also one of the longest running wine writers in California.
IN HIS NEWSLETTERS, he almost always wrote about the weather, rain and snow, hail and frost, sun and shine, for it is the weather that most affects the vineyard and determines how the viticultural chain of events will unfold.
Still, my favorite Travers quip is one he wrote a few years ago when government warning labels were ordered on wine bottles and in wine shops and restaurants. The labels, as we know, discussed wine consumption, driving heavy equipment and pregnancy.
Here's how a Travers "safety warning" would have read: "It is likely to be somewhat hazardous to your health to drive a car or operate machinery while getting pregnant."
THE MAYACAMAS WINES haven't changed much over the years, although Travers told me he has tinkered with the Cabernet Sauvignon, deliberately making it a shade lighter than it was in the 1970s. Then it was known as a big, ripe, massive and often quite ruggedly tannic wine that needed years and decades to fully blossom.
I personally preferred the old style, counting his 1968, 1970, 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1979 as among the best from Napa Valley from that era.
Beginning with the early 1980s, the Mayacamas Cabernets tend to be a little trimmer and less concentrated, which was a deliberate move on Travers' behalf.
He calls the 1980s and 1990s wines more "claret" in style and thinks they will age just as long as those from the 1970s.
"I'VE ALWAYS LIKED the wines that take the longest to come around," he says. These days many of us prefer up-front, showy wines that pack in lots of plush, complex fruit flavors.
Just as impressive to me are Travers' Chardonnays and Sauvignon Blancs. For lunch last week we drank a 1987 Sauvignon Blanc that was complex and vibrant, with lots of flavor and finesse, and a distinctive lemon and grass edge to the fig and melon notes.
His Chardonnay, tight and flinty in its youth, is a dark horse that often amazes you by how well it ages, picking up subtle nuances from ages 6 to 10, and beyond.
Pinot Noir has always been Mayacamas' weakest link. It's unusually light and herbal in style, but only accounts for a few hundred cases, and it does have a following.
The thing I've always respected about Travers is that he's so comfortable with his wines and their style that he doesn't flinch at criticism or flare up when someone sticks their nose up at what he makes.
AS FOR THOSE who claim they've never made a bad wine, well, in Travers view: "They haven't been making wine very long if they haven't made a clunker or two."
For me, Mayacamas wines are unique and distinctive. Regardless of whether I'm blown away or merely amused, they're always pleasurable wines to drink and most often each bottlewhether it's Cabernet or Sauvignon Blanctells a story of the soil, climate and life atop Mount Veeder where the vines grow.
I've learned through years of drinking Mayacamas wines that you can never count them out.
And I'm glad Chris is hanging on to the newsletter and its down-home style, for it too is part of California wine lore. The wine world's a more interesting place with it.
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