PLUMPJACK '95, the wine, is coming soon to a wine shop or restaurant near you. . . .
This is an openly fruity, supple and harmonious young Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, with pretty currant, spice and black cherry flavors and the kind of warm, fleshy tannins that makes it easy to move from the first glass to the second and so on. . . .
It's the debut wine from this Oakville, Calif., estate that was once known as Villa Mt. Eden, now called PlumpJack Estate. . . .
PlumpJack '95 sells for $28, with 1,000 cases produced. . . .
A reserve will follow this fall, with a shade more extract, richness and oaky profile. . . .
Savvy San Francisco Bay Area wine lovers already know of PlumpJack's parents, the wine shop and cafe, both on Fillmore Street in the Cow Hollow district of San Francisco off Union Street. . . .
They are dear to the hearts of many because their wine prices are about as low as you can go and still be in the retail or restaurant businesses. . . .
THE CAFE FEATURES a classy, cutting-edge wine list, with marginal markups that typically run $1 to $2 above retail. The retail shop sells bottles with traditional retail markups, but will match lower prices offered elsewhere. . . .
That's why they're both so popular. . . .
PlumpJack the winery is a revival of the old Villa Mt. Eden estate, which had 50 acres of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. . . .
It's a nice piece of property with good and potentially great possibilities. . . .
In the 1970s, Villa Mt. Eden enjoyed a string of very good estate-grown Cabernets, highlighted by the wonderful 1974, 1975 and 1977 vintages and a fine 1978 reserve. But the it entered a period of steady decline, with some truly offbeat, marginal and uninspiring wines. . . .
WINEMAKER THROUGH IT all was Nils Venge, who departed in 1982 to join Dennis Groth at the then-upstart Groth Vineyards, which is located on a property due west of Villa Mt. Eden. . . .
At Groth, Venge made some truly extraordinary Cabernets, marked by dense, plush, opulent flavors in the Groth Reserve. . . .
He's also done well with his own brands, Saddleback and Venge, both of which offer a variety of very fine wines, from Chardonnay to Pinot Blanc to Zinfandel, Merlot and Sangiovese. . . .
After Villa Mt. Eden's decline, the brand was sold in 1986 to Stimson Lane, owner of Washington state's Chateau Ste. Michelle, which rejuvenated quality and later moved the winemaking operations to its other Napa Valley winery, Conn Creek. . . .
MUCH OF THE VILLA Mt. Eden vineyard needed replanting and that's been completed and the winery itself has been given a complete makeover, inside and out, with new equipment, everything from stainless steel to new French oak barrels. . . .
Each of the PlumpJack properties are owned by the same core investment group, headed by Gavin Newsome, 29, a businessman and politician who is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors; Billy Getty, 26;and his father, Gordon Getty, the wealthy composer, philanthropist and wine lover. . . .
In fact, the PlumpJack ventures are named after an opera that Gordon Getty wrote, "PlumpJack," based on Shakespeare's "Henry IV," which features a merry rogue who likes to imbibe named Jack Falstaff. . . .
The name, image and design of PlumpJack, the winery, are built around the whimsical and theatrical. . . .
The winery's tasting room, off Oakville Road, will soon be open for visits, or you can order wine by faxing 707-944-0744 or e-mailing at: firstname.lastname@example.org. . . .
Based on the names and reputations of the owners and winemaker, expect the highest levels of quality, a commitment to value and perhaps a frivolous, not-too-serious approach to enjoying wine. . . .
James Laube, a senior editor of Wine Spectator magazine, has written three books on California wine. Check this space every Monday for his views on the latest in the wine world. And if you missed a week, or want to reread a piece, back editions are available in the Column Archive.
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