|California's Vintage of the Century|
|Sherwin Family Vineyards|
Deep Roots in Napa
By Daniel Sogg
Fourth generation winemakers Roy Raymond Jr. and Walter Raymond come from a family tree firmly rooted in the vineyards of Napa. Their great-grandfather was the legendary Jacob Beringer. Their late father, Roy Raymond Sr., started working at Beringer Winery after Prohibition and stayed until the family sold the winery to Nestlé in 1971.
Unlike most of their relatives who wanted out of the business, Roy Raymond Sr. and his wife, Martha, took their profits and started Raymond Vineyard & Cellar in St. Helena. "The winery business wasn't anything to speak of in those days," says Walter, 57, who oversees production at the estate. "It wasn't glamorous, and it wasn't profitable."
Today, making wine in Napa can be plenty glamorous and very profitable. Nonetheless, Raymond Vineyard seldom seems to get its due. "I think the most often-used phrase that I hate about this winery is that 'Your wines are great -- for the price. They're such bargains,'" says Roy, 63, who runs the vineyards. "And I think that's probably one of the failures of our marketing program over the years: that we haven't priced our wines up enough to get the effect of the price on our image."
He's got a point, because the wines are often outstanding. All told, Raymond Vineyard produces 300,000 cases from six varieties. The two current-release high-end Cabernet offerings, the 1998 Napa Valley Reserve (92, $28, 30,000 cases) and the 1997 Generations (93, $50, 3,500 cases) are ripe and rich, loaded with fruit and beautifully balanced.
The Cabernet for the Generations bottling comes from different vineyards, depending on the vintage. Kenn Vigoda, 50, Raymond's winemaker since 1983, and Walter designate the year's best sites for 100 percent new-oak aging, and only the finest barrels make the final cut, producing a full-throttle, lush Napa Cabernet.
The superb 1998 Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet may be Raymond's most impressive current release. Not many California Cabernets offer a comparable combination of price and quality. Moreover, with 30,000 cases produced, it won't be hard to find. The Reserve has the richness to drink well now, but given the winery's impressive track record, the 1998 should age admirably.
In 1988, the Raymonds sold a controlling interest to Kirin Brewing Company, which has made substantial investments in the winery and vineyards. While there has recently been an increased use of new oak, the most notable changes at Raymond over the last 15 years have been related to replanting due to phylloxera. Of course, Roy doesn't welcome further problems, but he recognizes that the vineyards are still a work in progress. "We've got another cycle or two [in Napa] to go through before we really decide exactly where rootstocks and varieties should go, and exactly how they should be trained," he says.
The Raymonds may not yet have everything down to an exact science, but they certainly know their way around Cabernet. Most of the grapes come from in and around St. Helena, but the Raymonds also source sites scattered from Carneros to Calistoga.
This diversity of vineyards comes into play during challenging vintages like 1998. "It seems like in years where other people have a problem, we tend to overcome it," says Vigoda. "We're not limited to one site and have vineyards up and down Napa Valley we can choose from."
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