It took 40 years, but now the Davies family vineyards in Napa Valley are planted to the best grapes for the property. The result is a new Cabernet Sauvignon bottling from a top producer of sparkling wines.
Back in the 1960s, when Jack and Jamie Davies founded Schramsberg, they planted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the hills behind their winery. That decision was based more out of necessity than a belief that those grapes were best suited for the soils and climate on Diamond Mountain.
In those days, recalls Jamie Davies, hardly any Chardonnay or Pinot Noir was planted in California. And near their property, a tiny estate called Stony Hill Vineyard excelled with rich, luscious, age-worthy Chardonnays. So the Davies planted the two grapes they needed to make méthode champenoise sparkling wine.
With time, the Davies learned that cooler sites in California could provide better grapes for their sparking wine cuvées. In the 1990s, the family began a series of vineyard experiments that led to the creation of the J. Davies Cabernet Sauvignon. The debut vintage, 2001 (88 points, $65), is a rich, sleek, fleshy wine, with wonderful balance and layers of currant, blackberry and raspberry fruit. It is being released in June; 548 cases were made.
"We always knew the land was better suited for Cabernet, so it's nice [that the land is] being put to its best use," said Jamie Davies. The Cabernet bottling is named after her late husband, Jack, who died in 1998.
Once the family decided to uproot their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, their experiments extended over 10 years and included plantings of Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Syrah and Merlot. "We wanted to see which fruit would ripen and give us the most flavor," said Jamie's son, Hugh Davies, 38, who is overseeing the new label, along with his mother.
"At the end of the day, Cabernet proved the most successful grape," said Hugh Davies. That's not surprising, since Cabernet is the most popular variety in the Diamond Mountain appellation, south of Calistoga. Most of the Davies' 42 acres in vines are now planted to Cabernet, along with tiny amounts of Malbec. The vineyard has the capacity to produce 8,000 cases.
One big challenge was achieving the proper balance between fruit, acid and tannins in the wine. "We didn't want to have a tannic monster," said Hugh Davies, who has worked with winemaker Craig Roemer and consultant Alan Tenscher to develop the vineyard and wine style. The J. Davies Cabernet was aged in a mix of new and used French oak barrels.
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