Though California’s winemaking history goes way back, the wine boom properly began in the 1970s. Below are some legendary producers of cabernet sauvignon, and hints at
some of their travails.
Heitz Cellars Bella Oaks Vineyard
Back in the 60s, Heitz Cellars helped establish the idea of single-vineyard bottling of California wines, most famously with its Martha’s Vineyard bottling. Alas the winery will no longer produce cabernet sauvignon from the renowned Bella Oaks vineyard that Heitz made famous. Planted in 1973 by Barney and Bella Rhodes, its production was used exclusively by Heitz up until the death of Bella in 2008 and Barney a year later. Gargiulo Vineyards, owned by Barney’s niece, bought Bella Oaks. Selling price was close to 7 million dollars. Exclusivity was to remain with Heitz.
The plot thickened last year when a group called Booth Bella Oaks bought the vineyard, and handed exclusivity of the vineyard’s 18 acres of Cabernet to The Staglin Vineyards. One wonders if Gargiulo might’ve felt a financial pinch from its purchase of the vineyard. Heitz will continue to produce wine from the even more world famous Martha’s Vineyard, which the Rhodes also established, then sold to Tom and Martha May long ago. It sounds like a soap opera in the making. The 2007 Heitz Bella Oaks is the last Heitz wine from that vineyard, and a great offering, whether you are a collector or a cabernet lover.
Ch. Montelena Estate
The staff at Chateau Montelena has seen some 40 vintages working within the constraints of Napa Valley’s climate and the estate’s own particular challenges. This experience helps them succeed even when conditions prove challenging. The winery’s website marks the 2008 vintage as miraculous not for beneficent weather but rather in the difficulties overcome. Frost in April and in May, shatter—which is when conditions prevent the fruit from setting—lowered yields. Because of those 40 years experience, Wine Master Bo Barrett—son of owner Jim Barrett—and his wine making team turned the difficulties into triumph. Rated 92 points by The Wine Advocate, the 2008 Estate bottling shows the hallmarks of what one could fairly describe as the Latour of California. Dense and deeply extracted, the wine is powerful without undue alcohol punch. The structure says it will reward years of cellaring, but the balance and suppleness make it delightful now. Chateau Montelena is a first growth winery.
Nickel & Nickel
Nickel and Nickel is an offshoot of the much-lauded Far Niente Winery. An uncle of painter Winslow Homer first owned the vineyard, back in the mid-19th century. The winery closed its doors when prohibition began, and remained so until the late Gil Nickel bought the property in 1979. Nickel began producing a succession of definitive Napa wines: muscular, intense, and gorgeous. His family continues his success with Far Niente and several other enterprises, including Nickel and Nickel. Nickel & Nickel devotes itself to single-vineyard wines.
The winery’s own 42 acre John C. Sullenberger Vineyard sits in Oakville near Opus One and Robert Mondavi’s To-Kalon vineyard. Nice neighborhood! The winery purchases fruit from 9 acres of the 43 acre Tench Vineyard, also in Oakville. The wines are masterful expressions of Napa winemaking, powerful yet enticing. These coveted wines from the fabulous 2007 vintage already show plenty of promise but will reward the collector for years to come. A truly state-of-the-art, solar-powered facility produces these organically grown beauties.