8 Exciting Californian Cabernet Producers

Lesser Known Cali Cab

The "cult" wineries are famous and grab most of the attention when it comes to Californian wine, especially in Europe. But some of the most exciting developments occur in small, family-owned properties most people are unfamiliar with. Here are eight of them

Moone-Tsai moonetsai.com recommended wine: 2008 Cor Leonis Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); 220 cases, 14.5%, $175 A partnership between Napa legend Mike Moone (Beringer, Luna) and businessman Larry Tsai and his wife, Arry Ann. The “flying winemaker” is Philippe Melka (Dominus, Hundred Acre, Bryant Family). The grapes for this wine are from a block in the Caldwell Vineyard, in the cooler Coombsville area of Napa Valley. It was planted in the 1980s and has supplied grapes to producers including Pahlmeyer, Joseph Phelps and Viader.

Vineyard 7&8 vineyard7and8.com recommended wine: 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Spring Mountain); 600 cases, 14.8%, $125 The winery was started by the Steffens family; he was an investment advisor. The winemaker is the celebrated Luc Morlet, who made his reputation at Peter Michael Winery. The name reflects the fact that the estate vineyard, high above St. Helena in the Mayacamas Mountains, is divided into two parts: “7”, which is Cabernet Sauvignon, and “8”, which is Chardonnay. The Chardonnay also is excellent.

Maybach materium.com recommended wine: 2008 Weitz Vineyard “Materium” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville); 425 cases, 14.8%, $125 The Maybach family comes from generations of German entrepreneurs. They produce only two wines, a Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast, and this dramatic Cabernet Sauvignon, which was grown on the warmer, eastern side of Oakville, on the slopes of the Vaca Mountains. The late afternoon sun there ripens grapes dependably; the trick is to generate balance with all that richness. I t’s a challenge that winemaker Thomas Brown, who also crafts the wines at Schrader, rises to.

Hestan hestan.com recommended wine: 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); 410 cases, 14.6%, $100 Hestan is the property of Stanley and Helen Cheng, whose other brands are Meyer and Stephanie. Hestan is the brand they reserve for their best Bordeaux-style wines. The grapes are grown in the Vaca Mountains and, like Maybach’s, the wine exhibits exceptionally ripe fruit flavors, but is richly balanced and textured. Interestingly, Thomas Brown, cited above as Maybach’s winemaker, also is one of Hestan’s consulting winemakers.

Parallel parallelwines.com recommended wine: 2008 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley); 185 cases, 14.9%, $125 Parallel is a partnership of several individuals, of the kind increasingly popular these days, when startup costs, especially in Napa Valley, can be daunting. The estate vineyard is located above Lake Hennessey, in the Pritchard Hill area, one of the up-and-coming locales in Napa Valley, on gentle upland slopes of the Vacas. The winemaker is the well-known consultant, Philippe Melka, who also produces the wines at Moone-Tsai.

Trione trionewinery.com 2007 Block Twenty One Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley); 733 cases, 14.5%, $64 Trione Winery is the creation of longtime Sonoma County resident Henry Trione. The company is run by him and his family. They own premium vineyards thrughout the county, but especially in the warmest part, Anderson Valley, whence comes this smooth, soft Cabernet, which contains smaller amounts of Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec. It is a singuarly good example of the heights to which an Alexander Valley Bordeaux-style wine can rise.

Wallis Family wallisestate.com 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain); 200 cases, 14.9%, $65 Wallis is the third winery on my list for which Thomas Brown is the winemaker. The estate vineyard is on Diamond Mountain, in the Mayacamas range, which forms Napa Valley’s western wall. Other Diamond Mountain wineries, such as Diamond Creek, Constant and Reverie, exhibit similar Cabernet qualities of intense mountain concentration and hefty, ageworthy tannins.

Anomaly Vineyards anomalyvineyards.com 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena); 826 cases, 14.6%, $85 Now in its fourtheenth vintage, Anomaly sources its grapes from vineyards in the benchlands of the Mayacamas Mountains in St. Helena, in the north-central Napa Valley. The founders were a Berkeley couple, who tired of city life and its frustrations and realized their dream of starting a small winery. It’s difficult to isolate a particular St. Helena character to this wine (as opposed to, say, a Rutherford or Calistoga character), but, in its ripeness and plush tannins, it is distinctly Napa Valley.

Written by Steve Heimoff

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