Saturday, April 23, 2016

Vine Cliff Winery

With the Atlanta marketplace offering so many good examples of so many types, it takes a lot for me to get excited about any given wine.  Especially at the higher end of the retail price spectrum where  I expect them to be good.  Vine Cliff Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, however, managed to exceed any preconceived expectations I might have a lot! When I learned of its Oakville Bench eastern Napa location, amongst neighbors like Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Harlan Estate, and Schrader, I realized this wine is probably as good as those at half the price!  

History doesn't hurt when you're blogging about wineries either.  Founded in 1871, Vine Cliff is one of the oldest Napa wineries and the first to plant Bordeaux varietals!  With five hundred acres in vines, Vine Cliff was the largest in the county.  So why haven't we heard of this property before now?  Because for almost all of the twentieth century it has been a ghost winery; unoccupied, dilapidated, and because of its dry and rocky location, seriously questionable as an ongoing profitable business.

But it was very successful at one time, before the phylloxera epidemic at the beginning of the twentieth century took it down.   When Nell Sweeney bought the (now) one hundred acre estate in 1985, she replanted many of those old vineyards with the same varietals as were originally there only to have to replant in 1990 with phylloxera-resistent rootstocks when the modern era bete noire arose again.

Vine Cliff now has twenty-five acres in vines. Besides their home estate Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vineyards, they have Chardonnay in Carneros, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in Calistoga, and Cabernet Sauvignon on Howell Mountain.  All are planted in select clones for low yielding, low vegetal growth, low tannin, powerful fruit.

When nineteenth century Vine Cliff was at its peak it produced 17,000 cases of wine a year.  Twenty-first century Vine Cliff makes 6,000.  So who buys a hundred year old winery in ruins and removes hundreds of tons of rocks to create hillside vineyards only to reduce the yield by two-thirds?  Someone committed to making serious world class wines.

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