Pointing out the difference a winemaker can have

December 10, 2012

Herb Lamb Vineyards, Two Old Dogs, Cab 2009 arrived with fanfare. As usual. Folks who are in tune with the best and most expensive Cali Cabs are (should be) aware that Colgin was initially sourced from HL Vineyards back in 1992. In fact, Helen Turley, renowned former Colgin winemaker, made her bones on the juice found here. Allison Tauziet, UC Davis, after five years as assistant winemaker at Far Niente, took over in 2007. Tauziet is wisely advised by guys like Alain Raynaud, described here in the article on Chateau Lascombes in Bordeaux. She also gives great credit to vineyard manager David Abreu for his “innovative” vine propagation, trellis management and pruning, which helps to provide great juice.

Abreu is among the best regarded vineyard folks in St. Helena in Napa and perhaps worldwide. His management company is responsible for the juice used in many of Napa’s best known wines such as: Staglin, Jones, Bressler, Pahlmayer, Viader, Bryant, Fischer and Arajau. Abreu gained part of his fame by bringing the viticulture ideas he observed in Bordeaux to Napa back in the early 80s. I’m unsure who should get more credit for these great wines. We will learn the answer when Abreu moves on.

HLV also produces a nice Two Old Dogs  Sauvignon Blanc and Cab, E II, named after their deceased dog, Eeyore II, and Almost Howell Mt., a house wine made from the lower section of the vineyard when there is juice left. What’s not to like about folks with that sense of humor. I was on board with them until I read this comment from their web page concerning the 2009.  "Only a few summer heat spikes, instead of multiple days in the 100s, were followed by two freaky rainstorms that caught everybody by surprise near harvest in mid-September and again mid-October - with over six inches of rain! The grape bunches plumped with the rains, making the tonnage even greater than expected.”  This is putting a smiley face on a big problem. The lack of prolonged heat usually retards ripening and six inches of rain near harvest in that situation is often a disaster. Think diluted juice! This info piqued my curiosity.

I spent way more than I should, for a 91-point Cali Cab, but at least it was decently fabricated and had a bit of age. The 2007  Herb Lamb E II Napa Cab costs $165 in today’s market. A poor man’s Colgin? Not! Red-brick color. Closed nose, some sweet blueberry, cassis and a touch of oak somewhat lacking, but generally balanced palate with cherry and raspberry. The fruit provided a sweet appearance in this completely dry offering. Finish medium and clean. Keep in mind that in nearly every vintage the HL Vineyard cabs have opened high then prices have slid subsequently.

I realize this is a very mixed review. Just trying to point out the difference a winemaker can have. Abreu’s grapes seem to always make the cut. Abreu Madrona Ranch Cab is mostly rated in the mid to high 90s and priced around $375-450/bottle on open.  Here again Parker loves this guy. Cellar tracker shows us the wine always opens high, spikes on RP review then slides back, often dramatically. I located one of the 95-point 2003 priced under $200. Decided to buy five bottles of Hall Napa Valley Cab instead; 95 points from RP. I rate it 93 and it is still around. Many tout the 2003-06 Madrona. These are monsters and I advise looking out to 1993 and 1995. Much cheaper, 95 points and ready to go now. Just make sure you buy from someone who cellars properly.

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