With only a few weeks left in the mustard season and sunny weather and a temperature in the low 70’s in the forecast there was no better place for a wine country traveler to be to last weekend than traveling through Rutherford, the heart of the Napa Valley. So my first stop of the day was at Sawyer Cellars which is located between Highway 29 and the Napa River in Rutherford.
The winery was founded by Joanne and Charles Sawyer who started making wine in 1995. In 1997, they refurbished the site’s dark wood 1920’s era barn structure with a metal roof and then built a modern winery inside. Immediately behind the barn they built an underground barrel room and wine library. Above they constructed a modern, gravity-fed cellar. In fact, the barn was actually lifted from its foundation to create the cellar 28 feet below.
In 1999 the Sawyers were joined by winemaker Brad Warner who had previously worked at Charles Krug Winery and Robert Mondavi Winery.
Sawyer Cellars is surrounded by 50 acres under vine all of which are planted to Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot, and Sauvignon Blanc with additional 10 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon nearby. However, they only produce about 4,200 cases per year using only the best of grapes from the vineyard and the rest of the grapes are sold to various buyers.
As you enter the winery you pass under a grape trellis that leads inside past the winemaker’s small office and into the tasting room. The tasting room has inlaid cedar walls along with vaulted ceilings and an old vine chandelier hanging above the black granite tasting bar.
While visiting I tasted the following wines for $10:
My first sample was the 2010 Estate Sauvignon Blanc. This wine has a very expressive nose with vibrant lemon zest, white grapefruit, a hint of lemon grass and dusty chalk. On the palate the wine is crisp and refreshing with really good acid and a lingering citrus finish. One of the best S.B.s I’ve tasted in the Napa Valley and $22 I brought one home.
My next wine was the 2007 Estate Merlot. Most winery’s current releases are ‘08s and ‘09s so I was surprised to find that all of their reds were 2007’s which was an excellent year for Napa Valley. This wine exudes big fresh cherries, cassis, a hint of anise and mint on the nose. The wine has an excellent mid-palate and a long finish. IF you’re a Merlot fan, I’d recommend picking this one up for $39 a bottle.
My second red wine was the 2007 Estate Bradford Meritage. A blend of 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc each of which is fermented and aged separately before blending. On the nose and palate I picked up cocoa, black currants, blackberries and a touch of spice followed on the palate by well integrated tannins and mouth watering acidity. If there is one word that describes the chief character of this wine it is – “BALANCE.” All of the flavors and aspects of this wine are in harmony with each other with no one character overshadowing or outweighing the other. This is a really fine wine for $46 a bottle and many of their competitors sell similar wines for $60+.
My next red was the 2007 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. This is another really nicely balanced wine with layers of blackberries, currant, anise and just a touch of cigar box. It’s a tough call to say whether I preferred the Meritage or this 100% Cab and usually I find that I prefer blends over straight Cabs but I decided to go with this one and brought one home for $49.
My final wine was 2007 Petit Verdot, which is a blend of 85% P.V. and 15% Merlot. This wine is intense with concentrated notes of blackberries, black currants, molasses, cedar and damp earth. On the palate the wine has a bit of a dry grip with pronounced tannins on the front. A really nice wine but a bit steep at $54 a bottle.
To visit or for more information:
8350 Sr. Helena Highway (a.k.a Highway 29)
Rutherford, CA 94573