Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Sunny Winter Day at Cuvaison Estate Wines – Carneros, California

Cuvaison Estate Wines has been producing estate grown wines from their Carneros and Mount Veeder vineyards since 1969. I visited their Calistoga tasting room on the Silverado trail years ago and decided to check out their “all green” tasting room in Carneros last weekend.

The name Cu∙vai∙son [koo∙veh∙ZOHN] is derived from “The French term for the period when grape juice is kept in contact with the skins and seeds during both fermentation and maceration. Critical in the making of red wines, cuvaison allows color, tannins, and aroma to be transferred from the skins and seeds to the juice.” [1]

The winery was established by two engineers from Silicon Valley who founded Cuvaison with a 27 acre vineyard at the winery’s Calistoga location in 1969. Ten years later the Schmidheiny Family of Switzerland purchased Cuvaison Estate Wines. In 1998 they added to their land holding the 170-acre Brandlin Ranch on Mt. Veeder, from which they source their Cabernet Sauvignon. Then in 2004 the Carneros winery was completed to produce their estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir production facility in Napa Valley. Three years later on their 40th anniversary this facility went completely solar as they completed construction of their new barrel room in Caneros.

Their 400 acre Carneros Estate Vineyard is in the southernmost corner of Napa Valley and Sonoma County as the AVA spans both counties. This is an ideal climate for producing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as the terroir is characterized by dense clay soils and the cooling effect of the San Pablo Bay. The morning fog keeps the grapes from heating up too quickly, while the afternoon ocean breezes decreases the leaf temperature and dries the dew left by the morning fog.

Cuvaison’s other Estate Vineyard is the historic 170-acre Brandlin Vineyard located in the Mayacamas range on the southwest side of Napa Valley, in the Mount Veeder appellation. This rugged and isolated vineyard was settled by the Brandlin family in the 1870’s on the steep, rocky slopes composed of gravelly loam soil over shale, the vineyard lies on a ridgeline overlooking Napa Valley. The first vines were then planted in 1926 and was then purchased by Cuvaison in who then carefully restored this noble site maintaining the integrity of the estate, with only a fraction of the land being planted to vineyards maintaining glens of old oak trees and sustainable viticultural practices to support natural biodiversity and the land’s abundant wildlife. The vineyard is divided into 15 sustainably-farmed blocks, that showcase the varied aspects in sun exposure, slope and soil composition. Vines endure the drought stress typical of exposed peaks and free-draining mountain soils renowned for producing powerful wines.

The Carneros tasting room is out of site of the road below and has breath taking views of the vineyards. The facilities and tasting room have a modern Swedish minimalist architecture feel comprised of simple wood, metal and glass with very clean straight lines and full-unobstructed surrounding windows that provide a panoramic view of the vineyards. You can sample the wines perched on one of their simple aluminum tables and chairs (made from recycled materials), on the outdoor patio or reserve a seat in the lounge that reminds me of an Ikea showroom.

When visiting you can choose from one of Cuvaison’s two flights. The first is $15 for four samples and the second is $20 for four wines. In both of them you are served the 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir and the 2008 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. So the primary difference between the two is that the $15 flight includes the 2010 Carneros Chardonnay and 2009 Carneros Syrah whereas the $20 includes the 2010 S Block Chardonnay and the 2009 Diablo Syrah. Not having any indication what if any quality differences there might be between these Chards and Syrahs I chose the $15 flight.

My first pour was the 2010 Carneros Chardonnay. On the nose and palate I picked up light green fruits (green apples, pears), lemon followed by a subtle creaminess and tangy orange peel on the finish with a hint of nuttiness on the return. A respectable wine for $23 a bottle.

My second wine was the 2009 Carneros Pinot Noir. A very elegant wine with strawberries, raspberries, plum, cola and spice on the nose. On the palate it is very soft with a full round mouth feel and a hint of anise on a medium length finish. A nice wine but at $35 a bottle the competition is stiff in Carneros as there are many Pinots just like this at this price or even a little lower.

My third wine was the 2009 Carneros Syrah.  A dark and intense wine with concentrated blackberries, a hint of pepper followed by cedar and black pepper on the tail end. On the palate this wine has supple tannins and a full bodied mouth feel and a peppery finish. An okay wine but a but steep at $35 a bottle.

My final wine and favorite in the line-up was the 2008 Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. This is a very lush wine with layers of cassis, blackberries, blueberries, anise, boysenberry pie and vanilla on the nose. On the palate it is very lush with supple but slightly drying tannins and a lingering finish. This wine sells for $45 a bottle and at that price range there is a lot of competition in the $35 and under dollar range.

To visit or for more information:

Cuvaison Estate Wines– Carneros

1221 Duhig Road, Napa CA 94559

Phone: 1-707-942-2455

[1] source: © Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on The Wine Lover's Companion, by Ron Herbst and Sharon Tyler Herbst