napa cult wine

Robert Craig video interview | part one

Earlier this year I was fortunate to get some one on one interview time with Napa Valley wine producer Robert Craig.  He was in Phoenix for the official release of the new 2010 “Affinity” his flagship wine.  Those of you who have been following this blog are well aware of my affinity for Robert Craig Wines and Bob and his wife, Lynn.  If not, do yourself a favor and read up on why I consider Robert Craig Wines to be “Affordable California Cult” wines.

Video interview, part one

Affordable California Cult Wines | Von Strasser

Von Strasser Diamond Mountain Reserve

The "Reserve" labels will cost you $150+ a bottle, but you can pick up the DMD labels for around $50

The fourth installment of “Affordable California Cult Wines” takes us to the Diamond Mountain District of Napa. Most everyone who follows Napa wines has heard of Oakville, Stag’s Leap and Rutherford Districts but what about the districts that make up the Eastern Vaca Mountain Range in the Mayacamas?  There are five: Atlas Peak, Mt. Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and the newest of the 5, Diamond Mountain District (DMD) which became an AVA in 2001. Although the AVA is 5,000 acres, only 500 acres are planted with vines, most of which is Cabernet, making it the smallest of the Napa sub appellations.   Diamond Mountain itself is named after the volcanic glass crystals found in its soil. With a climate that is moderately warm, it is significantly cooler than the Napa Valley floor during the day, but slightly warmer at night.  As the name suggests, this is a higher elevation region, starting at 400 feet all the way up to 2,200 feet. The wines are generally more tannic than the wines produced on the valley floor. Some of the more well known wineries and vineyards from DMD include Sterling Vineyards and Schramsberg Vineyards. They have great structure and aging potential. Cabernet Sauvignon is the predominant variety but according to The Wine News it is also home to the greatest concentration of Petit Verdot in Napa.

The Von Strasser vineyard is home to the second largest planting of Petit Verdot in the Diamond Mountain District. The winery is known for using high doses of Petite Verdot in their blends, sometimes upwards of 44%. While it may seem like a wacky blend to some, Rudy Von Strasser has plenty of wine making credentials to put your mind at ease. His wine career began after graduating UC Davis in 1985 and working as an intern at none other than Chateau Lafite-Rothschild.  Rudy returned to Napa a year later and was hired by Trefethen Wines. From there he went to Newton, and by 1990 he managed to purchase the Roddis Estate Winery located on Diamond Mountain. The Von Strasser brand has a 3 tier system: “Reserve” which is only made in great vintages, “Single Vineyard”, and “DMD”, or Diamond Mountain District.  While the first two tiers can run upwards of $100+ a bottle, the Diamond Mountain District Cabernet is available at a very reasonable $50, direct from the winery website.
The 2006 Von Strasser Cabernet Diamond Mountain District is a blend of 85% Cabernet, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot, 2% Zinfandel and 2% Merlot. The alcohol is a moderate 13.5%, with a Bordeaux-like structure, along with tart blackberry and cherry fruit encompassed by smoky oak. The tannins are more intense than most Napa Cabs, yet the wine is still wonderfully balanced and has a nice lush mouth-feel.  Wine Enthusiast gave this wine 91 points and they estimate that the wine should continue to develop through 2012, which is just around the corner.  You won’t have to wait too long for this wine to reach its peak.  The wine was aged for 22 months in 100% French oak, 30% of which were new barrels. A miniscule but attainable 2,465 cases produced, making this wine the most accessible in my ‘Affordable California Cults’ series wines. Von Strasser is starting to get some rave reviews and was recently crowned Value Winery of the year (2009) by Wine & Spirits magazine, to go alongside their Wine & Spirits Winery of the Year award, received in 2005. Get your hands on Von Strasser’s wines now, before more wine publication awards send its prices high and its availability low!
Edited by Jon Troutman

Affordable California Cult Wines | Shulz Cellars

California cult wineThis is the third installment in a five part series featuring some Affordable California Cult wines. Their track record, quality, and small production make these collector’s items, but their price tags are what really differentiate them in a sea of overpriced California wines.

Along the west side border of Napa, just off of the Mayacamas mountain region, is the Mt. Veeder region. Responsible for a small fraction of the Valley’s wines, Mt. Veeder doesn’t receive the love and attention that some better known counterpart regions, like Oakville and St. Helena, but it is quietly turning out world class wines from its high elevations. It should come as no surprise, since people have been growing grapes on Mt. Veeder since the 1860’s. Despite the rich history, it wasn’t until 1993 that Mt. Veeder became a formally recognized AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Located north of Carneros and west of Oak Knoll, Yountville and Oakville, the mountain is rugged, steep, and faces the cool Pacific currents. The berries of Mt. Veeder are relatively small due to the cool fog and high elevations, which results in wines of intense fruit flavor and smoother tannins. Of the 15,000 acres that make up the Mt. Veeder, only 1,000 acres are planted to vineyards.  Some of the vineyards are on slopes as steep as 30 Degrees – you could ski down these bad boys!
Though few people know much about Mt. Veeder, it has quietly produced many well known wines, including Hess and Mayacamas Vineyards. Add to that list Schulz Cellars, which was formed in 2005 by John and Michelle Schluz.  Their path to owning a wine company includes significant sales background rather than just a pure wine making background.  John spent 10 years in sales with Franciscan and Michelle spent 5 years in sales with up-and-coming Cliff Lede.  Currently John does sales consulting for a number of ultra premium Napa wineries and Michelle is the Direct to Consumer marketing manager for Arrowood winery and Matanzas Creek Winery.
This winning combination of sales and wine making experience was a recipe for success. The Schulz’s were lucky enough to befriend John and Ashely Derr who own Lampyridae Vineyard, located at about 2,500 feet, near the summit of Mt Veeder. The highest vineyard in the entire Mayacamas range, Lampyridae is Latin for firefly, which is what the lights of San Fransisco look like at night from the vineyard.  This vineyard doesn’t have a shabby background, as it is also a contributing component for Beringer’s (legendary) Private Reserve Cabernet.  The high elevation vineyard produces smaller even more intense fruit with bolder tannins.
So with those two backgrounds in mind, I present to you:
2007 Shulz Cellars Mt. Veeder Zinfandel
This is 100% Zinfandel, aged in 50% French and 50% American Oak (50% of which was new oak) for a total of 18 months.  The alcohol rings in at a tolerable 14.7%, not nearly as high as many neighboring zinfandels out there.  In my last post I talked about the Venge Scout’s Honor.  This wine is almost the polar opposite.  If you don’t like the ripe Lodi style of Zinfandel then you will probably love this wine.  It has a formidable nose of clove and spices, and an intense palate full of cherry, blackberry, and big, chewy tannins. Available for under $30, this wine tastes that much sweeter. And with only 175 cases produced, it’s justified its title as an affordable California Cult selection.