Cain Vineyard and Winery
Last June I spent five days in Napa Valley and decided to venture off the beaten path to see what I could find. I looked at Google Earth as I was planning my trip and came across Cain Vineyard and Winery. It looked pretty far off the beaten path, so I contacted them for a tour and tasting*
Cain is located in the Spring Mountain district towards the north end of Napa Valley and east of St Helena. Cain is located about as close to the summit as you can get, although there is no summit and no particular mountain named “Spring Mountain”. Spring mountain refers to a geographical area in the mountains and hills to the east of St. Helena.
I was greeted by Operations Manager J.J. McCarthy and whisked out the front door on a wonderful walk through the oak trees. The mottled sunlight played on the path and sparkled through the gaps in the canopy of the trees. We came out on the other side of the trail to an absolutely spectacular view. I was looking South East over hundreds of acres of vineyards in blocks on the steep slopes. Some of which appeared to be close to a mile away. Far in the distance I could see the valley floor. If you look at the top of this post, that’s the view I was looking at. The vineyard ranges in elevation from about 1,400 feet to a little over 2,100 feet above sea level.
The land that Cain Vineyards is on can trace its roots back to the 1870’s. It was once a ranch that grew to over 3,000 acres. Unfortunately after over 100 years of farming and grazing the operation was no longer viable and the family was forced to abandon operations. They donated the majority of the land to create the McCormick Sanctuary which is part of the California Park System.
In 1980, the Cains (Jerry and Joyce) purchased 550 acres of the remaining land and began planting vines. Their vision was to create wines using the traditional Bordeaux varieties. 5 years later, they released their first vintage. Eventually the Cains retired in 1991 and sole ownership was passed on to their business partners, Jim and Nancy Meadlock.
During the tour J.J. was able to provide some interesting information. The men who tend to the vineyard are each given their own blocks, which they are responsible for rather than have the group responsible for the entire vineyard. This way each block is looked after by a single person, who can focus specifically on the unique aspects of the soil, the slope, the drainage, and any challenges and opportunities. In the mid 1990’s almost the entire vineyard had to be torn up and replaced due to the risk of phylloxera. The process took 4 years to complete, however there is still one small block that still remains of original root stock.
After the tour we headed back to the winery and took a quick walk through the production facilities and then headed into the tasting room. There I tasted through Cain’s current offerings as well as some library selections and had a great conversation with J.J. We talked about all kinds of things, not just wine. But mostly wine. If you’re considering heading up to Cain for a tasting or tour try to get J.J. as your host. He’s warm and friendly, has a great sense of humor and he really knows everything there is to know about the history of the vineyard and the wines. But mainly he’s just a down to earth humble guy.
Cain Cuvée, Non Vintage 10, Napa Valley
I lost no time in asking J.J. about non vintage wines. Usually the hallmark of cheap wine, he assured me that this was not cheap and what the concept is. The concept is Cain has been working with the same vineyards and same vines, exact same rows for over 20 years for this wine. “Each year the vines are a year older…” according to the Cain website. The NV10 version is a blend of 51% 2010 and 49% 2009 vintages with a mix of 48% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Cabernet Franc, 6% Petit Verdot. The fruit was sourced from Gallegos in Rutherford, Stanton in Oakville, Nord-Trio C in Yountville, York Creek from the Spring Mountain District and Truchard in Los Carneros. The alcohol weighs in at 14.1% and the retail price is $34 a bottle. 11,230 cases were produced, but all of that appears to have already been allocated on the Cain website, you’ll have to track it down through wine retailers.
Cain Five, 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley
Cain Five has a smaller production run with 4,331 cases produced for the ’09 vintage. The first interesting thing I learned about this wine is that even though it’s the 2009 vintage, it was only released in 2014. After aging in oak for an undisclosed period of time, the wine was aged a further 2 years in the bottle before being released. This would be an incredibly difficult thing for a young winery to accomplish, having wine in the bottle ready to sell but not ready to drink and having the discipline to not sell it right away. The ’09 vintage is a blend of 74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. All the fruit comes from Cain’s Spring Mountain Estate. This wine is still young and has at least another 10-15 years left in it. If you’re drinking it any time soon I suggest decanting for an hour, but more importantly drink it slowly over a longer period to see how it changes after opening up. It’ll be quite rewarding
Cain Five, 2004, Napa Valley
The most obvious difference between the ’04 and ’09 is noticeable even before you taste the wine. The labeling. For some reason the ’04 does not have the Spring Mountain District sub AVA on it’s label. The fruit is sourced from Cain’s Spring Mountain Estate, it just wasn’t labeled so at the time. This wine also saw a release date long after the actual harvest. The wine saw 22 months in oak and a further 2 years in the bottle before being released in 2008. 4,623 cases were produced but this wine is now considered a “Library release” meaning it is only available on site at the winery itself. The blend on this wine is 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 21% Cabernet Franc, 4% Malbec and 3% Petit Verdot. It was very interesting to be able to compare this with the ’09 vintage and see how aging works on the wine. The wine had calmed down considerably. Very refined, classic Napa mountain fruit. A quick 10 minute decant is all that’s needed, and if you’re visiting the winery you can rest assured they’ll do that for you.
Cain Concept “The Benchland”, 2009 Napa Valley
According to the folks at Cain, “Concept” is “about Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the classical Benchlands of of Napa Valley”. The fruit is sourced from Oakville: Beckstoffer’s Missouri Hopper vineyard, Rutherford: Beckstoffer’s George III, Morisoli Borges and Hudson vineyards, Carneros: Hudson vineyard, Atlas Peak: Stagecoach vineyard and St. Helena’s Stanton vineyard. The blend is 46% Cabernet, 26% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 13% Petit Verdot. Although they just stated that this wine is all about the Benchland cab, there is a significant amount of blending going on here. The simple purpose of doing this is to add complexity. They’re going for a concept here, the concept – extremely refined and complex Napa Valley Cabernet based wine. This wine hits on all marks.
Of all the places I’ve visited in Napa Valley over the last several years, the Cain estate was one of the most interesting. Not only for the spectacularly beautiful scenery but for my one on one tasting withing J.J. The thing that we tend to forget when trying to enjoy wine is that it’s made so much more enjoyable by drinking it with interesting people. If you’re considering taking a visit to Cain I recommend requesting a tour with J.J. (I hope he still works there when you do!)
Visit Cain HERE