California is studded with vineyards whose names are enough to send fans of their wines into paroxysms of joy at the mere mention of them. To Kalon. Dr. Crane. Garys’ Vineyard. Bien Nacido. Durrell. Each of these represents a unique plot of land, a specific and often idiosyncratic source of some of the most interesting wines produced in America.
Not all of the wines that spring from fruit grown in these vineyards are the same, however: The winemaking decisions of the various producers lead to different expressions of the land from which the fruit is grown, and in that regard, the producer is just as important as the vineyard itself.
Of course, without great vineyards (and therefore great fruit), there can be no great wine. Which is one of the reasons I was so intrigued when I heard about a new producer, based in Knights Valley, that was not only crafting wine from its own estate vineyard, but also from two of Napa’s elite: Oakville’s Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard and St. Helena’s Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard.
I wasn’t disappointed: The winemaking did exuberant justice to the vineyards. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that, despite the effort that finding these wines will require (they’re made in miniscule quantities), they are more than worth it.
This is impressive for such a young venture: Knights Bridge was founded just a few years ago, in 2006, so the fact that its wines are this good, and that they are being made with such a high level of confidence, bodes very well for the future.
Much of this is the result not just of expert winemaking on the part of Jeff Ames, but also of the clarity of vision guiding the project itself.
I recently spoke with Partner and Managing Director Tim Carl, as well as with James Bailey, the Chairman and Owner of Knights Bridge Vineyard, and came away with the sense that the purity of the wines are the result of an overarching philosophy that respects the enterprise itself as well as the land from which the fruit is sourced and the wine-making that brings it all into focus.
The result, less than three years into the venture, is a stable of wines that are as expressive as they are powerful, and that manifest the differences between the vineyards from which they spring with a sense of both clarity and exuberance.
The only problem, as I noted earlier, will be finding them: With only 250 cases of their estate-vineyard wine being produced in 2007, 150 of the To Kalon, and 125 of the Dr. Crane, demand will soon likely outpace the supply. They’re being poured at some of the top restaurants in the country--including Cyrus in Healdsburg and Gary Danko in San Francisco--and are available at a handful of retail stores. But your best bet is to get on the mailing list. You can sign up at www.KnightsBridgeWinery.com.
My tasting notes for the Cabernets are below. I’ll post notes on the Chardonnays on my web site, www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com, this winter.
Knights Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon “Knights Bridge Vineyard” 2007: A beautiful nose of red and black currants, with hints of kirsch and a touch of leather, remains fresh despite all its richness. This leads the way to an impeccably balanced palate of ripe cherries, pencil shavings, and oolong tea, all of it lingering on throughout a finish that picks up notes of strawberries and grilled rosemary and thyme. After being open for a few days, it developed hints of eucalyptus and mint on the nose, and evolved into the most Bordeaux-like of the three.
Knights Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon “Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard” 2007: Scents of strawberry jam, black peppercorn, and melted licorice take on an earthier personality on the palate, which was the most youthful upon opening the three wines. The alcohol and oak needed a day to come together, but once they did, this bottling just sang. Ultimately, it was defined by perfumed eucalyptus, fennel, licorice, and, on the finish, a hint of maduro cigar. This is a generous, mouth-coating wine that will reward a decade or more of cellaring and patience. Excellent wine from a legendary vineyard.
Knights Bridge Cabernet Sauvignon “Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard” 2007: This bottling was the most aromatically alluring of the three out of the gate, with blackberry, subtle licorice, a hint of caramel from the oak, and an aroma than can only be described as a clay-like minerality. This was my favorite of the three Cabs, with a well-balanced mid-palate, excellent acidity, flavors of mixed wild berries, a scorched-earth character that countered the richness of the fruit perfectly, exotic brown spices, and, after a few days, lavender, anise, and licorice. Great complexity and astounding potential, all of it wrapped up in a lush texture that’s nothing short of irresistible, even right now.
Brian Freedman is a food and wine writer, educator, and consultant. He is Director of Education at The Wine School of Philadelphia (www.vinology), blogger for www.UncorkLife.com by WineChateau.com, contributing editor at Philadelphia Style Magazine, and contributing writer for John Mariani's Virtual Gourmet. You can reach him online at www.BrianFreedmanPhiladelphia.com.
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