This month, a few select members of our red wine clubs received a Vellum Wine Craft Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2012
2011 in Napa Valley was the vintage that separated the men from the boys according to pretty much every winemaker I know. It was cold. Damp. Those with young, active, kids said it was annoying.
The good part? As we saw in the last few vintages, sometimes rain helps. 2012 didn’t have any, but it did have pretty much idyllic growing conditions. Long and warm gives every winemaker the opportunity to take the fruit they’re given and decide on a direction.
At Vellum, Karl follows the lead of the folks that really taught him to make wine. Not those at UC Davis, but instead his first true winemaking job in the industry: Storybrook Mountain.
Storybrook if you aren’t familiar with the history, is one of the couple of dozen Napa Valley wineries which date to a number starting with a 18. IE, the 19th century.
Like many others, it was abandoned and finally rehabbed during the golden age of innovation in Napa, the 70’s. Known for Zinfandel, Storybrook was one of the first properties where acidity took precedence over structure. Still does and that rings true at Vellum.
Karl’s winemaking journey is formed largely by his time at UC Davis. Like every single graduate of the acclaimed viticulture program, Lehman produces wines that are structurally perfect. Davis though since it’s weight in the industry is something akin to the entirety of the Ivy League and UC systems put together onto a single campus, also opens a crapload of doors. Almost every corporate door is open to its graduates, so I think it says something about a winemaker that decided to venture on his own so early in his career. Most don’t and that leads to the fracture of those with viticulture education experience and those who learned to make wine as a second career.
So what do we have in your glass?
Most importantly, we need to talk about this vineyard. It’s a single vineyard, but one without a name. Yes, those still do exist in Napa Valley. Not Rutherford though. Plus, when you borrow money from friends and family using promissory notes like Vellum did to start, you’re not buying Rutherford fruit.
Back about a decade ago, if you wanted to start a Napa winery on a budget, there was only one spot to find fruit. In southernmost and easternmost section of the valley was a smaller region that the locals called Coombsville. For decades, winemakers said the region was too cold to grow good wine grapes. Small landowners in the region grew grapes still, after all they were the closest to downtown Napa and why shouldn’t they be involved in their county’s namesake industry, but many, like this vineyard made them into jelly.
Over the years, yes, Napa’s a bit warmer….but consumer tastes have changed more quickly than our weather. These days, what was considered light and overly acidic a decade ago, now is in the mainstream.
In 2011 the TTB made Coombsville it’s own AVA. Fruit prices are now only surpassed by the old stand alone Napa names like Rutherford and Oakville. Things in the wine industry change slowly, but when they do change, they tend to take even longer to swing back in the other direction.
So this is classic Coombsville. I’ve opened bottles of Vellum for other winemakers and they peg it immediately. It’s the acidity, which is something that is an open debate among winemakers. Karl Lehman here at Vellum strongly believes that wine ages well, based largely on its acidity. Others think it’s the tannins.
Aging wine though, is an inexact science at best. First, it’s damn near impossible to have a true double blind trial. After all, does anyone really make wine from the same grapes during the same vintage, only encourage acidity in one barrel and tannins in another? What about the barrel differences though? What about long term storage conditions?
Here’s the kicker-we’re, as an industry, only now starting to actually pay attention to which wines actually age better. Napa vs Bordeaux is always a hot button topic and it’s imminently more complex than a simple question of acidity vs tannin.
What Vellum is looking to do is to create something that’s more Bordeaux than Napa….at least in style. In California that can be damn hard.