Mayacamas Winery, located 2000 feet above the Napa Valley floor
Throughout Europe, the wine producers that are discussed in great detail are the ones that have been producing their offerings for many years. While you do hear about new estates from time to time, it's the firms that have been around for decades or even centuries that are something of a reference point in Italy, France and other European countries.
Yet in California - especially in Napa Valley, it's the newest of producers that receive most of the headlines, while the wineries that have been around for 30 or 40 years (admittedly, a long time in Napa Valley history), seem to be overlooked. Think about it, you hear about the latest hotshots from Napa all the time, but when's the last time you read an article about a winery such as Joseph Phelps or Sterling? Did their wines suddenly decrease in quality? The answer is no, but these companies are not as fascinating or hip to many of today's wine writers, who are always looking for the newest viticultural temple funded by some multi-millionaire who hires the most expensive - and cult-driven - winemaker available.
So, I'm quite pleased to sing the praises of a real Napa Valley veteran- Mayacamas Vineyards. The winery was established way back in 1968 (talk about ancient history for this part of the viticultural world!) by Bob Travers, who today, is still making the wines. Named for the mountain range that serves as a border between Napa and Sonoma, the winery is situated some 2000 feet above the Napa Valley floor. This is a hidden gem, located in a place where coyotes, cougars and bobcats dwell. The vineyards, located at elevations ranging from 1800 to 2300 feet above sea level naturally yield very small crops, ensuring wines of structure for long-term aging.
Vineyards at Mayacamas
The other night I tried the current release of the winery's signature Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2006 vintage. Blended with 14% Merlot and 1% Cabernet Franc, this is a mouth-filling wine. But lest you think this is a typical blockbuster Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, consider several things. First, the wine is aged for 18 months in large American oak casks and then 12 months in French 60-gallon oak barrels. This is quite different from the standard practice these days in Napa, where many producers use only French barriques (225-liter) for an aging period of 14-20 months. By using larger barrels for his wines, Travers focuses on the special fruit flavors he derives from his vineyards; my notes on the wine focus on perfumes of black currant, eucalyptus and blackberry.
The wine has a beautifully developed mid-palate with layers of fruit while the finish is quite long with excellent persistence, good acidity and nicely integrated oak. The overall balance is ideal and the complexity is marvelous. My best guess is that the wine will improve dramatically over the next few years and be at its best in 12-15 years. The price is $65 a bottle and when you consider all the $100- $150 bottles of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon out there (especially from the new hotshots), this is an excellent value (consider also that less than 1400 cases of this wine were produced). I'd even be tempted to call the $65 price tag for a wine of this breeding and class a real steal!
Bob Travers, here's to you during this holiday season for continuing to produce classic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for more than 40 years and for maintaining a sane price point. It's a lesson some of the new kids on the block need to learn.