With the number of U.S. wineries now numbering around 7,000-plus, and with the number of brands perhaps twice or three times that, the vast majority of wines that you find on store shelves these days are less than well known.
Flying under the radar, then, is a commonplace condition alleviated a bit if the winery is located in a well-known region. As such, Napa Valley wineries are generally better known than those in, say, Sonora or Amador.
Napa wineries, in particular, often gain points for being easy to visit, right off Highway 29, and for the fact that almost everyone here makes a cabernet sauvignon, a wine that brings in collectors and commands high prices.
Which makes Sequoia Grove’s situation a bit odd. Founded nearly 35 years ago, the winery is located in the heart of Rutherford, one of the most prestigious areas of the valley, located within sight of some of the most famous of the state’s wineries.
Also, it’s one of the few wineries whose name is an actual landmark: The tasting room and grounds are ringed by one of the few sequoia groves in the valley, a classic spot for photo-taking. Moreover, the winery makes stellar wines.
So the lack of national visibility for Sequoia Grove is hard to understand — until you chat with the winemaking staff.
“We are all about balance and structure,” says CEO Mike Trujillo, not exactly echoing the valley’s major message of the last two decades: mammothly constructed red wines with impact, power and pizzazz. And a slathering of oak, high alcohols and softness.
Sequoia Grove’s red wines are carefully honed by winemaker Molly Hill with a deft touch. As a result, she is cautious to answer a question about her typical winemaking techniques.
She says it’s really all about “what the fruit looks like each year. You have to know what you have before you can decide how the wine wants to be made.”
The best example of the Hill/Trujillo style is in the newest cabernet sauvignon release, the 2010 ($44), with a cherry, herb and tea leaf aroma that reminds me of the famed 1985 Sequoia Grove Cabernet, but which has a better structure and doesn’t need as much time in the cellar.
There is a lushness in the mid-palate, and its perfect tannin structure is due to superb fruit, some from the winery’s own vineyards and other fruit from neighboring vineyards, and a technique that begins to deal with tannins even before the grapes are off the vine.
Most Napa wineries that make cabernet have a high-end wine (many sell for $200 or more), and until 2007 Sequoia Grove didn’t play that game. Now the winery has a special blended red (called Cambium). It sells for $144 a bottle and mainly appears in restaurants at about $300.
I prefer the $44 wine to the higher-priced version, as good as it is.
Sequoia Grove also makes a widely distributed chardonnay ($28) as well as a few wines that are sold at the tasting room and online only: a superb 2012 sauvignon blanc ($22) as well as a dramatic syrah ($36).
Wine of the Week: 2012 Kenwood Vintage White Wine, California ($8) — A blend of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and other white grapes, this fresh, appealing “little” wine has an aroma of grass, some richness in the mid-palate and just the barest hint of residual sugar. Serve chilled on a patio or with simple foods like chicken salad.
Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.