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Cuvaison looks forward to the next 50 years

Cuvaison looks forward to the next 50 years

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Jan. 31, 2020 series
  • Updated

Cuvaison is kicking off 2020 with a tasting room expansion and new bottlings of wine. Having just celebrated its first 50 years in 2019, the winery melds its historic roots with chic innovation.

With sweeping views of Carneros’ rolling hills, guests can sip on the varietal wines that have been mastered over Cuvaison’s 50 years of production, as well as exciting new bottlings of small lot wines, including a new sparkling Brut Rosé.

The winery was founded in 1969, just as a post-Prohibition renaissance was starting to build in the Napa Valley. Cuvaison joined historic luminaries, such as Krug and Beaulieu, and modern-era pioneers like Robert Mondavi, Stony Hill, Chappellet, Spottswoode and Trefethen in a fine wine revolution.

It all began with being in the right place at the right time — and talking to the right people. Legendary vintner Louis M. Martini was before his time, having noted in the early 1940s the potential for growing cool climate varietals such as Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the fog and wind-swept southern reaches of Napa Valley. By 1942, he had 200 acres planted in Carneros. When Thomas Parkhill traveled to Napa Valley in 1967 in search of high-quality grapes, a meeting with Martini would encourage him to put roots in Carneros as well. In 1969, Parkhill and Thomas Cottrell founded Cuvaison and made their first Carneros Chardonnay.

Today the winery is owned by the Swiss Schmidheiny family, fourth- generation vintners who purchased the winery in 1979. It was the Schmidheiny family, with an eye for premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, who bought the 400-acre estate in Carneros, which is home to the Cuvaison visitor center and winery today.

The 32,000-square-foot winery was built in 2009, to the specs of longtime winemaker Steve Rogstad. Temperature-controlled, with optical sorting, gravity flow tanks and concrete eggs, the smart-shed winery is made for premium wine production.

In its celebration of its first 50 years, media gathered at the winery to discover the exciting new changes afoot, as well as revel in the luminous line-up of wines that the winery has produced over the last five decades.

President and CEO Dan Zepponi shared the winery’s upcoming plans, including a second level of outdoor seating where visitors can sip and enjoy the pure beauty of the Carneros region. Rogstad led guests through a selection of wines which proved that age, even in wine, is just a number. Vibrant acidity still lifted the complex flavors in decades-old wines.

Wines of note:

The 1975 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon showed complex layers of dried black fruits, earth, leather, and forest floor. The stunning bouquet is kept bright by the wine’s bright acidity.

The 1977 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is full of heady violet floral aromas and dried herbs with integrated spices of nutmeg and clove. Delicate on the nose, it has a remarkable finish where flavors linger luxuriously on the palate.

Surprisingly perhaps to some, Merlot is one of the winery’s historic staples. In its early years, Cuvaison would trade a small selection of its Merlot with Duckhorn, another producer known for producing premium bottlings of the Merlot variety. The Duckhorn Merlot was used as a blending component to Cuvaison’s historic plantings. Merlot is still reserved a special place on the estate today, although with just one small lot made, the wine sells out quickly to Club members.

The current Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offerings particularly showcase Rogstad’s talents, each having bright fruit and complexity. It is in comparing the winery’s two styles of Chardonnay and two styles of Pinot Noir, that you start to fully understand the range of the winemaker.

The two Chardonnays, tasted side by side, show very different personalities:

The 2017 Kite Tail Chardonnay is made in a reserved Burgundian-style utilizing the famous Wente clone, with vivid acidity and flavors of red apple, pear and guava fruits with a touch of toasty spice on the finish.

The 2017 Coeurtina Chardonnay is instead made from Dijon clones grown in the alluvial soils of an estate dry riverbed. A riper, richly-textured wine, there are plenty of white blossom and juicy stone fruit aromas and flavors.

The two Pinot Noir wines are equally fascinating to taste side by side:

The 2017 Swan Pinot Noir uses the Swan heritage clone and has elegant red fruit aromas (red cherry, red plum) that mingle with light wafts of spice.

The 2017 Spire Pinot Noir is fuller bodied with firm tannins laying a foundation for the darker black cherry fruit and earthy, sweet spice.

One of the newest offerings at Cuvaison is their 2016 Brut Rosé sparkling wine. A blend of Pinot Noir (65%-70%) and Chardonnay, this small-production (4,000-5,000 cases) sparkler has the right pedigree: a hint of autolytic character to add to the vibrant red fruits, all sent across the palate in silky smooth waves thanks to two years of aging on the lees.

Catherine Bugue, the panel writer for the St. Helena Star/Napa Valley Vintners’ tasting panel, loves writing about — and drinking — wine. She is also the co-founder of the Napa Valley Wine Academy in Napa. Peter Stoneberg represents Atlas Peak’s Circle R Ranch and is part of the Saint Francis Yacht Club’s wine committee.

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