80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot
Santa Cruz Mountains
Severe spring storms wreaked havoc with the flowering on Monte Bello Ridge; particularly affected were our lower vineyards, down by sixty percent. We make two estate cabernets each year, both from the Monte Bello vineyards, but different in style. The Monte Bello—more tannic and intense—is intended for long aging. The Santa Cruz Mountains, though well structured, is enjoyable earlier. Twelve parcels were combined to make this elegant, complex wine, which was aged for eighteen months in two-year-old, air-dried american oak with a small percentage in new wood. The 1996 Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet is very limited in quantity. It will be appealing within a year, and develop fully over the next ten to twelve.
On Monte Bello Ridge, there are three major plantings of cabernet and merlot. The first is between 1400 and 2000 feet of elevation on the Schwabacher family ranch, where cabernet has grown since the late nineteenth century. The second is between 2100′ and 2300′, including
vines from which the first Ridge Monte Bello was made in 1959. The third and highest between 2500′ and 2600′ is the site of several thirtyyear-old vineyards and the old Monte Bello Winery built in 1886 by Osea Perrone. In the sixties and early seventies, the Monte Bello came from the second vineyard, in the late seventies and eighties from the second and third, and in the nineties from all three. Each of the three plantings includes from five to twelve distinct vineyard parcels that are harvested and fermented separately. Each displays a particular character and style, which defines it as Monte Bello, or as Santa Cruz Mountains. The softer, more elegant wines are included in the latter; the tougher, more structured wines, requiring longer aging, go into the Monte Bello. We look closely at every lot of fermenting wine, tasting daily to predict its style. We then decide on pump over technique and pressing schedule, taking care not to over-extract tannins on lots that will go into the Santa Cruz Mountains.
In 1996, a series of unseasonable storms struck in late winter and early spring; two especially strong ones each dumped over ten inches of rain. The storms were followed by unusually warm weather in April and May, which pushed the vines to flower early. But a rogue storm hit just as the cabernet bloomed at the lower vineyards, knocking flowers to the ground and reducing yields by sixty percent. The middle and upper vineyards were down by thirty percent. The unsettled weather gave way to an remarkably warm summer—over thirty days on Monte Bello were over 90°, and a few were over 100°. The small crop and heat hastened ripening; harvest began a week earlier than usual.
As in previous years, fermentation proceeded using only the yeast present on the grape clusters, and we pumped the fermenting juice over a floating cap of skins. After a natural secondary fermentation, five percent of the wine was racked to new air-dried american oak barrels and the rest to similar two-year old barrels for eighteen months of aging. In assemblage tastings, we chose twelve parcels from the lower, middle and upper vineyards for this racy, beautifully balanced wine. The press wines were aged separately, fined with egg whites, and included for
additional depth and spice. Enjoyable to drink now, this elegant cabernet will develop complexity with up to twelve years in the bottle.
Average Rating: 89.6
No. of Tasting Notes: 12
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