Because the growing season did not commence in its normal clockwork fashion, we waited for our Cabernet Sauvignon to develop intense ripe blueberry and sour cherry flavors—the hallmark of this wine—and harvested in late October. In very warm years we usually opt to blend in more spice characteristics by adding Cabernet Franc, but in cooler, longer seasons the opposite is true. 2000 Rubicon has only 2% Cabernet Franc and is also the first year we introduced a fourth varietal, Petit Verdot. This varietal adds a luxurious texture to the tannins along with velvety, dark berry fruit. The earlier ripening Merlot adds luscious flavors of blueberries and licorice, the perfect complement to our Cabernet Sauvignon.
In 1879, Finnish explorer and adventurer Gustave Niebaum searched the Napa Valley with the goal of establishing a wine estate to rival the finest chateau of France. For decades his wines won acclaim and remain some of the most admired in American wine history's classic period. By the mid-1960's, his property was divided, and estate-wine production ceased.
A decade later, Francis Ford Coppola purchased 1,500 acres of this historic property and revived Captain Niebaum's fine winemaking tradition. In 1995, Niebaum-Coppola acquired the remainder of the property and restored the Inglenook Estate to its original dimensions.
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It's hard not to think of Napa Valley when thinking of California wines. The region is, after all, the one that brought world recognition to California wine making. The area was settled by a few choice wine families in the 1960's who bet that the wines of the area would grow and flourish. They were right. The Napa wine industry really took off in the 1980's, when vineyard lands were scooped up and vines were planted throughout the county. A number of wineries emerged, from large conglomerates to small boutiques to cult classics. Cabernet Sauvignon is definitely the grape of choice here, with many winemakers also focusing on Bordeaux Blends. Whites are usually Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Within the Napa Valley lie smaller sub-AVAs that lend even more character specifics to the wines. Furthest south is Carneros, followed by Yountville, Oakville & Rutherford. Above those two is St.-Helena and finally, just granted an AVA, Calistoga. These areas are situated on the valley floor and are known for creating rich, smooth Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. There are a few mountain regions as well, nestled on the slopes overlooking the valley AVAs. Those include Howell Mountain, Stags Leap and Mount Veeder. Wines from the mountain regions are often more structured and firm, benefiting from more time in the bottle to evolve and soften.
It's not rare to see a wine's country of origin listed as "California." A country into itself in the wine world, California makes enough varieties and styles to match many European wine countries. It produces a diverse range of wines that span the quality spectrum.
The most famous of the California wine regions is Napa Valley, and these wines are certainly outstanding – but it's not as broad and diverse as its larger neighbor, Sonoma County. Down south, Santa Barbara's Santa Maria Valley is well-known for its Rhône blends, as well as cool-climate varieties like Pinot and Chardonnay. The Central Coast, the largest California AVA, has many different microclimates that lead to a wide range of wines with many sub-AVAs.
Most wine ranges from 10-16% alcohol by volume. Some varietals tend to have higher (for example Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon) or lower alcohol levels (Pinot Noir and many white varietals), but there is always some variation from producer to producer. Some wine falls outside of this range, for instance Port weighs in closer to 20%, while Muscat and Riesling are usually a bit below 10%.
Wine Style Guide
Light & Crisp
Light to medium bodied wines that are high in acid and light to medium fruit. Typically no oak.
Fruity & Smooth
Light to medium bodied wines with lots of juicy fruit, typically medium acid and medium oak.
Rich & Creamy
Full bodied wines that have typically undergone malo-lactic fermentation and/or spent time in oak.