The 1998 Cabernet harvest at Chalk Hill was, on average, two weeks later than normal, as cool conditions prevailed throughout the growing season. The lack of heat was largely mitigated by exceedingly small crops for all Bordeaux varieties on the estate. The fruit showed full physiological maturity at moderate Brix, a sign that ripeness had been achieved differently than in the previous two warmer vintages. Rather than the power and weight attainable with warmer weather, the combination of complexity, elegance and balance at moderate alcohol levels was an overriding characteristic of this wine. To accentuate these characters, color and skin tannin were extracted early in the fermentations, while extraction of unripe seed tannin was eliminated by limiting post-dryness maceration of the fruit. Lot selection is also critically important in cool vintages. Over a third of the Cabernet was de-classified, and the final blend was built from only the best lots, chosen by ripeness and distinctive character.
The basic processing techniques remained firmly traditional. Fermentations, both primary and malolactic, were predominantly natural. The final blend incorporated small amounts of the other Bordeaux varieties, especially Petit Verdot and Merlot. The wine was aged for twenty-one months in French oak, 55% new, with quarterly rackings. The wine has flavors of black cherry, red plum, currant and spiced earth, steeped in leathery oak. Tannins are plush with mid-palate sweetness, and the finish is firm and substantial. As is our traditional practice, the wine was neither fined nor filtered as it was master-blended to a harmonious balance.