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Sunday, November 7, 2010

Spring Mountain Uncorked: A visit to Vineyard Seven and Eight

“Wine is like the incarnation--it is both divine and human”  Paul Tillich

This last September I had the great pleasure of visiting with the wonderful folks at Vineyard Seven and Eight on Spring Mountain, which is just a bit south of Diamond Mountain in the Napa Valley.

In conversations about vino on the social networking phenom known as Twitter, I virtually met then assistant winemaker and the winery operations manager Wesley Steffens [who is now the Cellar Master].

As part of the that conversation, I was given an invitation to stop-by for a tour and tasting at Vineyard Seven and Eight, during the trip I had planned to Napa and Sonoma Valley in the summer. Frankly, I had never heard of their winery before, but with so many producers in Napa, it can sometimes be hard to keep up with all new faces coming and going.  

I was surprised to find the Spring Mountain Vintners and Growers Association
did not appear to have a market presence like many of their counterparts on Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association. They also don't appear to have a tasting roadshow. 

It may be something they may want to consider for the future. However, the reputation of the wonderful wines being made on Spring Mountain is very well known and nicely established in the vino-sapien community. I think reminding folks of that fine reputation now and again would be helpful in continuing to market their brand.

I have also read about many of the wonderful wines being produced on Spring Mountain, but I never really got a firm bead on who the quality producers were until I did some further research.

I've heard of some of these top producers before like, Fantesca Estate Wines  and Pride Mountain Vineyards, but never really associated them with the Spring Mountain District, which to me again potentially represents a great marketing opportunity to the folks who may not be in the "know".

It's because of the impact Social Media has had upon the wine industry, that I came across this winery in the first place and I'm so glad I did. Long before everyone else came out with their recent, well deserved glowing reviews, I discovered on my own and in person just how fantastic their wines were and I firmly believe they could soon become the "cult" wine if/when the economy would improve.

If you know me and how I review wines, I'm not one to "gush" over every wine that comes down the purple-paved path. In fact I will not write reviews for wines I don't like [if the wine scores less than 83 points]. But that said, the wines from Vineyard 7&8 flat out rock. Everyone and their brother loved these wines, including the usual suspects of RP, WS, WE and even a certain Mr. Tanzer gave their wines high-marks [see other voices note below].

As I said earlier, I really wanted to get this post off the "back-burner", moving it to the front of the line. However, I was not finished with this post, when I had to run to catch my plane, as a result I was the very last passenger aboard. Heading to China for the first time on vacation. I was warned I would be off the grid for a bit, so I hit publish and caught my flight and had a fabulous time. That said, there so much more I want to say about this fantastic winery, that you should know about.

About Vineyard 7 and 8: They are located on the top of Spring Mountain, set in the western hills above the town of St Helena some two thousand feet above the valley floor, they produce some wonderful vino from their forty acre estate. They got their start with their first vintage in 1999 and began their quest to produce distinctive, terroir driven wines from this unique piece of land. 

You'll find their winery set among some of Spring Mountain's greatest wine-producing vineyards, the terroir of their estate is a mix of sedimentary, volcanic, and clay soils. The vineyards of their estate were established in the early 1980's and are currently planted to ten acres of [Estate] Cabernet Sauvignon and four acres of Chardonnay [which you see directly behind Wes in the picture above].

Tastings and Appointments: So after reading this story on Vineyard Seven and Eight has caused you to want to book your own tasting appointment, please give them a call to arrange a time for your visit and tour. The tasting fee is $25 per person. But wait until you the tasting room, I was wowed by the size and flattened by the panoramic view of the Spring Mountain District shining like a bright light in the background. I thought it was "totally" worth the price of admission. If you find yourself in Napa, don't miss an opportunity to stop by say hello and taste some really fantastic vino, that will knock your socks off.

Vineyard 7 & 8 2008 Chardonnay: This was first of three wines I tasted that afternoon and I going to warn you right now folks you better get your happy little self online quickly so you can have one or more of the very best Chardonnays I've ever had the pleasure of tasting.

They only made 220 cases of this beauty and are selling for $50. This wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered with 100% Malolactic Fermentation, which is immediately evident from the first pour to the last lingering sip.

Barrel aged for 14 months in French Oak and the fruit was estate grown on Wente Clone root-stock, you can see the Chardonnay block in the picture above and to the right. A quick tasting note, this wine super rich and very creamy, baking spices, with almost dessert like qualities of a crème brulée and very pleasing long mouth coating finish. My score 96 voluptuous points.

Vineyard Seven and Eight "7" SMD Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: The second wine I tasted this day, it was decanted before hand, a purple opaque colored core. On the palate I found a wonderfully rich, complex and age-worthy wine. Wonderfully integrated tannins intertwined nicely around the forward fruit flavors of blackberry pie, currants. Also notes of chocolate and cedar in the long silky finish.  My score 93 points and sells for $75 with 700 cases produced. It was aged in 90% new French Oak, with an ABV of 14.8%.

Vineyard Seven and Eight 100% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2007: This label represents a new wine that the winemaker Luc Morlet and the Steffens Family decided to craft in an effort highlight the unique character of the 7 & 8 terroir. An opaque ruby colored core, a generous pronounced nose dusting my senses blackcurrant, leather, vanilla. 

On the palate this wine in a word is plush, the fruit is fantastically concentrated, black cherries, licorice and cocoa. The finish is long and sumptuous and will only get better with more time in the bottle. 

Yes you can drink now and drink often, but will definitely improve with age and was my favorite of the day. This wine sells for $125, has an ABV of 14.8%, was aged 18 months in 95% new French Oak, with just 600 cases made. I scored this wine 95 points and it would have scored higher at a lower price point. This is damn good juice, one not too be missed.

Full Disclosure: Tasting and Tour Fees were waived.

My Recommendation: The Chardonnay is a mind blower and possibly the very best Chardonnay that could be made in California, you should try to score some of this great vino before it's all gone. Both the Cabernet Sauvignon represent the "best" of what fruit sourced from the Spring Mountain District can achieve in making superlative examples of Napa Cabernet's.

You should try to acquire some if you can, for those of you that don't have a wallet full of discretionary spending dollars the $125 per bottle may be a hard pill to swallow. But having a bottle of their Estate wine for a special dinner out to celebrate at your favorite restaurant is highly recommended. If you want to be wowed by a great tasting room experience, please make an appointment, take a nice tour of the new facilities, sip some very tasty wines with generous pours and enjoy a wonderful day on Spring Mountain as a guest of Vineyard Seven and Eight.

Other Voices: Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar: The 2007 “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon made from the best estate fruit. Bright ruby-red. Super-ripe, liqueur-like aromas of plum, blueberry, licorice, black olive and fresh herbs. Sweet, chewy and fruit-driven, with powerful black fruit flavors complemented by cedar and licorice. 

The serious, building tannins come off as a bit granular today, but I suspect they will meld with the wine's dense fruit by the time the wine is released in late 2010. Incidentally, this was the wine presented to me last year as "7", before the decision was made to offer a flagship wine from all estate vines and a second wine from younger vines and declassified lots." - Stephen Tanzer (May/June 2009) 92-94 Points "($125)

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