Life is better on the corner, the place where great wines meet reasonable prices!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

NCOTB: New Cab On The (Rockpile) Block


Please excuse the reference to NKOTB (New Kids On The Block) but now may be the time to drift back and remember the frenzied excitement that was lavished on the boy band. “Call it what you want” but I believe Weese Family Winery, Rockpile Cabernet absolutely possesses “The Right Stuff” to be the New Cab On The Block in California.

The winery is the articulation of a vision shared by the Weese brothers, Matt and Will. In email conversation last week, Matt told me that he and his brother (Will) had dreamed of making their own wine since High School days, before they could legally drink the stuff. “We wanted something with our name on, something we could take pride in”, he said. Both brothers studied Agribusiness in college. Out of college, Matt began as a harvest intern with another California winery and eventually worked his way to Cellar Master and then to National Sales Manager. By contrast, Will traveled everywhere, working harvests in New Zealand, Bordeaux, Chile, Napa, and of course Sonoma County.

In pursuit of their dream, they searched for access to vineyards and great fruit in Sonoma and stumbled upon the Glockner-Turner Ranch in Rockpile. Matt had previously worked with Rockpile fruit (Zinfandel) at Mauritson Winery. So when they were told there was Cabernet up there, they knew they had to have it. The brothers worked every angle until finally, they secured a contract on the fruit, although funding remained a challenge.

Initially they had to scramble around, scraping together every penny they had just to buy year one's fruit. Then, Matt said, the moment they had a “drinkable wine” after fermentation they chased down family and friends, begging for the money to pay for a second year of fruit. The guys are confident. They absolutely believe they have California's best Cabernet vineyard. Like capturing lightening in a bottle, it appears to provide a near perfect combination of mountain conditions that lead to an intense and structured Cabernet.

The brothers say they deliberately set out to pick fruit with a higher acid level, setting their sights on a well balanced, age-worthy wine, rather than a monolithic ripe fruity Cabernet. They believe this may have been key during the 2009 growing season. The berries on the vine were really small, meaning that an increased skin to juice ratio would be unavoidable, so they picked slightly early to retain more acid. They expected the wine would be big and bold, necessitating air, and most likely benefitting from a little bottle age, so they did not want it to fall apart when cellared.

By contrast, Matt informed me that the vineyard held a little more water in 2010 and spring was more temperate, resulting larger berries but still with good concentration. In this vintage the brothers also backed off the oak a little further. For the 2009 vintage they used 50% new oak, all French but now they buy 12 month used barrels. “Still plenty of flavor locked inside” Matt says “but we let the Cabernet that sits in there for the first twelve months extract all the harsh tannin”.

2009 Weese Family Winery Rockpile Cabernet, Sonoma, CA – 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot. Wow, what a gorgeous mouthful of wine. Let me take a step back. In the glass it is a beautiful opaque, deep ruby – paling but barely translucent at the rim. On the nose an effusive complex aroma of boysenberries, black currant, bitter-sweet chocolate, coffee, vanilla, pepper and spice. It invites you to dive in. Equally complex on the palate the dark blue, black and red fruits meld together, shrouding finely grained fruit tannins. Edged by great acidity and hints of cured meat, this wine is in great balance.  This wine is huge but structured – not a flabby fruit bomb.  These vines have worked hard to gain access to water in the rocky red soil and at the elevation at which they are grown. Their situation, above the fog line, providing a little extra sunlight and warmth. 

When I first tasted this wine (Spring 2013), I scored it 92-94 points – saying my scores may edge to the higher end as it settles down & further integrates it’s fruit and tannin.  I tasted it again in the last few weeks (almost a year later) and I am thoroughly convinced. This is the real deal! The complete package, fruit, acidity and minerality will ensure it’s aging potential.  If the Weese brothers can build upon this in subsequent generations, this wine will not remain at this price point for long.  Buy it while you can – and stock up in strong performing generations. I anticipate it will evolve wonderfully. I look forward to tasting this wine again in 5-10 years think it will drink well in to 2025 and beyond if properly cellared. This (2009) being the first vintage from Weese, it's hard to project what it's evolutionary trajectory will be.

1991 La Jota, Howell Mountain
That said, the 2009 reminded me a little of early releases from La Jota, Howell Mountain. Although I don't necessarily mean all their characteristics overlap, they show some things in common. Indeed, Rockpile (Sonoma) and Howell Mountain (Napa) share some physical characteristics, including their elevation, shallow red, rocky soils.

The sheer power, and muscularity of the 2009 Weese was reminiscent of the 1991 La Jota in its youth. Even better than that, I still had some of that Howell Mtn beauty in the cellar. So I thought, I would pull that one and just see how it was developing.

There are few better reasons to open a great bottle, than Science - an experiment, albeit not a particularly robust one but worth the test. For a wine that was once aggressive, the 1991 La Jota, Howell Mountain is now not only gloriously perfumed but integrated. Still muscular, it is now pliant and offers a stream of spicy plum, black currant, smoke and chocolate on a softer dusty spine.  Now, call me crazy if you wish but this is where I imagine the 2009 Weese Cabernet 15 years out, with a lifespan likely to extend further still. For that reason I bought a handful of the glorious newbie to better test my hypothesis over time.

2010 Weese Family Winery Rockpile Cabernet, Sonoma, CA – 94% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot. The aromatics match those of the ’09 closely, with perhaps the addition of a higher toned black cherry note.  It's clearly young and in need of a little more air-time to open right now. It has not long been bottled after all. (anticipated release date in late summer 2014). I decanted and allowed to breathe for an hour or so, then tasted over the subsequent 24 hours.

On the palate the ’10 kicks into yet a higher gear.  It’s more supple, and perhaps slightly more dense and focused than the '09. The black and blue fruits harmonize without losing their respective identities, offset by a gorgeous savory, meaty undertow.  Boysenberry emerges and intensifies on the mid-palate. Although the 2010 too is muscular. Here lean muscle is set upon a slightly more pliant frame with ripe, dusty tannin and bright acidity.  The finish is long and layered, with black fruit and cherries, chasing pepper and spice in a close paved by cured meat. The greater accessibility is likely, in large part, a result of the astute decision to switch to 12 month, used barrels. 

You can drink it now (decanted with air time) but the 2010 will enter a beautiful drinking window with another 5+ years of bottle age and will drink well in to 2025 and beyond if properly cellared.   Only 400 cases were produced.  Andy, 93-95 points
The scores both edge higher as I begin to consider what one could pay for some well known California Cabernet that does not provide such significant bang for the buck. Both vintages sell for $45/bottle direct from winery. The “Weese Family Winery (WFW)” name is definitely one to remember. 

Warning, you may not be able to buy these wine at this low price for very much longer once the word gets out.  These Weese Family wines really define the term "No Brainer."  I have already reserved my allocation of the upcoming 2010 release.

Note - Weese Family Winery do have a couple of additional small projects, including a Reserve Red Wine (Bordeaux Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot) - sold directly to their mailing list. This impressive duo give the impression they will not rest on their laurels. It's definitely a case of "watch this space" for new projects as they arise.

You can catch other bottle notes and pictures on my twitter account - please drop in and follow @BruisedGrape

Your comments are always appreciated!

 Disclosure: The 2010 was a pre-release, media sample provided for the review process.

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Randy Smith said...

Very nice, informative post. Love the label pics, too. Good job!

Andy McCallion said...

So glad you enjoyed it. I had a lot of fun with this one. Please add your email to the subscribe list and follow me @BruisedGrape if you have not already.

Pull the cork on a great week!

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