In February, at Cuvaison Estate in Carneros, Napa Valley, I tasted Groth’s 1987 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. “Definitely tastes like Cabernet from the 1980’s,” said Suzanne Groth with a shrug. I’ve now tasted Cabernet by Groth from vintages spanning the last four decades. The ’97 tasted like Cabernet from the 1990’s, the 2005, 2006 and 2007 from that decade and the 2012, well, you get the picture. Grothiness, Groth in essence and a touch of Groth are all a thing. So are the notions of time specific and era representative. At any point in Napa Valley’s last 40-plus years of winemaking history, you could count on a Groth Cabernet to capture the moment in a time capsule. Grothic tales.
During that February tasting in Napa, a question of age was at the forefront of the discussion. Putting a finger on the Valley’s long-term capabilities is not yet imprinted as a foregone conclusion but increasingly wines from the 1970’s and 1980’s are laid bare in longevity reveal. Case in point Robert Mondavi. At Groth, despite all the changes and re-plants, age ability is still the goal despite not knowing how long the wines can actually age.
Related – Napa Valley two: A question of age
Groth Vineyards was founded in 1981 by Dennis and Judith in the heart of the Oakville appellation. First crush was in 1982, the winery was finished in 1990 and expansion of the fermentation and barrel cellar was completed in 2007. Michael Weis is Director of Winemaking and he was instrumental in the decision to re-plant Oakville blocks to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1999 ands 2000. Cameron Parry is the winemaker. The Oakville vineyard is planted to Cabernet (55 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (32) and Semillon (11). The Hillview Vineyard is planted to Merlot (12) and Chardonnay (26). Half of the acreage in Oakville is dedicated to the flagship Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Cameron Parry spoke to the 2012 vintage saying, “it was back to normal in 2012 and here in Oakville normal is awesome.’
The Vine Agency’s Robert Groh brought Suzanne and her family’s portfolio to the Chef’s House at Toronto’s George Brown College in May. Here is what we tasted.
Groth’s Sauvignon Blanc comes from vines planted in black clay on the eastern block of a former dairy ranch. Winemaker Michael Weiss knew the terroir was not blessed to ripen red varietals and the SB plan (with the reins now taken over by Cameron Parry) shies away from vivid, pungent aromatic realities, i.e. no cat’s pee. With nine per cent Sémillon (highest to date) mixed in “we knew more would be better” notes Suzanne Groth. Weiss wanted to showcase warm climate Sauvignon Blanc, but in a crisp, clean and sur-lie (70-90 days) flavour-texture compendium. The blend is actually figured in the field, not post crush. It’s whole cluster pressed and spends four plus years in aged French barrels. It gets to stone fruit with Sem’s sharp accents, of acidity to line up the usual warm climate roundness of SB. It’s a real treat of extract meets tannin impression, with top notch length and impeccable balance from start to finish. This is warm Sauvignon Blanc to be sure but there is no mistaking the parity. Drink 2016-2019. Tasted April 2016
From a 44-acre Yountville vineyard founded in 1982 and (mostly) re-planted in 1996. High caste Chardonnay thanks to whole cluster pressing, a long, cool fermentation, assistance from old and new barrels and time spent on the lees. The wildness is tamed, the aromas are brilliant and the flavours deep, creamy and spiced. This is a perfect and prime example of all the right directions Napa Chardonnay has taken in the last 10 years, with kudos to Suzanne Groth for embracing the ideal, from restraint, for elegance and in balance. Drink 2017-2026. Tasted April 2016
Suzanne Groth introduces her family’s tween Estate Cab as “being from the Cabernet ghetto that is Oakville,” a quip not lost on the concept of the sub-appellation’s fractional singularity. From the first of a string of cool vintages. Just a fleeting, secondary hint of what was noticed in the golden 1987, a savoury flirting with truflle and soy but of course, so very floral. Merlot (somewhere between 22-24 per cent) was blended in, then French oak for 22 months (50 per cent new). A “Grothiness” is guaranteed, as per the house style, valley floor indicative, making for travel down a silk road. This is antithetic to mountain wine and caressing when it comes to tannin. All three vintages tasted side by each (2005-2007) share an affinity in ability to balance out the young, brutish cabernet, with black pepper liquified in mouth-coating, satin sheathing. Will live another 11 years, almost, if not quite like that ’87. Drink 2016-2027. Tasted April 2016
Showing a bit more evolution than the ’05 and a cooler, deeper savour. Red fruit is a bit dried, like Korean red pepper, adhering to espresso dusted pomegranate seeds, plus cranberries and bitter chocolate. A bigger wine within the context of expressing and in duplicity of a cool factor. Still tannic, grippy and amazing. Drink 2016-2025. Tasted February 2016
Not only the youngest but also easily the least evolved as compared to the 2005 and 2006, which makes sense, but so incredibly fresh and with the most exuberant red fruit and polarizing, corresponding rigid tannins. A wine to recognize the ties that bind from vintage to vintage, in nuance and by the common thread of “grothiness,” or, Groth Wines in essence. This expression is wider ranging and gregarious across the board and while it may not be the most beautiful of the three, it will age the longest. The length is testament to that contention. Drink 2016-2029. Tasted February 2016
It is so very special to be graced the avowal of opportunity to partake in the coming of age with this young Cabernet, the pre-Groth replant wine, from the vines that came with the purchase of the winery. Vines that finished their work in the 1999 vintage. In an oddly decreased, antediluvian aromatic character as compared to the 2005, the soy, truffle and earthy antiquity as it may be imagined is tangled in an intangible collective. Red berry fruit is remarkable in its freshness, from strawberry to raspberry picked just this morning. The palate shows more age but also vitality and energy. The warmth of 1997 has been held at bay, a kept intruder not allowed to smother what idealism the fruit held in confidence. Marks the watershed flow of the churte rock, a sedimentary conclusion that pushes its way through the vines into this reserve Cabernet. What a superlative piece of (what seems like only yesterday) Napa Valley history. Drink 2016-2028. Tasted April 2016
Tasted alongside the alluring 1987 with Suzanne Groth. Extremely primary and struck as if by cool fog and mineral mist. Unmelted and unshaken tempered chocolate to be sure, cracked and fissured into shards. The flavours welcome Cassis and graphite with quite the lightning on the tongue. Enervating Cabernet, pulsating and tingling. Should age long but not quite like the 1980’s. Contains 12 per cent Merlot and saw 22 months in 100 per cent oak, but notes Suzanne, “other than that everything is completely different.” Drink 2018-2032. Tasted February 2016
Good to go!