Sometimes the muse strikes when you least expect it. I was on the Frankfurt-Toronto leg on my return from Tuscany last night when it hit me. This time last year I was in Sonoma as part of a group invited by California Wines and tasted three vintage verticals (2012, 2008 and 2004) with three crucially constitutive California wineries; Laurel Glen, Jordan and Korbin Kameron. We were hosted (and benevolently fed) by Bettina Sichel, proprietor at Laurel Glen.
We also walked through Laurel Glen’s wondrous vineyard, a thousand feet up the slopes of Sonoma Mountain. In the pantheon of exceptional sites for cultivating cabernet sauvignon, Laurel Glen’s was pinpointed early and their first vintage was produced in 1981. The 16 acre vineyard was developed in the 1970’s by Sonoma wine pioneer Patrick Campbell. It is now farmed organically and is planted in particular to the Laurel Glen clone of cabernet sauvignon, certified as unique unto itself by the University of California at Davis.
The Laurel Glen vineyard was replanted to cabernet sauvignon in 1968 by Carmen Taylor at a time when such a proliferation was about to burst into an explosion. The grapes were sold for several years to Chateau St. Jean and at one time provided the backbone of Kenwood’s Artist Series. In 1977, Ms. Taylor sold the property to Campbell, who took cuttings from the existing three acres of cabernet vines to develop the modern vineyard.
Founders Tom and Sally Jordan established Jordan Winery in the Alexander Valley in 1972 so referring to them as Sonoma County pioneers is hardly a stretch. The first vintage was 1976, released in 1980. Second-generation vintner John Jordan and winemaker Rob Davis continue to craft the Healdsburg winery’s wines.
Jordan’s vineyards include estate blocks, which have more clay-rich soils similar to the Right Bank of Bordeaux, as well as well-drained, mid-slope grower parcels with mineral-rich soils more reminiscent of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Rob Davis had this to say about the 2012 vintage. “The 2012 vintage validates our decision to elevate the black-fruit intensity in the wines without abandoning our house style. I didn’t think a wine like this was possible for Jordan twenty years ago.”
Korbin Kameron is the new kid on the block, or in their impressive 2,000-plus feet of altitude case, the mountain. Moon Mountain that is, a steep and picturesque, difficult to farm Mt. Veeder ridge that straddles the border between Sonoma and Napa counties. It is a family affair for Mitchell and Jenny Ming on their 186-acre estate, with their children Kristin and twins Korbin and Kameron. The viticulturist is Phil Coturri and the winemaker is Timothy Milos.
The vineyard (referred to as both Korbin Kameron and Moonridge) sits on the ridge of the Mayacamas Mountain Range and straddles the Napa/Sonoma county line at 2,300 feet in elevation. It resides in both the Moon Mountain District and Mt. Veeder AVAs and is southwest facing, making it ideal for growing high quality Bordeaux varietals; cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. Korbin Kameron also farms sémillon and sauvignon blanc.
Laurel Glen, Jordan and Korbin Kameron share few connective commonalities and each came to make their cabernet sauvignon from three unrelated paths. Sonoma Mountain, Alexander Valley and Moon Mountain are non germane to one another. So what is the learned significance of such a three times three tasting of seemingly disparate and at the surface, unconnected Sonoma County wines? Putting a finger on the associations between three vintners is like trying to get a musical grip on an “adventurous jazz drummer/composer whose own music walks the line between atmospheric contemporary jazz and aggressive post-bop.” As in Birdman and Three Times Three composer Antonio Sanchéz. What was the point?
The answer lies in a three-pronged composition; varietal, practice and vintage. The choice of Bordeaux as the launching point is not new to California, but in these three pockets of Sonoma the French left bank ideal is the thing. It has always been and will not be displaced any time soon. Mimicry and loyalty to common ground agricultural practices are abided, shared and repeated. The tenets are all so similar; low yielding vines, organics, planting of cover crops and tilling those organics back into the earth. And finally it is the three by three vintages that forge the final act of cahoots. This quick and obvious look at 2012, 2008 and 2004 is a glaring gaze straight into the mirror of Sonoma’s recent past. The thread speaks to clarity and obviousness, of richness, challenge and pleasant surprise. Three vintages.
The vintage saw late bud break and therefore an abbreviated growing season with a long veraison to an early harvest. The highest yields of the recent past meant quality not seen for Jordan in forever. This ’12 signals to turn on the light of red fruit epitome, picked at a lower than typical brix, high in acidity and simply rocking red cabernet. Red currants of a precise sort of ripeness with the crushed fresh bursting seeds of pomegranate and citrus but in its very, very own unique way. This can only come about in a way specific to place with sheer deliciousness from Jordan. Drink 2017-2022. Tasted February 2016 @
The retreat in time is as much the reason, though not entirely, for the gritty, darker, somewhat secondary though not nearly tertiary taste of 2008. A strike of flint and smoke clouds the air above the glass. The smoke gassed into acidity acts vinyl reductive, high-toned and yet submits to grit performing the play of gravelly soil. The last acts are a tragicomedy by wood and from chocolate. Gets the heart pumping with excitement at this eight year mark, looking back at the challenge of the vintage. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted February 2016
More than conceptually speaking this really fun and vitally alive look back 12 years solicits quick appreciation. The reference point is in reminiscence to left bank Bordeaux, capitulated into the geology of well-drained Sonoma County vineyards with mineral-rich, gravelly soils. Retroactive to and foreshadowing to what will come later in ’08 and ’12, the 12 year-old Jordan cabernet sauvignon holds firm and clear at 13.5 per cent alcohol, with a good cabernet franc component, for ripeness, for thoroughfare and for consistency. Drink 2017-2019. Tasted February 2016
Korbin Kameron hails from the Moon Mountain District, a unique California locale that straddles Napa Valley and Sonoma County. This is my first rapport with this cabernet sauvignon from the 2100 foot, west facing ridge of Mt. Veeder, with views of both the Sonoma and Napa Valleys. It hopefully will not be my last. Fruit grown here faces much maligning and in requiem of major effort repelling mildew pressure so Korbin Kameron faces it head on by farming organically. They also have to deal with erratic coastal influences. The plantings were done in 2000, 2002 and 2013, First Bordeaux reds and then Bordeaux whites. The locale determines long hang time and high acidity, 3.4 to 3.6 pH and alcohol levels between 14 and 14.5 per cent. The geology is mostly well-draining, gravelly and clay loam. Such florals nosed with eyes and mouth wide-open are character separating, notable from dry-farmed, arid brushy aromatics. A mountain sensation noted is due to minimally irrigated, tiny berry goodness, thicker skin tannins and a very delicate chocolate. Very long, conifer driven aromatics. Just a terrific discovery. Drink 2019-2027 @
As far as California vintages go 2008 was not one for the ages and the cabernet sauvignon continues to make development haste. Only five kicks at the can in there is pleasant surprise in Korbin Kameron’s 2008 try. There is something about the altitude-affected, Sonoma-Mt. Vedder coupling that while not yet really understood, it is a story that will begin to take great shape in a few year’s time. Here at the eight year summit the yet young fruit still intensifies with a bit of rubbery reduction and slathers of chocolate ganache. What holes exist are eco-rich in oak. A bit of smoke-injected northern California unorthodoxy in cabernet sauvignon hangs in with life but the wane is certainly in. It’s much more than a matter of preponderance and curiosity. We should all be so fortunate to grab a taste like this. Drink 2017-2018. Tasted February 2016
Korbin Kameron will put cabernet sauvignon and other Bordeaux variety wines for Moon Mountain District on the map but for now, looking back to the first vintage, it’s all about a work in progress. The essential family tenets of know-how, determination, creativity, vision, compassion and exuberance are but a twinkle in the eye. This 2004 is quite advanced, with dried fruit aromas and flavours, fig, even a bit of prune. Tannins are persistent, acidity still apparent and fruit waning. Sharpness of the vintage is nicely integrated into facets of earth and brush, chocolate and game. There is much appreciation for the gastronomy of this wine. Drink 2016. Tasted February 2016
Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Sonoma Mountain, California (392217, $62.95, WineAlign)
From 100 per cent, planted in particular to the UC Davis confirmed Laurel Glen clone of cabernet sauvignon, acidity is the defining factor here. As it essentially is with respect to all Sonoma Mountain Cabernet, from a place of diffuse morning light and immune to the hot afternoon sun. Laurel Glen’s carries in its genetic make-up a VA expertly nurtured and managed well within the acceptable and appreciated threshold. There is no shortage of 2012 ripeness, exfoliated and at cross-purposed beneficence with tart berries and sweet currants. Quite the creamy chocolate finish and a very balanced wine. The silky tannins prepare it for early and repetitive accessibility. A fine example of how a structured wine that drinks early will also age with grace. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted February 2016 @ @
Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Sonoma Mountain, California (392217, $62.95, WineAlign)
Laurel Glen’s unique clone and exceptional vineyard-designate cabernet sauvignon is one of the winners from the challenging vintage in 2008. Sonoma Mountain has much to do with this eight years later retrospective perspective, now in secondary life, not just because of time. Yes, it may be a cliché but the reason is noted by fruit aromas that have dehydrated, into fig and yet the acidity is striking, piercing, and in your face. This is Laurel Glen’s calling card and what a dichotomous spin. The vintage made many sing “oh, what a tribulation.” Not so for Laurel Glen. This ’08 is rich and espresso dusty, of lava flowing, volcanic dust. From the Sonoma fire vintage but I think this wine is immune to that effect. Also remarkable balance from an imbalanced vintage where sugars spiked at harvest and in which flavours were dragged and lagging behind. “Forget your troubles and dance. Forget your sorrow and dance.” Cabernet Sauvignon to make Them Belly Full. Drink 2016-2018. Tasted February 2016
Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon 2004, Sonoma Mountain, California (392217, $62.95, WineAlign)
From 100 per cent, planted in particular to the UC Davis confirmed Laurel Glen clone of cabernet sauvignon, acidity is the defining factor here. As it essentially is with respect to all Sonoma Mountain Cabernet, from a place of diffuse morning light and immune to the hot afternoon sun. Laurel Glen’s carries in its genetic make-up a VA expertly nurtured and managed well within the acceptable and appreciated threshold. There is no shortage of 2012 ripeness, exfoliated and at cross-purposed beneficence with tart berries and sweet currants. Quite the creamy chocolate finish and a very balanced wine. The silky tannins prepare it for early and repetitive accessibility. A fine example of how a structured wine that drinks early will also age with grace. Drink 2018-2028. Tasted February 2016
Good to go!