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Classic California Cabernet

Classic (noun) = “a work of art of recognized and established value”

What makes something Classic? The term is used more and more and understood less and less. Is it age, wisdom, history, price, or is it something more profound? Just because something is expensive or even sought after does not necessarily make it classic. I think something becomes “Classic” when it becomes timeless. A perfect combination of delivering a consistent high-quality level over a long period of time making it no less relevant today than the day it started. Something classic may not have been the first to invent but refined its development to a point it becomes a pillar in which all else stands. In short, things that are classic do not follow trends, they transcend them.

In the world of wine, there are a number that have achieved “Classic” status. Wines that continue to perform consistently at the top, are looked fondly upon by their peers, and are used to compare all others. Two such wineries are Louis Martini and Robert Mondavi.

In 1933 after the repeal of prohibition The Louis M. Martini Winery was one of only a handful to enter the once burgeoning wine industry of the Napa Valley. The dark years had taken its toll on many of the existing wineries leaving only a few that survived by making sacramental wine and brandy for the church. The Martini family at this time had started a company that among those things also sold grape extract for home use. These Prohibition era wine kits came with warnings not to add yeast and water to the concentrate as it may produce unwanted alcohol. In anticipation of the end of Prohibition they embarked on building a new winery, one of the first in years. The winery was completed in September of 1933 but was not able to sell wine until December 5th when prohibition was officially repealed. Established in St. Helena, the Martini family were pioneers introducing temperature-controlled fermentation and wind fans to help protect against the spring frost. Louis Martini was also instrumental in founding the Napa Valley Vintners Association. An organization dedicated to promoting quality wines in Napa Valley around the world. Louis Martini has been recognized for creating two of the original luxury wines in northern California.

Lot 1 Cabernet Sauvignon – Since the 1950’s the winery has selected its best plots they work with each year and dedicate it to their top wine.  The predecessor to Lot 1 Cabernet was originally released in 1952 as a barrel selection of the finest lots of wine they had produced that year and called private reserve. In 2003 the wine was rebranded Lot 1. and the 2013 vintage was given 100 points by Robert Parker confirming its reputation as a Napa Valley Classic.

Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon – While the history of Louis Martini is in Napa Valley, it is their Monte Rosso Vineyard in Sonoma that is the crown jewel of the estate. Just two years after opening their winery in Napa, The Martini family purchased the Monte Rosso Vineyard in 1938 from Emanual Goldstein. The diverse vineyard has been considered by many to be the greatest in Sonoma. The volcanic soil vineyard sits near the top of Moon Mountain on the Sonoma side of the Mayacamas Mountains. First planted in 1886, the vineyard is home to some of California’s oldest vines still producing fruit. Its 250 acres are planted to ten different varieties including some of the original Zinfandel and Semillon plantings as well as the first Cabernet Sauvignon plantings dating back to 1940. The wines from Monte Rosso have long been the pinnacle of quality for Sonoma leaving a legacy of wine to be enjoyed by collector’s the world over

After Prohibition, California wine country was slow to regain its momentum. The completion of Louis Martini’s winery in 1936 marked a 30-year drought of new wineries being built until 1966 when Robert Mondavi completed construction on his now iconic winery in what is now the Oakville district. This is commonly thought of being when the modern era of Napa Valley started.

Amongst the Mondavi legacy lies the story of a vineyard of equal stature – To Kalon. The story of To Kalon begins in 1868, when Hamilton Walker Crabb, an Ohio native who had moved west in pursuit of gold, landed in Napa Valley and purchased 240 acres in Oakville. After farming a variety of crops, Crabb eventually turned his focus to wine grapes, and named his land Hermosa Vineyards. He bought two adjacent parcels, in 1879 and 1891. In 1886, Crabb renamed his winery and the vineyard To Kalon, Greek for “the place of highest beauty”. Today, To Kalon is perhaps the most famous vineyard in the United States, carrying with it a fabled chronicle of its legacy and ownership.

For close to a century this vineyard has been fought over. The boundaries of the vineyard have grown and shrunk over time as historians have waded through long forgotten maps and historical documents to accurately define the land. Adding to the challenge, ownerships have changed as well as perspectives on how best to define To Kalon. As the debate over To Kalon rages on today one thing remains true if it were not worthy of greatness it would not be worth the fight.

Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon – Since 1971 the Robert Mondavi winery has produced the Reserve Cabernet utilizing the fruit from the To Kalon vineyard in which the winery sits. This refined but powerful wine has danced on the palates of connoisseurs for 45 years. This benchmark wine is deserving of “Classic” status. Its style has remained consistent over the years while the quality has gotten better.



Supplies are Limited

2015 Louis M. Martini Monte Rosso Vineyard Cabernet 15625F – 95 RP 

2016 Louis M. Martini Lot One Cabernet 15916F – 96 PTS RP 

2016 Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet 33260F – 96+ RP