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May 22, 2009

Wine God at Stagecoach Tasting

How I Tasted 95 "2008" Wines From Stagecoach Vineyard and Lived To Tell The Tale
by Roy Piper, eRobertparker.com

I remember back before I moved to Napa, on one of my excursions here, I found my way up to Stagecoach Vineyard above Oakville East. I had read all about the development of the property in the excellent book “The Winemaker’s Dance” and wanted to see the place for myself. I remember thinking when I got there that there is no way one would ever really get a handle on the massive estate and that it would be near impossible to figure out if there was any thread of “somewhere-ness” or terroir that one could sense on such an unwieldy property.

Little did I know that owner Jan Krupp has been holding annual winemaker tastings for eight years, where most of the winemakers who source fruit every year get together at Coles Chop House in Napa to pour their wines and compare notes. I was fortunate to be invited to this years gathering, held over two consecutive Thursdays. The first was all non-Cabernet varietals and the second Thursday was an all-Cab affair.

In total, I tried 95 wines from the 2008 vintage from probably close to 20 producers, each with their own winemaking style, goals and methods. After each flight of 5-8 wines, each winemaker would comment on what they thought, how they made the wine, thoughts about their block and then field questions. It was a fascinating experience, both hedonistically and intellectually.

The property itself is East and slightly South of Prichard Hill and Oakville East. It shares similar soils overall with those regions but is slightly cooler. This is a generalization though, as in listening to the various winemakers present, soil and orientation can vary one block to the next and have enormous impact. A few spots can get really hot and others are more like Atlas Peak in their coolness. This kind of mystery is one any Pinot lover or vineyard geek would enjoy, as figuring out the best little pockets to plant and how vineyards blocks can vary one step fall to the next is part of the fun. There are over 500 acres planted on the 1200-acre property and they are not done! Using Google Earth I calculated the planted area to be two miles in length by .85 miles in width. This is almost the distance from Mustards in Yountville to Mondavi winery in length and from Mondavi to the Mayacamas Mountains in width. All this between 900-1700 foot altitudes on extremely rocky soil. A sight to behold. Although Cabernet is the mainstay, the vineyard also has all the other Bordeaux varietals as well as Viognier, Marsanne, Syrah, Petite and Zin.

There is no way I could reprint all 95 tasting notes, but here are my favorites, categorized by producer. Each producer gets their own block or blocks and makes their own call on picking time.

Alpha Omega: Jean Hoefliger, formerly of Newton, has to be one of the gutsiest winemakers I know. He uses all native yeasts and most of the wines he poured for us were still going through primary fermentation! These are all works in progress, but knowing how good his 2007s are; these will be fun to watch. This is one of Napa’s big up and comers.

2008 AO Cabernet Sauvignon: this will probably be blended. Very big, extremely full-bodied. Brooding with black fruit. Very dry and complex. 92-94pts.

2008 AO Petite Syrah: Black color. Still fermenting but there is no hiding the floral nose and blue-black fruit profile. Massive and full-bodied, yet quite smooth. I am not a big fan of Petite, but this one is quite smooth. 92-95pts

Sequoia Grove: Winemaker Molly Hill and Director of Winemaking Mike Trujillo (Herb Lamb, Karl Lawrence) are doing good things here under the radar. They are adamant about getting both California ripeness and avoiding any excess. Two wines were standouts:

2008 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Franc: almost certainly a blender, this is dense purple in color. Nice coffee aromas, as well as some dried herbs that are quite pleasant. 90-92pts

2008 Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon: Might be blended, but could be an awesome stand-alone wine, imo. Black purple color, full bodied, excellent structure, great balance, black fruits and from a neutral oak barrel!! For lovers of KL Cabs. 94-96pts

Realm: Not much more I can say about this operation. I have no idea what their plans are for this wine.

2008 Realm Cabernet Sauvignon: Tremendous texture, nice red fruits, very dry and good complexity. 91-94pts

Palmaz: I think this winery, after some hiccups early, is in good hands now with Tina Mitchell at the helm and Mia Kline advising. This was the surprise winery of the tastings for me.

2008 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon Block 9: Black purple color. Full-bodied, very smooth, blue fruits, long finish. A winner. 92-94pts

2008 Palmaz Cabernet Sauvignon Block N7: Deep purple color. Very smooth. Full-bodied, with a creamy texture. Excellent black fruits in the nose. 92-94pts

Krupp Vineyards: I have been a big fan of the Black Bart and the Black Bart Bride for some time. It appears their Cab program is going to have a stellar 2008. From the number of wines poured by them, they might be the biggest buyer of their own fruit. Nigel Kinsman is their main winemaker. Aaron Pott is the consultant.

2008 Krupp Brothers Merlot: most likely a blender? Deep black-purple color. Edge of full-bodied. Extremely smooth red fruits and big structure usually missing from this varietal. From a rocky block that the vineyard manager says is hard to get water to. 92-95pts

2008 Krupp Brothers Malbec: This is an absolute monster that makes Petite Verdot look tame. Jet-black color. Massive and dense. Black fruits galore. Just a touch ponderous now, but give it another year. An amazing blending component. 93-95pts

2008 Krupp Brothers Cab Franc: a blender and a good one. Brooding and backwards. Not green in the slightest but with some dried herbs, which is enjoyable. Quite tannic. Needs a couple of years. My mind keeps thinking that a blend of 62% Merlot, 35% Cab Franc and 3% Malbec would be as good a Right Bank-ish blend you could create. 91-93pts.

2008 Krupp Brothers Cabernet, Block M5: Opaque deep purple. Full-bodied. Awesome oak integration. Great mouthfeel of black fruits and cigar box. A Napa interpretation of a Left Bank wine. Awesome in every way. So far, the best 08 Cab I’ve yet had. 94-97pts

2008 Krupp Brothers Syrah, Block I4: I am guessing this might be the core of the Black Bart Stagecoach. Blackberries and floral aromas with a hint of white pepper. Full-bodied, with some blue fruit lurking. 92-94pts

Plumpjack: Tony Biagi is doing really good things there. And I still remember his 01 Neal Family Cabs as being the best vintage they made.

2008 Plumpjack Syrah: Dense purple color. Full-bodied. Very, very smooth. Flowers and cured meat in the nose. Pure Napa Syrah with a mountain attitude. I was stunned how complete this wine is so early in the game. 93-95pts.

For my tastes, I noticed that in 2008, I preferred wines picked riper but not outrageously ripe (don’t snicker!) Typically between 26.5 and 28.5. PHs were mostly in the 3.7-4.0 range. And finished alcohols in the 14.7-15.5 level. The wines picked intentionally to keep alcohols lower did not seem to have the complexity, nuance and sheer depth and power of the riper wines for my tastes. These are wines more for Brian Buzzini than Jeff Nowak!! My view is that you have to give what the site wants to express and not force a style on the wines if you want their fullest expression. Even though the bigger, riper wines were my favorites, the best were still quite balanced and well structured. Most will need several years and last for a decade plus easily. My favorite Cab clones were Weimar, See, 337 and then 4. I preferred the wines with 110R rootstock to the 3309. My favorite blocks were towards the Western half and in the middle altitudes, primarily M, C and D. (Sorry for my geek moment!)

I was expecting the Cabs to rock, so it is a surprise that the blending varietals are the ones I remember most. The Malbecs were a revelation. I can see why this is the hot blending varietal around the valley. Any more than 5% in a Bordeaux blend from here might overwhelm it, but it would add structure and complexity to almost anything it touches.

If one were to try to describe a terroir for Stagecoach Vineyard it would be a little difficult. I would say it produces large-scaled, black fruit driven aromas, very dry substantial tannins with mouth coating textures but without the jamminess of Oakville East. Someone once described Prichard Hill in the Wine Spectator as “Napa Cab times two.” I feel the same about these wines here. One needs to walk a bit of a tightrope to get it right. If you do, you can make a wondrous epitome of big Napa, but if you mess up, the errors might be magnified too. Clearly this is still a work in progress. These annual tastings are a way to attempt to figure it all out over time.

Almost everyone was pleased with his or her own wines. I did not notice anyone saying, “Wow, I need to pick later,” or do this or that to change what they are hoping to make. I think most of the wine bought from Stagecoach is going to be blended and the winemakers know exactly what role they want this fruit to play in the blends, so they manage it accordingly.

Overall, the tastings were a blast. Cole’s Chop House put on an efficient tasting, given there were probably 40-50 of us there for five hours at a time. The post-tasting lunches were very yummy. This was my first time there.

These will be interesting wines to follow and the Stagecoach vineyard is clearly one of the most interesting laboratories for high-quality wine of various varietals one will find in Napa. I would keep am eye out for wines using the Stagecoach name.

Photos from non-cabernet sauvignon varietal tasting
Original posting on eRobertParker.com
Krupp Brothers wine store

"Stay thirsty my friends."
Last edited by Roy Piper : 05-21-2009 at 09:55 PM.

Posted by Pamela at May 22, 2009 12:44 PM| Share on Facebook | Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley Wines

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