We were leaving Meadowood, Bill Harlan's exquisite hotel just off the Silverado Trail near St. Helena, when we took a look at the map. We were headed up to Spring Mountain to visit Wes Steffens and his new, brilliant winemaker, Luc Morlet at Vineyard 7 and 8. It didn't look far, so we just left ourselves 15 minutes for what we thought to be a quick jaunt. We arrived 20 minutes late.
Vineyard 7 and 8 sits at the top of Spring Mountain over 2000 feet above sea level. When we finally came upon the new winery, the vines -- some 20 acres of which are planted to Cabernet Sauvignon -- were shrouded in a thick fog. Wes and Luc explained the defining features of this gorgeous spot high above the valley floor. The soil is volcanic. As a result, vines struggle and yields are extremely low, topping out at about 2.5 tons per acre. Late ripening allows grapes to hang late into the growing season, maximizing aromatics and fleshing out the mountain grape flavors. Berries tend to be small. Once they arrive at the cellar, bunches are carefully sorted, with only the cleanest, ripest, healthiest fruit making it to the fermenter.
The Steffens' shifted directions in 2007, going from one celebrated French winemaker to another. This 2004 release was made by Christian LeSommer, formerly the winemaker at Chateau Latour in Pauillac. LeSommer fell in love with the spot, but never lost sight of his Bordelais roots. As such, he was determined to make a Spring Mountain wine that was true to the style and structure of Latour. This wasn't lost on us when tasting this beautifully balanced, exquisite 2004 bottling. While most Spring Mountain Cabernets push the high 14s in alcohol, this wine came in just under 14 degrees. While most Spring Mountain Cabernets of the vintage exhibit intensely concentrated, firm fruit characteristics, this wine is more back on its heels; refined and classical in structure.
Beginning with the 2007 releases, you'll want to look for Luc Morlet's wines at Vineyard 7 and 8. Luc's take is quite the opposite of LeSommer. Rather than trying to bring Pauillac to Spring Mountain, Morlet's goal is to make a wine that is true to Spring Mountain. Look for the 2007 (which we tasted in barrel) in 2010.
Food Pairings: Enjoy the 2004 Vineyard 7 and 8 Cabernet with grilled meat or duck, with soft, ripe cow or goat cheeses.