Patrick Campbell, armed with an advanced degree in the philosophy of religion from Harvard, arrived on Sonoma Mountain in the rainy winter of 1974. Living in a Zen Buddhist community, Capmbell worked as a vineyard manager by day and professional violist by night.
After three years on Sonoma Mountain, Campbell and his wife began poking around neighboring vineyards looking for one to buy. He found one on the east-facing side of the mountain with several rows of 1880-era vines. This discovery was the birth of Laurel Glen's Sonoma Mountain Cabernet, which has become one of the most sought-after mountain Cabernets in California.
Years later, on another of Campbell's wine-route expeditions, this time in Argentina, Campbell stumbled upon an ancient Malbec vineyard that faces east and whose soil is sparse, rocky, and redish. The parcel lies at an elevation of 3,400 feet above sea level in a region known as San Carlos, at the extreme southern edge of Mendoza. To the west, the mighty Andes tower over the landscape. Campbell wasted no time in signing a long term agreement to farm the land.
The first vintage (2001) from this vineyard produced just 300 cases of a Malbec so dark and dense, yet so hauntingly perfumed and light, that Campbell called the wine Vale la Pena--Spanish for "worth the effort."
Malbec has really come into vogue in the last few years, primarily as a result of superb releases from Argentina, like Vale la Pena. In fact, when Steve Tanzer was tasting Argentine wines last fall, he predicted that they'd be the next craze for American enthusiasts. Although the variety remains a primary planting in the southwest of France, French Malbecs tend to be hard and tannic. In Argentina, on the other hand, Malbec produces deeply colored, intensely flavored wines with good backbone and (in the best examples) a long and supple finish.
Campbell made a mere 350 cases of the 2004 Vale la Pena, and it is a pure reflection of the vineyard--intense, dramatic, and big-shouldered, full of mineral notes, and deeply focused. This is a truly exceptional wine: ultra-dark, with highly refined flavors of black fruits, tar, molasses, and citrus notes. And, after a few minutes in the glass, this large-scaled Malbec displays a round and amazingly long, complex finish. For all its boldness, it remains opulent and inviting. Drink now-2010.