Twenty years ago, Benoni winemaker Michael Havens made a stunning discovery, one of those breakthroughs that seem self-evident in hindsight: he realized that Napa's cool Carneros region was an ideal place to cultivate Bordeaux varietals. Since the early 1980s, Havens has been making benchmark Merlots, clarets, and Syrah--and has justly earned a cult following.
Of all the years he's spent in the vineyards, Havens claims that 2005 was "the best vintage he's seen in fifteen years . . . and one of the fines I've ever worked in. Period." And critics like Steve Tanzer told us that, after speaking with the growers, they "couldn't wait" to try these 2005s.
Benoni Merlot's fruit comes from three top vineyard sites in Napa and Carneros. In Napa's cool southern hills, the 2005 growing season got off to a late start and was followed by a long, mild summer. Growers who didn't limit yields struggled, bringing in fruit of uneven ripeness. Havens, however, is an old pro, known for his painstaking attention to his--and his growers'--vines. He supervised near-obsessive pruning and crop thinning, which resulted in a small amount of grapes that had reached perfect ripeness.
Due to the low yield, Havens produced a small amount of this Merlot, which has the rare combination of bright, ripe fruit--and bold structure. This wine is immediately approachable thanks to its rich red and black fruit, yet it has the potential to age gracefully for the next decade.
Havens blended this Merlot with Cabernet Franc in the style of some of the great St. Emilions, thus filling out the middle palate, adding length and a spicy, red-fruit accent to the flavors. With time in the bottle, the wonderful primary fruit flavors will dissipate, and this bottling will take on a tobacco and forest floor complexity, typical of the finest Merlots. Drink now-2016.