2008 Crane Brothers Merlot Crane Ranch Vineyard Napa Valley
 
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Michael and Rob Crane Standing Pat in the Golden Triangle

It wouldn't take long after Sideways hit the screen. Just as Pinot Noir sales were sent into orbit, somehow a wine trail comedy drove a spike through the heart of Merlot. After Pomerol and St. Emilion, Napa Valley had always been the variety's top crusader. Now, Napa was caught in the crosshairs.

Many were obliged to rip out excellent vineyards, replanting with blue-chip Cabernet Sauvignon. But in the southern part of the valley, a place locals call the "Golden Triangle," Michael Crane stood pat.

Over the past 4 years, we've treated members to a steady diet of superb Crane reds, all crafted by Al Perry (of Robert Biale fame), and drawn off 7 manicured acres in Oak Knoll. While Crane's "Brodatious" (a Syrah/Cabernet Blend), and estate Cabernet Sauvignon have wowed buyers, totaling 280 5-star reviews and ratings, at the end of the day -- as Perry puts it -- "Crane is in Merlot country."

Once Sideways sent Merlot into a downward spiral, growers were faced with ugly arithmetic. Today, a ton of top-shelf Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon goes for $4500. Merlot? Less than $2,000. The easy solution was to push yields higher, but as the chateaux of Pomerol and St. Emilion know all too well, the variety doesn't take to overcropping. Farm Merlot to three tons per acre in a place like the Golden Triangle, and it can give Cabernet all it can take. Crop up to six and Merlot becomes pedestrian.

As the rest of the valley floor struggled with their slide rules, Michael Crane didn't skip a beat. "If you were selling your grapes, you were in a tough spot. But we only have seven acres and we keep it all for ourselves. So the downturn in grape prices didn't effect us. We followed Duckhorn's example -- and stuck to our guns."

In some vintages, particularly in the topsy-turvy growing seasons where the earlier-ripening Merlot has an edge, Perry's Merlot outpaces his Cabernet Sauvignon. Such would be the case in 2008.

Drought preceded a stark winter frost. Crane's Merlot vines struggled in the Spring, pushing out a small, uneven set that would eventually trim yields by nearly 35% at harvest. Those who were farming Merlot for quantity in response to Sideways deflation, pulled leaves, opening up bunches to the sun, hoping to spike maturity. But then, in a cruel Hollywood twist, the summer heat spikes came, blistering berries.

As for the Cranes, the leaf canopies were never touched, and the vines never missed a beat.

For those of you who have enjoyed Perry's estate-grown reds over the past years, this one's a treat. The harvest was unusually small, just three tons per acre, Sugars were high, skins were thick, but seeds had browned, and tannins were supple. All the ingredients for world class Napa Merlot were in play. Al Perry hit it out of the park.

The 2008 Crane Brothers Estate Merlot is deep purple in color, infused with crushed black fruits, a dash of creme-de-cassis, with a vibrant lacing of fresh herbs. The attack is rich and compact -- perhaps a bit more Left Bank than Right -- packed with blackberry and wild cherry preserves, soft in texture (the variety's calling card), all buttressed by the fine tannins of this superb low yield harvest.


Tasting Notes

2008 Crane Brothers Merlot Crane Ranch Vineyard Napa Valley
"Saturated opaque purple to the edge. Luscious aromas of crushed black fruits, a dash of creme-de-cassis, with a vibrant lacing of fresh herbs and a touch of underbrush. The attack is rich and compact -- perhaps a bit more Left Bank than Right -- packed with blackberry and wild cherry preserves. The texture is what this one is all about -- soft, cloaked in velour, the variety's calling card -- all buttressed by the fine tannins of this superb low yield harvest. Drink now-2016."
-- WineAccess Travel Log


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