Robert Parker's Mountain Cabernet Darling
In the early 1990s, Craig MacLean landed a head winemaking job at Spring Mountain Winery. But each day as he made his way up Spring Mountain Road, he couldn't help but eyeball an impossible 30-degree slope overlooking his employer's property. If anyone ever had the guts to plant that hillside, MacLean thought, it had the makings of one of the greatest Cabernet vineyards in the valley. "Even so," Craig told us over dinner in Napa last week, "I never thought I'd see what I saw on that April morning."
British expatriates Perry and Carolyn Butler moved to California in 1982. Not long after, the couple founded a high-tech company in the Bay Area. After a dozen years of 80-hour workweeks, the Butlers cashed out -- and began scouring Napa Valley looking for their next entrepreneurial adventure.
In 1997, after a half-dozen false starts, a realtor drove Perry up Highway 29, turning off on Spring Mountain Road. Hundreds of feet above the valley, they pulled into a dirt driveway that would lead to a steep 42-acre hillside estate. The Butlers' search was over. After closing on the property, they'd waste no time.
And so it was on that April morning of 1997 that Craig Maclean took the morning drive to which he was now so accustomed, and spotted the vineyard crew, armed with just picks and shovels, carving Cabernet plants into the rocky substrata of a 30-degree slope that MacLean never thought anyone would have the guts to plant.
"I knew I had to move quickly," Craig told as we swirled this luscious, black fruit powerhouse at Angele. "The valley's a small place. It wouldn't take long for every young winemaker to pitch his services to the Butlers. I was just lucky to get to Perry first."
By 2002, the young hillside planting was beginning to turn out a tiny crop of extravagantly concentrated small-berry Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Merlot. Then, those first Wine Advocate rave reviews came off the press and in no more than a Robert Parker second, Juslyn's Spring Mountain stock was soaring. Since 2002, McLean's Juslyn Cabernets have garnered a staggering nineteen 92-95+ scores from Parker, a performance that places Juslyn in the rarefied mountain air of blue chippers like Keenan, Lokoya, O'Shaughnessy and Cade.
But perhaps even more intriguing than the exquisite blackberry purity of these monumental Juslyn Cabernets -- always bracketed by the supplest of mountain tannins -- has been Perry Butler's refusal to follow Napa's inflationary ways. As other estate-grown, uber-scored properties push prices to the sky, Juslyn's "Perry's Blend" remains Napa's greatest blue chip bargain.
In the marvelous 2009 growing season, where top estates like Juslyn pushed the envelope on maturity, harvesting every bunch well before the October 12 rain, MacLean put out what the bald-pated winemaker told us was his "most sumptuous Perry's Blend to date." Opaque purple in color, with lush aromas of blackberry and ripe currant, the attack is rich, dense and marvelously seductive, packed with blackberry preserves, laced with creme-de-cassis, all bracketed by velour-like mountain tannins.
The entire production of the 2009 Perry's Blend was just 300 cases, thirty of which have been earmarked for WineAccess.