Our first "look" at Greg Melanson's 10.5-acre Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard was on this video. The Wine Spectator sent a crew to the top of Pritchard Hill to film Celia Welch — maker of Corra and 100-point Scarecrow — as she explained what made the mountain's Cabernets so unique.
If you know Pritchard Hill as we do, know the private tasting rooms of Colgin, Ovid, David Arthur, Chappellet and Bryant Family, you quickly recognize where Welch is standing. She's at the top of the mountain, above the fog line at 1200-1300 feet in elevation. The sunbathed slope on which she's standing is south-facing. The adjacent vineyard where she's pointing is the source of Colgin's $500/bottle reserves. Take a look:
But as Welch describes the unique exposure, soil types and rocky substrata that makes for the extraordinary concentration and age-worthy grace of Pritchard Hill's world-class Cabernets, she neglects to identify the name of the vineyard from which she contracts fruit. Why? Greg Melanson prefers it that way.
In June, we finally took advantage of Greg's invitation for lunch and a breathtaking ride on a navy blue Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter. We soared over the mountain, eyeballing Colgin, Dalla Valle, Pedregal, Bacchus and Showket — some of the most priceless properties in Napa Valley. Then, we listened as the Southern California entrepreneur told the improbable story of his purchase of what many now believe to be the most precious Cabernet vineyard on Pritchard Hill.
Melanson's first Napa Valley business endeavor was a startup that managed legal documents. The company grew quickly to a staff of over 500. Well before the subsequent IPO, Greg purchased a 10-acre parcel in Calistoga, a stone's throw from Araujo, for which he paid $22,000/acre — planted. After a bit of unpleasantness with a neighbor, Melanson sold that property and went looking for another. One day, a real estate agent took him up a narrow mountain road, just west of Oakville. The views were spectacular. On one side was Lake Hennessey. On starlit nights, the San Francisco financial district glimmers in the distance. Melanson settled on the 42-acre property a week later.
For years, Melanson sold every Cabernet Sauvignon cluster his vineyard produced to the greatest winemaking names in Napa Valley. Greg's friend Tor Kenward (TOR) got a couple of tons. Heidi Barrett (Screaming Eagle, La Sirena) got some, as did Celia Welch (Scarecrow, Corra). Thomas Rivers Brown (Schrader "Old Sparky", Outpost) — the most critically acclaimed young winemaker in the valley — took whatever he could get.
Quietly, from 2004-2008, Greg Melanson made just 4-6 barrels of his own production. "I did it just for fun. When you're selling grapes for these prices, it's easier to be a gentleman farmer." But finally, in early 2010, Melanson met the brilliant Cabernet-maker Jeff Fontanella. The timing of that meeting couldn't have been more propitious.
In what many believe to be the most extraordinary harvest in Pritchard Hill history, picking took place in the cool early morning hours in the second week of October. Clusters were small, strewn with BB-sized berries. Skin-to-juice ratio was high. Mindful of the often-fierce tannins of the mountains, Fontanella handled the fruit gingerly, nursing out deep color, tremendous concentration, while keeping astringency perfectly in check. The 2010 Melanson Cabernet Sauvignon would be one of the greatest wines to come off Pritchard Hill in the vintage — at ANY price!
Deep, purple-black in color, with plush aromas of black raspberry and mountain blueberries, anise and Left Bank licorice. Rich, silken and voluminous on the attack, infused with a sexy mix of crushed black fruit, coffee and dark chocolate, Fontanella's knockout Cabernet is drinking magnificently on release — but will continue to add weight, complexity and muscle over the next 10-20 years.
Just 11 barrels produced. 92 points from Stephen Tanzer.
2010 Melanson Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Matthew's Block Napa Valley
"(14.7% alcohol): Bright ruby-red. Aromas of black raspberry, mocha, licorice and graphite are lifted by sexy brown spices. Rich and lush in the mouth but with an attractive sugar/acid balance giving shape to the smooth, pliant flavors of black raspberry, espresso and bitter chocolate. Finishes plush and broad, with youthfully aggressive tannins and excellent spicy length. From 'the south-facing side of Pritchard Hill at 1,300 feet,' planted to clones 7 and 337." 92 points -- International Wine Cellar
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