2008 Nicholson Jones Selections Cellar Arts Napa Valley Cuvee
 
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Nicholson Jones Vineyards Sugarloaf Mountain Ranch

It's called Sugarloaf Mountain Ranch. Located in the southeastern quadrant of Napa Valley, set on an exposed spine of basaltic igneous rock that extends seven miles from the southern tip of the Vaca Mountains, Sugarloaf Cabernet Sauvignon is attracting the Who's Who of Napa Valley to its volcanic soils -- none more inventive than Philippe Melka's right-hand man, young Julien Fayard.

If you're a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon collector and you've never heard of Fayard, consider today's offer your wake-up call. Julien was born in St. Etienne, France, but grew up in Provence at his parents' Chateau St. Marguerite. The teenager's early introduction to vineyard and cellar work propelled him towards masters' degrees in both enology and agronomy from the renown graduate school in Angers.

After returning to Provence to oversee winemaking at St. Marguerite, Fayard moved on to Chateaux Lafite Rothschild and Smith Haut Lafitte. Finally in 2003, Fayard was lured to Napa Valley by Quintessa, where he'd meet one of Robert Parker's top consulting winemakers in the world, the inimitable Philippe Melka. Three years later, Fayard teamed up with Melka, becoming the director of winemaking for Atelier Melka, overseeing the making of Gemstone, Dalla Valle, and Lail.

Our tour of Sugarloaf Mountain Ranch with Julien Fayard was eye-opening, providing a rare glimpse into the mind of one of Napa's most brilliant young winemakers -- and quite possibly into the chiseled future of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

"In many ways, we look at Sugarloaf as Napa's answer to Pauillac," Fayard confided. "We're used to making Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon in very warm spots. In my opinion, spots that are often too warm. Here, the vines are stressed like they are at Lafite. In cold years, they struggle to reach full maturity. But in heat spike vintages, the crop is small, but in perfect balance. 2008 was near perfect at Sugarloaf."

After the copious harvest of 2007, Nature didn't let growers rest on their laurels. The hard frost -- the worst in decades -- wiped out vineyard buds up and down the Silverado Trail. "The crop size was small in Oakville. But down here, it was tiny. Of course -- just as it did at Lafite in 2010 -- these tiny crops often lead to extraordinary maturity."

A number of torrid heat spikes punctuated an otherwise cool growing season. In some parts of the valley, hydric stress set in, and growers were obliged to irrigate liberally. Not at Sugarloaf, where vineyard managers Mike Cybulski and Francisco Araujo have engineered a regulated deficit irrigation system, forcing roots deep into the substrata to naturally seek out water reserves. Despite the roller coaster summer of 2008, Julien explained, Sugarloaf Mountain never missed a beat.

Fayard's 2008 Nicholson Jones Cellar Art Napa Valley Cuvee is one of the more sumptuously chiseled Bordeaux blends of this tiny-crop harvest. Opaque purple to the edge, with plush aromas of crushed mountain blueberries, laced with new wood cedar. Aged for 19 months in a mix of new and one-year-old barrels, the attack is rich and voluptuous, packed with crushed black fruits, still supple and silken in texture. Drink now for its primary fruit purity, or lay down for 5-7 years, allowing Fayard's sneaky tannins to take center stage, bracketing all the Sugarloaf plushness with tannic muscle.



Tasting Notes

2008 Nicholson Jones Selections Cellar Arts Napa Valley Cuvee
"(19 months in 60% new and 40% one-year-old barrels). Opaque purple to the edge, with plush aromas of crushed mountain blueberries, laced with new wood cedar. Rich and voluptuous on the attack with a sumptuous core of crushed black fruits, still supple and velour-like in texture. Drink now for its primary fruit purity or lay down for 5-7 years in a cool cellar. Terrific bottle."
-- WineAccess Travel Log

 

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