Block 12 was one of the most stunning mountain vineyards we’d ever laid eyes on. It’s gnarled vines, planted in the rugged, volcanic soils of Atlas Peak, were so low-yielding that the vineyard owners actually removed it from production—but not before we purchased its final harvest, one of the most complex, highly concentrated, and massively structured lots of mountain Cabernet we’d ever seen. 1,600 feet up on Atlas Peak, Block 12—the steepest, most rugged planting in one of the top vineyards in the AVA—was truly too good to be true. While fruit from Block 12 was impeccable, yields were so low (a mere 1.5 tons/acre) and labor costs to farm the vineyard so high, that it became uneconomical to grow grapes. Block 12’s last harvest produced an extravagant black-fruited, spice-tinged elixir, powerful and opulent enough to compare to the vineyard owner’s $150 single-vineyard Cab.
Being highly-regarded buyers of Napa Cabernet has its benefits. We get calls about prized lots that the other guys just don’t get, and we have some of the best winemakers in the business on speed dial. In 2014, those advantages collided. The result was the 2014 Private Reserve Atlas Peak Block 12, easily the most profound mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ever produced under the Karo-Kann label.
Because of some lengthy NDA’s, our lips are sealed as to the exact name of the vineyard where Block 12 is located, as well as the name of the heralded winemaker who crafted the Private Reserve. But after meeting with Legal—twice—we’ve resolved to tell the rest of the tale of this extraordinary blue-blood Cab.
It all began in 2014 on the nosebleed slopes of Atlas Peak, just a stone’s throw from the Antinori family’s Antica Estate. There, at the top of one of the rockiest outcrops on the mountain lay Block 12. Rows of Cabernet Sauvignon were steeply terraced and tightly planted—forget about driving a tractor up there—and yields were minuscule, especially in drought years, like 2014. Farming was done entirely by hand, requiring a crew twice the normal size. While conditions were far from ideal, the fruit was superb. The extreme rockiness of the parcel accentuated the effect of the cool volcanic soil found all over the mountain, extending the growing season and giving great violet, wild herb, and cocoa complexity to the fruit.
In May of 2014, a tiny crop of Cabernet clusters had set in Block 12. Realizing that they were in for another vintage of prohibitively high costs, the vineyard’s owners made the tough decision to pull the vineyard from production the following year. Yields were too low—just 1.5 tons/acre—and labor costs were too high to continue farming the parcel. The question remained, however, what to do with the gorgeous, thick-skinned Cabernet that was then hanging on the vines. That’s when we got the call.
The price was steep, but the fruit was simply too good to pass up. We commissioned one of the top winemakers in the valley—a guy whose day job sees him making $200 bottles—to do the grapes justice. The results were staggering. Cut from the same cloth as the vineyard owner’s $150 Cab. Enjoy now or cellar away for another 2 decades.