Pushing Cult Winemaking Brilliance Beyond Cabernet
A winemaker cannot live by Cabernet alone, though one winemaker — Helen Keplinger — absolutely could spend her entire career on that variety alone, if that was her desire. Just look at this Napa Valley superstar’s stewardship of Grace Family Vineyards (California’s original cult Cabernet winery) along with past success at Bryant Family and Kenzo Estate. In 2012, Keplinger was honored as Food & Wine Magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year” and just two years later, she landed on the cover of Wine Spectator. But the great press wasn’t just for her mastery of Bordeaux varieties; instead, the critical spotlight shined equally on Grenache and the other Rhône-centric wines she produces under her eponymous label, Keplinger Wines. At $35 per bottle, Keplinger’s 2015 Vermillion Red represents what the Spectator’s James Laube describes as her “burning desire to explore the world of Grenache in California and see what it might offer.” We love it and think it’s a stunning example of what happens when a Cabernet-expert goes rogue-Rhône.
Stretching from Sonoma County to the Sierra Foothills, the range of Keplinger’s source vineyards is like a wide-angle snapshot of Northern California viticulture. Over her career, she has worked closely with legendary grower David Abreu and, under his tutelage, become a “meticulous and demanding” customer to her varied growers, according to Laube. The Spectator columnist also calls her “a feisty road warrior” for all the weekly miles she must travel to oversee her fruit sources. That such effort goes into the creation of a spicy, seductive, under-$40 red blend like Vermillion makes this offering all the more extraordinary.
Grace Family founder Dick Grace once said that Helen Keplinger “is extremely talented and brings a new perspective that will steer the winery into the future.” He was, of course, talking about his own property. But in a Cabernet-crazy state like California, it’s refreshing to know that, as Spectator sees it, “one of the most exciting and innovative wineries to emerge in California” is helmed by a masterful winemaker whose passion and talent extends into Grenache, as well.