Only 20 cases of this rare Napa Cabernet beauty are up for grabs
Last month, Wine Access clients bought up all of our allocation of Josh Phelps’s “Steady State” Napa red, which his father, Chris Phelps, helped craft. When Josh relayed the news to his dad, Chris was impressed. And today, the vault to one of Napa’s most exclusive under-the-radar age-worthy reds — Chris’s 2014 Ad Vivum Cabernet Sauvignon — has been thrown open, for just a short time. A mere 250 cases were produced. Outside the winery, and a few exclusive addresses in Napa and Manhattan, you won’t find this 94-point hidden gem anywhere. And thanks to Chris, the last 20 cases available have been set aside for Wine Access. At $150 per bottle, I invite you to secure your share now.
Chris Phelps, who learned to make wine at Petrus in 1982, and has since authored wines for Napa icons Dominus, Caymus, and Inglenook, is dialed in to some of Napa’s best Cabernet. His Ad Vivum is 100% Cabernet drawn off the Sleeping Lady Vineyard in Yountville, a tiny site known only to top winemakers who have been granted access — the likes of Philippe Melka, Julian Fayard, Benoit Touquette, and Phelps. Thanks to Chris’s Midas touch, his 2014 Ad Vivum is simply gorgeous: richly layered and teeming with crushed black fruits, violets, and tobacco spice bolstered by impeccable fine-grained tannins.
The venerable critic Robert Parker met Chris Phelps in the 1980s, when Phelps was working for Christian Moueix at Dominus. In a recent review of Ad Vivum, The Wine Advocate founder marveled at Phelps’s “impressive resume.” It’s been fun watching Chris add to that already impressive resume over the years, with a veritable Who’s Who of Napa clients seeking him out. But his own Ad Vivum label is where he gets to put his own stamp on Napa Cabernet. I feel lucky to have heard just a small fraction of the stories Phelps could tell from summers visiting Right Bank cellars and tasting with some of the most iconic producers of legendary Bordeaux wine. That’s just not his way. Perhaps his humility and willingness to let his masterful wines speak for themselves have kept his profile lower than other winemakers only too happy to toot their own horns, but savvy Napa Cabernet collectors know.
In 1990, Phelps struck a deal with Larry Bettinelli, a fifth-generation farmer and owner of Sleeping Lady Vineyard. Bettinelli would provide 1 or 2 tons of fruit each vintage from various Napa vineyards he owned or farmed, and Phelps would make experimental lots of wine to help assess different clones, row orientations, trellis systems, and other aspects of vineyard design. In 2005, Phelps began working with Sleeping Lady Cabernet on a purely experimental level. In 2007, he convinced Bettinelli to contract a small block at Sleeping Lady to him for the production of Ad Vivum. As a result of their mutual efforts, Sleeping Lady has become an iconic source of world-class Napa Cabernet, with superstar winemakers like Melka, Fayard, and Touquette now locked into their own long-term contracts.
But Phelps’s Cabernet off Bettinelli's coveted acres has been labeled the gold standard, inspiring Vinous founder Antonio Galloni to write that Phelps’ unreleased next Ad Vivum vintage “is also arguably the reference-point wine from the Sleeping Lady vineyard.” Translation: any future allocation may be even smaller.
So, picture 10 barrels of wine, and imagine a tall, slender, intensely focused Chris Phelps tending to each of those 10 barrels, over the course of two years, prior to bottling. Those 10 barrels yielded 250 cases of wine, and now, only 20 cases (not even one full barrel) remains — earmarked for the cellars of Wine Access clients. From Napa’s extraordinary 2014 vintage, as far as under-the-radar finds go, it doesn’t get any better than Ad Vivum — “where wine and life meet.”
Editor-in-Chief, Wine Access
Cristaldi has worked in the wine industry for nearly a decade as a professional writer, critic, and educator. His published work has appeared in national print and online outlets including Food & Wine, Los Angeles Magazine, SOMM Journal, and many others.
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