This week’s exploration of Napa Valley wine country brings me to the Oakville sub-AVA (American Viticultural Area). This part of the Napa Valley is just north of Yountville on Highway 29 and continues north, ending at Rutherford. It stretches east to west from the Mayacamas Mountains to the west and the Vaca Mountains to the east. Its history is rich and dates back to the original, quality plantings done in the Napa Valley during the mid 1800’s. Wines from Oakville are some of the most expensive and sought-after wines from California. It’s home to such cult producers as Harlan, Bond, Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, and Opus One, just to name a few. Despite being in the wine industry myself, I never even get to taste most of these wines (the exception being Opus One) — they are so coveted and produced in such limited quantities that they immediately sell out to people on the wineries’ mailing lists and to high-end restaurants, but are rarely found elsewhere.
Oakville is particularly famous for its blissful relationship with Cabernet Sauvignon. Oakville is home to the world famous To Kalon vineyard, which is credited with some of the original plantings in Oakville and is now considered a “First Growth” site for exceptional grapes. To Kalon is owned by Andy Beckstoffer and Robert Mondavi, and if you were to purchase a To Kalon single vineyard wine, you should plan on shelling out about $250, depending on the producer. Oakville maintains the perfect climate for growing Cabernet Sauvignon: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Oakville Cabernets perfectly express the ethereal qualities you hope to find in all Cabernet Sauvignon.
I have had the privilege of tasting the wines of Oakville, including Rudd Estate, Paul Hobbs, Swanson Vineyards, and others. I found their wines to be of the utmost ‘ginormity’. The structure of these Cabs is meant to last decades. I found hints of herbs, eucalyptus, layers of dark ripe fruit, and the subtle earthiness that makes them the “heavenly bodies” of the wine-loving world. If you can hold onto these wines for 10 years, then do it: the flavors will deepen, the tannins will soften and the pleasure will be all yours.
Wine writer Maggie Bernat Smith contributes to the Strongbox blog each Friday.