Alas, fear not as The Wine Raconteur and The Wine Raconteur, Jr. were doing a yeoman’s job with all of the tastings at the Fine Wine Source in Livonia, Michigan. We were amassing our own personal shopping lists of wines to take with us, but there was still more work to be done. Wine tasting can be a solitary task, but it is much more interesting with a friend. The geography lessons continued as we left the Alexander Valley to go southward to Rutherford, one of the finest sub-appellation AVAs in Napa Valley.
Rutherford AVA is in the heart of Napa winemaking, as it is located between St. Helena and Oakville. It is named after Thomas Lewis Rutherford, who married Elizabeth Yount, the granddaughter of Napa’s pioneering winemaker and vigneron George C. Yount (as in Yountville). Cabernet Sauvignon is the variety that is planted the most in Rutherford and then followed by the other four grapes when wanting a rich Bordeaux blend; Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. While reds dominate there is some interest in Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as well. Rutherford’s vineyards are on the flatlands of the valley and they receive excellent sunshine, but is also blessed with a cool, damp morning fog that keeps the grapes from overheating and lets them acquire the complexity and balance acidity necessary for great winemaking. Deep, well-drained sandy loam soils is the signature for most of Rutherford, except for clay soil found closer to the banks of the Napa River and Conn Creek.
The history of Martin Estate goes back to 1836 when the Mexican Government deeds twelve-thousand acres of Napa Valley land to Captain George C. Yount, this was known as the Caymus Grant. Henry Harrison Harris arrives with his family from Missouri and in 1870 purchases over one-hundred acres from the estate of the late Captain. In 1887 he breaks ground for his wine cellar in Block B of the original Caymus Grant, which is the heart of Rutherford. The winery began yielding two-hundred-thousand gallons of wine, and Harris retires around 1909 and leases the vineyards to his French neighbor Georges de Latour. Prohibition ended the production of most of the wineries and in 1941, Douglas Pringle purchases the estate and then deeds it to his wife, who renames the estate Puerta Dorada and turns the estate into an elegant country chateau. In 1996, Greg and Petra Martin discovered the forgotten estate and purchase it for their daughter and the untouched land around the chateau becomes Puerta Dorada. In 2002, a small artisanal limited production winery is completed, and after 115 years of dormancy, the H.H. Harris Wine Cellar became Martin Estate and they had their first vintage of Estate grown, produced and bottled Cabernet Sauvignon.
Martin Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Collector’s Reserve Rutherford 2015 is one of the oldest historic estates in Napa Valley, hidden by ancient valley oaks and a mystery to most, including its location. Privately owned, the property has twelve acres planted in 1996 with seventeen-thousand tightly spaced vines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc, utilizing the expertise of their neighbor Chuck Wagner of Caymus Vineyards for selection of the vines and the oversee the development. It was the first time the land around the chateau was ever planted, and they maintain their own in-house team for the now mature twenty-year-old vines. Each grape cluster is handpicked and then hand sorted berry by berry. This is a state-of-the-art winery with French cement Nomblot tanks, Le Jeune fermenters, Radoux oak fermentation tanks, an Italian made basket press for gentle extraction of grape juice, and an assortment of French Oak barrels from assorted cooperages. This wine was aged for nineteen months. Opulence is the word that comes to mind, as this wine surpassed most California Cabernet Sauvignon wines that I have had in fifty years. At five years of age this wine, even poured using a Coravin system was offering complex layers for the three sensory perceptions needing to really enjoy wines. It was the perfect way to end the red wines from our private tasting. I noticed that Martin Estate wines are available by allocation, but the Fine Wine Source had plenty of wooden six packs tucked away, as well as individual bottles on the shelves.