A retrospective tasting of Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon took place in July of last year at the Rancho Santa Fe home of former Vineyard 29 owners, Tom Paine and Teresa Norton. Christine Graham and Ron Brown were in attendance.
The tasting featured thirteen vintages from 1992, the debut vintage, to 2004.
Tom Paine and Teresa Norton loved the Napa Valley and visited it from their East Coast home regularly starting in the late 1970s. Both were partners in the international human resource consulting firm, Hewitt and Associates. In 1988, they purchased a 28-acre property in St. Helena and moved there permanently in 1989. Tom retired from full-time work but continued on special assignments for the firm for some time.
They had no thought of going into the wine business and were planning on devoting their time to writing, sculpting, and returning to school. Within days of their property purchase, however, they began receiving calls from local vintners interested in leasing their new property for vineyard planting. It did not take long for them to alter their vision of retirement to include the wine business.
Realizing their estate was prime Cabernet Sauvignon property, Teresa and Tom met with renowned vineyard manager David Abreu, who agreed to become their vineyard manager if he could utilize the planting and farming techniques he had learned from the Bordelaise for canopy management, trellis design, crop thinning and close spacing of vines. David is a third generation rancher in St. Helena, a graduate in viticulture and enology from University of California at Davis, and founded Abreu Vineyards in 1980 and later formed David Abreu Vineyard Mangement.
Tom and Teresa named their estate Vineyard 29 for its physical address: 2929 Highway 29. The estate, just north of the town of St. Helena, is located on the eastern- facing slope of the Mayacamas mountain range that forms the western boundary of Napa Valley. And, it is two driveways south of Grace Family Vineyards. Even before moving to St. Helena, Teresa and Tom entered into an agreement with Dick Grace to use Grace Family budwood in their vineyard. The Grace Family vineyard was planted with the Bosche clone of Cabernet Sauvignon in 1976. Bosche Cabernet started as an experimental batch in the mid-60s by a one-year-old winery in Rutherford farmed by the late John Bosche and is one of Napa Valley’s most famous clonal selections of Cabernet. It is a small-bunch, small-berry, low-yielding clone.
David Abreu planted the vineyard Bordeaux style, with five feet between rows and four feet between plants, resulting in about 2,000 vines per acre as opposed to the 500-600 vines found in most vineyards. By 1993, Vineyard 29 was comprised of four acres and more than 8,000 vines. The first release of 250 cases of 1992 Vineyard 29 in 1996 was warmly received by critics and consumers alike.
Vineyard 29 was in partnership with Grace Family Vineyard until 1998, using their facilities and winemaker. Gary Galleron was the winemaker from 1992-1994. When Dick Grace hired Heidi Peterson Barrett of Dalla Valle and Screaming Eagle fame in 1995, she also made the Vineyard 29 wine from up until 1998. In 1999, the partnership with Grace Family Vineyard was discontinued and Tom and Teresa hired Philippe Melka as winemaker. Philippe holds degrees in geology, agronomy and enology from the University of Bordeaux and brought his geological and viticultural expertise to the winemaking process. Vineyard 29 harvests from 1999 through 2001 were vinified at Miner Family Vineyards.
After nearly a decade of producing highly acclaimed vintages, Tom and Teresa decided to try retirement one more time. In 2000 they sold Vineyard 29 to Chuck and Anne McMinn, who began constructing a state-of-the-art, gravity-flow winery and cellars on the property. The 2002 vintage was the first one produced and bottled by Melka at Vineyard 29. The McMinns have kept in place Tom and Teresa’s team of Abreu as vineyard manager and Melka as winemaker.
The classic elegance and seductive lushness of Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon is attributable to a number of factors. Planted on an eastern-facing slope, the grapes receive the most direct sunlight during the early morning hours when the heat is less intense. Afternoon sunlight falls indirectly on the vineyard, allowing for slightly cooler afternoon exposure. This pattern of exposure is ideal as the grapes can ripen with well-structured tannins. The gentle slopes ensure perfect drainage, creating the perfect amount of vine stress to yield highly concentrated fruit. In addition, the close spacing, a more expensive way to farm, stresses the vines so the yield is lower and the grapes more intense. The wines are aged in 100% new oak.
The philosophy of Tom and Teresa, similar to that of Grace Family and Hartwell Vineyards, is “grow the best grapes, make the best wines.” The result is wines with gravitas.
The wines from 1994 to 2004 are a lovely purplish-ruby color, while the 1992 is ruby-colored, with a brickish edge and the 1993 is a bright ruby color.
1992 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley .
The vintage was excellent to outstanding primarily because the growing season came off without the interference of rain. Harvested September-October 1992, 250 cases were produced, aged 30 months in French oak, alcohol 13.1%, released November 1996.
The appealing perfume of berries and plum, hints of a prune character. The fruit is similar but more subtle in the mouth. With some viscosity, it improves in the glass but the body is fairly delicate, ending in a nice finish, hinting of black cherry. The fruit is still alive, but at a peak. Drink up.
1993 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
A very good to excellent vintage for Cabernet, with generally good climatic conditions throughout the year. Harvested September-October 1993, 386 cases produced, aged 22 months in French oak, alcohol 13.2%, released November 1996
The perfume of berries, plum and dark cherry is lovely, fresher and lighter than the 1992. Flavors resemble the nose. A delicate body, it has some oak and mild tannin and a slightly shorter finish with a black cherry aftertaste. The wine is flavorful with nice fruit, but at a peak. Drink now.
1994 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
An outstanding vintage, with a moderate growing season interrupted by several heavy rainstorms which did not adversely affect the grapes, followed by excellent weather at harvest time. Harvested October 1994, 550 cases produced, aged 25 months in French oak, alcohol 13.1%, released November 1997.
Subtly perfumed with cassis, herbs, leather and berries, it is very stylish, with lush, sweet, exotic fruit showing good intensity and definition. Well-balanced flavors hint of dark berry, cherry, coffee, leather, chocolate and tannin. Still evolving, this wine is not yet at a peak.
1995 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
An outstanding vintage, despite some weather extremes, followed by moderate Indian Summer temperatures. Harvested October 1995, 600 cases produced, aged 23 months in French oak, alcohol 13.2%, released October 1998.
The wine has a perfume of black cherry, blackberry, leather, spice, cassis, oak and coffee that translates well to the palate. It is elegant, medium bodied, with good depth, concentration and a long finish. This bottle traveled from Northern to Southern California and was opened the next day. It is still evolving and maturing beautifully.
1996 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
A very good to excellent vintage, with a warm winter, followed by some hot summer temperatures and a cooling trend in September. Harvested September 1996, 525 cases produced, aged 22 months in French oak, alcohol 13.6%, released October 1999.
A deep fruity perfume reveals herbal notes, black fruit, hazelnuts, spice and leather. The flavors echo the aromas, with a bright cherry mid-palate. It is balanced, concentrated and rich, with a nice, toasty finish and has several years to go before reaching a peak.
1997 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
An outstanding vintage. Napa Valley experienced a perfect growing season, long, mild and warm to hot, in 1997, producing grapes that were luscious and profuse. Budbreak was mid-March; bloom was in May; and summer temperatures were moderate and even. Harvested September 1997, 950 cases produced, aged 21 months in French oak, alcohol 13.7%, released November 2000.
The deep perfume offers lead pencil, dark berry, deep spice, black cherry, cedar, mineral and vanilla, with similar flavors. It is intensely fruity, round, balanced, rich, complex, deep and long, with some tannin still to resolve. An opulent wine, it has years to go before reaching a peak.
1998 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
The growing season in 1998 was a difficult one for Napa Valley. Wet spring weather and cold weather throughout the entire summer resulted in a need to drastically cut the crop and to harvest late in order to achieve sufficient ripeness. Harvested October 1998, 600 cases produced, aged 20 months in French oak, alcohol 14.2%, released October 2001.
A successful wine, despite the difficult vintage, it has improved dramatically since release. Aromas and flavors offer licorice, tobacco, black fruit, spice, oak, herbal notes and chocolate. It is balanced, with rich, ripe fruit, soft tannins and good concentration.
1999 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Outstanding vintage, long, cool Spring gave way to mild summer, very little rain then a hot Fall. Harvested October 1999, 423 cases produced, aged 20 months in French oak, 40% new, alcohol 14.2%, released October 2002.
The wine showcases a perfume and palate of black currant, cedar, spice, vanilla, smoke, mineral and oak. Thick, juicy, velvety, elegant and balanced, it is harmonious, rich and round, with well-integrated tannins — lovely.
2000 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
The growing season in 2000 was long and cool, nearly perfect. Harvested September 2000, 546 cases produced, aged 20 months in French oak, 65% new, alcohol 14.2%, released November 2003.
The perfume and flavors are laced with leather, spice, cherry, berry, plum and oak. Viscous, concentrated, dense and intensely fruity, the wine is, full-bodied, velvety, smooth and deep, with integrated tannins, needing time.
2001 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Early Spring, surprise frost then early heat until the weather evened out. Harvested September 2001, 338 cases produced, aged 24 months in French oak, 75% new, alcohol 14.4%, released October 2004.
Complex scents and tastes of plum, dark fruit, chocolate, smoke, leather and spice are opulent, layered and deep. A rich, full-bodied, well-balanced, smooth, velvety wine, it needs lots of time.
2002 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Long, mostly mild growing season, followed by warm weather near the end of September. Harvested October 2002, 300 cases produced, aged 18 months in French oak, 100% new, alcohol 14.8%, released October 2005.
The perfume hints of dark berries, leather, spice, chocolate, dark cherry, mineral and plum. Flavors, echoing the aromas, are dense, very tight, balanced and concentrated, with intense fruit. Still very young, the wine needs time, but should have a great future.
2003 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Early heat spikes in March, followed by wettest Spring on record then a long, cool summer, with some heat spikes in September. Harvested October 2003, 550 cases produced, aged 18 months in French oak, 100% new, alcohol 14.9%, released November 2006.
A perfume of smoke, oak, spice, dark berry, flowers, chocolate and leather carry through to the mouth, ending in a toasty oak finish. Tight and balanced, with soft, integrated tannins, it is very young, needing time, but should have a very fine future.
2004 Vineyard 29 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.
Very early budbreak followed by heat spikes in June and at intervals throughout summer, then steady temperatures throughout harvest. Harvested October 2004, 370 cases produced, aged 18 months in French oak, 100% new, alcohol 14.9%, released October 2007.
The wine has a perfume of dark berry, chocolate, leather, oak, flowers, coffee and spice and a similar palate, ending in a chocolatey finish. It is dense and concentrated with ripe, rich fruit. The 2003 and 2004 are more open at this time than the 2002. Nonetheless, this 2004 is still very young, needing time, but the future promises to be outstanding.
The Vineyard 29 wines tasted range from recommended to outstanding. While the wines showed a fairly similar style — elegant, full, balanced, harmonious and lush, the more recent vintages, from 1998 to 2004, are a bit richer, with riper fruit, and more alcoholic. The vintages of 1992 and 1993 are at a peak, still flavorful but should be drunk now. The rest are drinking well and several will need considerably more time before showing their real potential.