Visiting Cuvaison Winery in the Heart of Carneros
For a number of years now, I’ve been drinking Cuvaison wines and last year I even had dinner with their affable winemaker, Steve Rogstad. However, until recently I’d never been to their facility, so it seemed like high time to change that on my most recent trip to Napa Valley. Cuvaison is best known for making chardonnay and Pinot noir. Their core wines are made using fruit sourced in Carneros, where the winery sits amongst their vineyards. Cuvaison also has a label called Brandlin that is focused on making Estate Cabernet from Mt. Veeder fruit. All around they’re very much the embodiment of an estate producer.
Cuvaison, in fact, has a couple of tasting rooms: one up on Silverado Trail in Calistoga and another that is also gently nestled among their vines in Carneros. Wanting to get to the heart of things, I scheduled my recent visit with them for the Carneros location. One of the biggest practical differences between the two tasting rooms is that you can simply walk in to the one in Calistoga and belly up to the bar. The Carneros location offers a couple of options which are available by appointment. One option is a vineyard walk and tasting which occurs four days a week at 9:30 AM. The walk lasts approximately 20 minutes and is followed by a tasting. The other option is a seated tasting, which is what I participated in when my group visited. The facility is on the intimate side and it has both indoor and outdoor seating. In good weather, the glass doors can be opened so even those who are inside get to enjoy the beautiful climate.
When we arrived, the staff greeted us and asked if we preferred to sit inside or out. After, we were guided through our tasting, as they brought over one wine at a time. They told us a bit about each one and were available to answer any questions about the selections they poured, as well as the winery. In a sense, the depth of the tasting from an informational perspective can go as deep or as shallow into things as your party desires. This ability to gauge where each group wants to take it is one of the keys to bringing intimate, seated tastings to the next level. My group wasn’t in a hurry, so we spent a couple of hours enjoying our surroundings and luxuriating in the Cuvaison wines. As a piece, their wines are well made, site-specific offerings which also speak of vintage conditions. That said, a handful of them particularly stood out to me on that day:
Cuvaison 2012 Solitaire Sauvignon Blanc ($23) — Produced from vines planted to the Musqué clone of Sauvignon Blanc, this wine doesn’t see any oak treatment or undergo malolactic fermentation. Anjou pear and yellow delicious apple aromas emerge from the nose of this sauvignon blanc. The palate shows off citrus zest, flinty mineral notes, and white pepper spice. Bits of pleasing green herb emerge on the finish which is clean, crisp and refreshing. This is a lovely example of sauvignon blanc that works as well by itself as it will with lighter foods.
Cuvaison 2011 ATS Chardonnay ($56) — The fruit for this wine comes from some of the oldest planted blocks on the Estate and are planted to the Dijon 809 Clone. Bits of linseed oil, toast, and baker’s spices emerge from the nose of this chardonnay. This is a bold chardonnay loaded with tropical and orchard fruit aromas throughout a full bodied palate. Tons of mineral and spice emerge on the finish which has excellent length. This chardonnay will complement rich cream sauces and soft cheeses quite well. It’s a somewhat extravagant example of chardonnay, which aims to impress and it does.
Cuvaison 2012 Estate Pinot Noir ($38) — The fruit for this Estate Cuvee came from 20 distinct blocks on their property: each block is handled separately and the final blend takes place prior to bottling. Black tea and bing cherry aromas leap from the nose of this fresh and exuberant Pinot noir. Red fruits dominate the gentle but firm palate, with bits of black fruit weaving in and out of the picture. Cherries, strawberries, and hints of plum are of particular note here. Leather, black pepper, and wisps of green savory herb are all part of the finish which has terrific length. This is a nice Pinot noir which will pair with a truly wide array of foods. It would also be a nice wine to sit in the corner with as you sip it slowly and contemplate life. In either case you can’t go wrong. This is a terrific Pinot at a very fair price for the quality.
Cuvaison 2011 Estate Syrah ($38) — The Syrah vines that are sourced for this wine are located on hillsides, and the exposure to greater sun in the hills allows the Syrah to ripen more evenly. Lots of anise leads the massive nose on this 2011 Syrah. Black cherry and raspberry fruit flavors are in full effect on the weighty and friendly palate. Blackberry and plum notes emerge on the finish along with smoked meat characteristics and a hint of chicory. The tannins here are firm, but yield with some air. This Syrah will excel when it’s paired with bold, full flavored foods.
The two Estate wines above and their Estate chardonnay are all widely available all over the country. Their other selections are more limited in availability; some are only available directly through the winery. Steve Rogstad has been crafting some really fine wines over at Cuvaison for a long time now. Across the board these are approachable, proportionate wines with depth. If you’re not familiar with Cuvaison, spend your money on their offerings with the confidence that you’ll get a quality artisan product.