Tasting Mountain Wines at Cardinale Estate

It’s a pretty special thing to taste through the various creations of Chris Carpenter, winemaker for Cardinale Estate, La Jota Vineyards, Lokoya and Mt. Brave Wines. That’s exactly what Beautiful Wife and I did on a gorgeous October morning as harvest wound down around us in Napa Valley.

Cardinale was our first winery visit of our 14th anniversary wine country trip, and it was a magnificent way to kick it off. Four jewels of the Jackson Family Wines portfolio in one place. We were greeted with sweeping views of the valley, the heady perfume of fermenting grapes and a squadron of seven wines in formation in an elegant great room reserved just for us. Our host, Kristen, kept us smiling with wit, charm and insightful stories.

Carpenter, a former football star at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, earned his master’s degree in the Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis. He started at as the enologist at Cardinale in 1998, became assistant winemaker in 1999 and was promoted to winemaker in 2001. Kristen described him as a “master of the mountains” coaxing expression of the terroir from the various appellations of Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, Mt. Veeder and Spring Mountain.

We stuck our noses deep into our glasses to find out what she meant.

First up, we taste the 2010 Mt. Brave Merlot. This wine tugged at our heart-strings a bit as the Mt. Brave winery, named in deference to the Wappo Indians, “the brave ones”, who were the original inhabitants the area on Mt. Veeder, is the former property of Chateau Potelle, a winery we visited on our honeymoon 14 years earlier. Carpenter created a velvety, dark wine with ripe blueberry, plum and black cherry flavors brought to life with a pop of acidity. There were only 200 cases of this wine produced and it’s sold on allocation for $75 a bottle.

Next we tried 2010 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. The vineyard was first established in 1898 and is one of the oldest vineyards in the area. The cool climate and volcanic soil mixed with granite and chalk produce an approachable wine. This Bordeaux style blend of Cab and Merlot has powerful blackberry, cassis and fennel flavors on a backbone of soft tannins. It’s available for $75 a bottle.

On to the Lokoya. It was quite a treat to taste all four mountain wines side-by-side. These wines let Carpenter showcase the distinct characteristics of the fruit from each mountain. His approach is, “don’t mess with the fruit from the mountain to the bottle.”  Less than 500 cases are made of these wines and they are sold on allocation.

2010 Lokoya Diamond Mountain, as the name suggests, is made with 100 percent cabernet grown on Diamond Mountain, just north of Spring Mountain in the Mayacamas Mountains. With vineyards reaching to 400 feet in elevation, the vines planted in volcanic soil get plenty of sunshine. This wine starts with a big wet kiss of blackberry and black currant with undertones of tart cranberry. The fruit is punctuated with vanilla and anise. It runs $250 a bottle.

2010 Lokoya Spring Mountain is made in one of the coolest and wettest districts of Napa Valley with significant influence from coastal currents. The cool weather and elevation make an elegant yet intense wine with plenty of floral scent mingled in layers of fruit. Its blackberry, blueberry and plum flavors are draped with violet and lush chocolate flavors. It is velvety smooth with soft tannins. It will dent the wallet at $350 a bottle.

2010 Lokoya Howell Mountain is one big, bold wine. With grapes grown way up in the 1,400 to 2,200 feet in elevation range, they get the cold night air and direct sun tempered with plenty of fog. The Howell Mountain is brawny with blackberries, plum, chocolate, fennel and baking spices. It’s a damn fine California cab. It will set you back $350 a bottle.

2010 Lokoya Mt. Veeder is planted on the steep slopes allowing for the sun to ripen it above the fog. Elegant with rich fruit layered on stout minerals, it is a stunner. Blackberries play with leather, black currant frolics with cedar and spicy licorice. As intense and brooding as Brando, this wine is $350 a bottle.

Our final sip of the morning was the 2010 Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon. Cardinale Estate was established in the late 1980s and purchased by Jackson Family Wines in the 1990s. Less than 1,000 cases are made of this blend of cab grapes from all four Napa mountain appellations — Mt. Veeder, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Diamond Mountain. It’s concentrated with ripe fruit and firm tannin. Fragrant rose petal layers onto blackberry, blueberry, vanilla and stone. It has a smooth lingering finish that begs for a steak. It runs $250 a bottle.

I can’t say that I had a favorite among them. That’s like picking your favorite child. I was smitten with the setting, the experience and each of the wines. We left with a selection of various wines to cellar and to uncork on anniversaries to relive memories of this anniversary.

You should go here. Cardinale Estate is in the heart of the Oakville District, 7600 St Helena Highway. Wine tastings are available by appointment only, so call ahead: 707-948-2643.

Disclosure: we were provided with complimentary tasting arranged by the Jackson Family Wines PR team (normal tasting fee is $50). We purchased bottles of wine at full price.

What are you drinking?