Mt. Brave Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, Napa Valley
Cost: $75
I ’m generally happy about most things in my life, but last week I got word about two deaths that really had me down.
So I needed a special wine to right the emotional ship and to toast to my friends. Mt. Brave is an outstanding Cab from Mt. Veeder, so it was perfect as a first-class salute.
I discovered Mt. Brave a couple of years ago when I met winemaker Chris Carpenter at a dinner in Atlanta. He’s a former football player from the University of Illinois who decided growing grapes in California was more fun than fighting Chicago winters. He’s a smart man.
He also makes great wine.
The wine is a gorgeous deep red in the glass with aromas of blueberry and flowers. On the palate you get more blueberry, raspberry with silky tannins and a crisp minerality. A fresh acidity keeps everything fresh and lively with this muscular wine.
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder.
Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon from Mt. Veeder.
The wine fermented in stainless steel and then underwent native malolactic fermentation in barrels to round acidity and softly integrate the vanillin character of French oak.
The blend is 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 3% Malbec. It was aged 19 months in 81% new French oak. You should be able to cellar this wine for at least another 10 years.
The grapes are grown in mountain vineyards at 1,400 to 1,800 feet elevation on Mount Veeder, one of a handful of great mountain appellations in Napa. The rugged terrain makes it difficult to grow and harvest grapes, but for those brave enough to do it, the results are spectacular.
“Part of the signature of my wine is the texture,” said Carpenter. “I love tactile aspects of the wine. We had to take financial risks to assure that.
“I’m only asked to make great wines, not necessarily a lot of wine. If it’s not where it needs to be, I might not put it in the bottle.”
Working for the Jackson family of Kendall Jackson fame, Carpenter also makes wine at Lokoya, Cardinale and LaJota. They are all spectacular wines.
This is a perfect wine for special dinners, or when you need a special wine to pick you up.
I really needed a pick-me-up when I heard one of my close friends and colleagues from my days in Charlotte had died. Al Johnson was a one-of-a-kind character who often used humor to defuse tense situations. He had just about the best smile I’ve ever seen, and he and I shared many, many laughs. Sometimes we even shared a glass of wine. So with each sip of this outstanding wine I thought about another outstanding aspect of Al’s character. And I smiled.
Al was one of the smartest people I’ve ever known, but he didn’t really like people to know how smart he was. He kept his genius hidden behind a friendly, soft-spoken manner that put everyone around him at ease. But when he had to be tough, he was hard as nails.
Al knew how to run a newsroom and he know how to deal with people, how to get their best possible work out of them. He didn’t believe in beating people up; he believed in working with them and helping them get better. Heck, you could get better just by hanging around Al and watching him.
He moved from Charlotte to become executive editor of the Post-Tribune in Gary, Ind., and then to Columbus, Georgia, as executive editor of the Ledger-Enquirer. He also worked for several business publications.
Al’s wonderful family will miss him as will scores of journalists around the country.
As I was absorbing the shock of Al’s death I learned that Bobby Johnson (no relation to Al) in Augusta died. He was a wine distributor, and another one of the truly nice guys.
He always had a friendly smile and steered me toward several outstanding wines. He is missed. He leaves behind a young family.
I guess losing those friends reminded that we need to live each day to the fullest. We must remember to tell our friends we love them and enjoy them as often as we can. I believe life is too short to drink bad wine, but even more I believe life is too short. If we are judged by our company of friends, I’m in good shape.
Here’s a toast to you Al, and to you Bobby.
Winery: The story of Mt. Brave is as much about the winemaker as the winery. The Jackson family bought the property in June 2007. The family who owned it asked the Jacksons if they wanted to buy it, and they jumped on it. It was near another piece of property the Jacksons have owned on Mt. Veeder since 1994.
The original vineyard is on a flat stretch of ground, but the new property was bowl shaped, giving the grapes more mountain characteristics.
The family thought they could use the fruit from this new vineyard in their Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon, because it uses fruit from all over Napa Valley. But they discovered more diversity of flavor in the Mt. Brave parcel. That gave them an opportunity to create a new wine. Besides the Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. Brave also produces a Merlot and a Malbec.
The name is an homage to the native Wappos, “the brave ones,” who were the original inhabitants of the area. Great wines have been produced on Mt. Veeder since the early 1960s, but the first Mt. Brave vineyards weren’t established until a couple of decades ago.
Carpenter joined the Jackson family team in 1998 via an unusual route. He grew up outside of Chicago and played defensive back for the University of Illinois football team, during an era when the team was good. He earned an MBA and sold medical products, but he also tended bar once a week at one of my favorite bars, Butch McGuire’s in Chicago.
As he and his friends explored the lively food and wine culture of Chicago, he found himself drawn to it. Finally, when his company wanted him to leave Chicago and move to Indianapolis Carpenter decided it was time for a change. He had enjoyed a visit to Napa Valley and when he read an article about the wine program at the University of California at Davis he thought that might be something to check out.
He took that as a sign and luckily his fiancee agreed with him. After getting a master’s degree in viticulture and enology he worked in Italy and Napa before landing at Cardinale and the other Jackson family properties.
Through it all he has remained true to these two philosophies:
“Winemaking should be about place,” he said. “And wine is best made in the vineyard, not in the winery. These two things drive everything I do.”
The Mt. Veeder Cab wasn't great with pork stir fry, but was perfect for toasting my friends.
The Mt. Veeder Cab wasn’t great with pork stir fry, but was perfect for toasting my friends.
Goes with: We drank this wine with a pork stir fry that included red and green bell peppers, carrots, celery, snow peas and mandarin oranges. It wasn’t an ideal pairing because the sweet mandarin oranges and the ginger in the sauce clashed with the powerful wine. So we opened a white wine with dinner and saved the Mt. Brave cab for after dinner.
That was a better choice. But I still liked the cab as a tribute to my two friends.
The wine also will go well with red meat, hearty stews, flavorful cheeses, and even a bite or two of chocolate.

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