Priest Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, Napa Valley
Cost: $49-51
M any great wines are made from grapes that are purchased by the winemaker. But my senses always perk up when I am trying estate-grown wine.
When a winemaker works with estate fruit it means he or she has total control over what goes into the wine and how the grapes are handled from bud break to fermentation and bottling.
That’s the case at Priest Ranch and Somerston Estate, where all their wines are estate grown, and the wines are outstanding.
The 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon is a lush, full-bodied wine. It opens in the glass with beautiful aromas of dark berries and licorice. The silky, rounded mouthfeel has notes of black cherry, plum and vanilla. The finish is long and lively.
The complex flavors in the wine are helped by picking grapes from 24 unique vineyard blocks, planted at elevations from 850 to 1,600 feet above sea level. One of the hallmarks of Priest Ranch wines is selecting grapes from multiple, diverse blocks.
The wine was aged 20 months in 40 percent new French oak and 60 percent once-used French oak barrels. The lees were stirred for the first year followed by three rackings in the second year of aging. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered before it was released earlier this year.
“The great wines of the world all have a sense of place,” says co-founder, general manager and director of winemaking Craig Becker. “It is the winemaker’s role to capture the estate’s potential in every bottle, without a heavy hand. An estate wine should be even more expressive and consistent each year.  From vintage to vintage our expectations grow.”
Becker says the distinctive mountain fruit requires only minimal processing, so his practices ensure the integrity of the fruit shines through.
Whatever he is doing, it is working because the Priest Ranch wines I have had have been uniformly terrific.
If you can’t get to the winery because of social distancing practices, you can go to the winery’s website and get a virtual tasting.
Winery: Somerston Estate has been building excellence since 2004 after combining the Priest Ranch and Elder Valley properties. The property in Napa Valley’s eastern Vaca Mountains covers 1,682 acres, with 244 acres under vine in more than 100 blocks with a variety of exposures, soils and elevations.
Becker says Priest Ranch wines reflect the estate’s full diversity.
Priest Ranch is named after Joshua James Priest who, with his wife Sarah, settled on an 8,500-acre estate that was part of the Ranch Cataxula Mexican land grant. The Priest family owned the land for more than a century before it was sold in 1968.
Grapes were planted in the late 1960s and 1970s as the land changed hands. In 2004 Allan Chapman bought the winery. Craig Becker, general manager and winemaker, said he first came to the property to buy grapes for his HiFlyer brand. Then in 2008 Becker and Chapman merged their businesses.
Chapman continues to produce wines under the Somerston label with mainly single-vineyard wines. Priest Ranch is the primary label.
Becker has said he likes working with the diverse types of grapes they grow at altitudes ranging from 800 to 1,600 feet.
I visited the property several years ago and thought it was beautiful. The vineyards are sustainably farmed. Hundreds of acres are dedicated to fruit trees, vegetable gardens, bee hives, olive trees, and natural springs. The winery minimizes use of harmful sprays, minimizes erosion and uses woodbox owls to keep away harmful rodents.
Sheep also roam the property to keep down unwanted vegetation.
“Customers learn to trust our wines, even in difficult years,” Becker said in a phone interview. “We take the old school method to showcase the sense of place in our wines. Our slogan is ‘made in the vineyard, handcrafted in the winery.’
“The wine actually comes from a place, not just a label. The hero here is the property.
Americans like to anoint the winemaker as a magician, but it’s all about the property. It’s 90 percent in the vineyard, 10 percent in the winery. But that 10 percent is still important. I just like doing what we do.”
The estate wines are carefully selected from the best individual hillside blocks for their distinctive wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Grenache Blanc, Brut Rosé, Rosé, Double Barrel (Cab/Malbec blend), Coach Gun Bordeaux blend and Port. The Rosé and Grenache Blanc are also available in cans.
Goes with: We had this with vegetable beef soup, a meal I could have every week. It is the soup I most often make, and I know it goes back at least three generations in my family. Of course, everyone makes a vegetable soup, but I follow the recipe my mother handed down, although I do occasionally add some things like okra or corn.
It is a hearty, filling soup, and you need a substantial wine to pair it with. Priest Ranch Cab is a great pairing with the soup. The ripe fruit flavors offer a nice match with the savory flavors in the soup, and it has enough backbone to stand up to this hearty meal.
The Cab also would be great with more noble meals, such as a juicy steak on the grill, beef tips, prime rib or roast duck.
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