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TM: At that point in time, [from what I've learned] in my experience with other properties, the thinking was that Chardonnay would be appropriate for here and for Yountville. The vision of what Napa Valley does and where it does it well has changed dramatically over the last 30-40 years. We see that very well by where the Champagne houses are placed in the valley and where they were planning on making sparkling wine, as great intellects from Burgundy were, in Oakville and Yountville, whereas [nowadays] they're down south in Carneros or in the Anderson Valley. Mount Veeder is great ground for Cabernet, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot.
PR: It's funny because the palates that I've presented the wines to through the years — sommeliers, people such as yourself, people with a strong interest in regionality — have said, "Oh, this is a Carneros Merlot." I've heard that many times from master sommeliers. And we didn't realize this, ourselves; for years, we were thinking Mount Veeder: "Oh, the map says Mount Veeder!" But in terms of what's really happening — what is the regionality of this [area], what is the sound of music from this particular area of the valley — it's more about the Carneros influence than it is way up on Mount Veeder.
TM: Being at the southern end of Mount Veeder, those are the influences. I've been thinking about this a great deal, about how we have the Carneros climate without the Carneros fog. So, whereas we would [otherwise] get this very herbaceous Cabernet from Carneros — typically because it's just a little bit too cool and doesn't have quite enough sunlight — we have just enough more sunlight, being above the fogline, so that we don't have the herbaceous qualities but we still have the high acids and fruit preservation. The fruit still tastes like fruit at the end of the season, with those fresh, bright fruit flavors.
The Proof in the Pudding: Articulating the Rubissow Style
NM: This is a good segue for us to focus on the wines themselves. Have you ever heard your wines being called Old World or Bordelaise in style or approach, compared to some of those being produced by many of your colleagues, especially in the last five years?
TM: Certainly that was the intent of the first [generation] Rubissow-Sargent: to mirror the wines that were made in Bordeaux, in the Graves style. I've not heard reports directly from Peter about the current wines being in that style, but I think that's not an inappropriate comparison. Now, I'm not actively trying to model wines from anywhere; I'm trying to make wines from here, from this ranch, the best that they can possibly be. But because of our meso-climate, because of this cool weather — with the acidity that is retained and the brightness of fruit that it gives — I think that the obvious comparison is Bordeaux, and more so than people who are trying to achieve those results in warmer parts of the valley in, say, Stag's Leap District, Oakville, or Spring Mountain.
AR: I think we also said to Tim, "We do not want and do not like fruit bombs. " I can't drink them, I hate them. I've been in restaurants and drove [the waitstaff] nuts running around looking for wines that have less than 15% alcohol. I think we wanted to be modern and we wanted to have more fruit. But it wasn't until we began farming better and harvesting in very small lots — now we harvest in about twenty different lots sometimes, versus ten or six — that we were able to get [the fruit] riper. At the same time, I think we said to Tim, "We want to honor the Bordeaux-ness of our past." Of course, we loosely use the word 'honor.' What does that mean to Tim? Make what you can of it.
TM: My charter is to respect what's been done before but to make wines that are more modern in style. Ironically, I actually try to get the fruit as ripe as possible here, as it tends to make wines that are more acidic, brighter, and more centered on minerality. There's certainly more ripe fruit here than there has been in the past. But the wines, by their very nature, are more lean and minerally than if I did exactly the same thing on Oakville or on Rutherford bench; there, the wines would be radically different. Peter thinks I'm being humble, but I really am trying to make wines from this spot to be the very best that we could possibly do here, to be the most expressive wines from this place. As any fruit is reaching its peak of ripeness — that is when the flavors are most expressive and the most interesting. So we really are trying to get the ripest possible fruit.