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Enumerating the Elements of Quality
NM: Comparing the two Cabernets the "7" Cabernet and the Estate Cabernet — I definitely taste a common thread running through them, which I'm guessing is a factor of the appellation and the site specificity. The "7" is readier drinking, with a brighter and more expressive profile, and overall more nicely integrated, but with somewhat more assertive tannins. Other than that, how would you characterize the nature and age of the respective vines for your two Cabernets?
WS: Our Cabernet vines were planted in '82-'83, so we're talking 25 years of age on our vineyard. And that clearly shows in the concentration of fruit that we get in the wines. On the fruit that we purchase, I think that the vines are a bit younger. But with the "7" Cabernet [made from that purchased fruit] showing more vibrant fruit right now, the stylistic choice we made was for that wine to be the younger brother, so to speak, to the Estate Cabernet. The "7" Cabernet has the youthful energy and firmer tannins that you'd expect from a younger wine. Whereas the Estate Cabernet has greater concentration and finer-grained tannins, along with a structure and mid-palate that you'd expect from more mature vines, plus an overall more harmonious balance where no single component of the wine is showing over another.
"The fruit that we've gotten and worked with from the growers on Spring Mountain has been to a quality level quite comparable to the fruit that we grow here."
LM: Significant to the blending process is the quality of the tannins and their evolution over time. The main wine — the grand vin, as it's called in Bordeaux — might, at an earlier age, feel a bit more austere. But we know that after a year of bottle age and over another decade or two, it's clearly the wine that can gracefully manage time. The second wine is almost there, but not quite. On the Estate wine, there's some astringency — but it's astringent from beginning to end. Whereas on the "7" Cabernet, there's initially a roundness and smoothness that makes it more appealing at first, but then on the finish you get an astringency that comes not just from the fact that the tannins are young, but because their quality is not quite as fine. Between the two, there's only a subtle difference in quality. Otherwise, if there's something we don't really like about a blending component, it simply would not go under the Vineyard 7 & 8 label; we'd just break it out. Some people might expect a bigger difference of quality — but that's not the case; it's subtle.
WS: We could have easily had just said that we're going to work solely with the estate fruit because we think that the fruit that we're selecting for the estate wine is the best that we can grow on our property, and really highlight an estate wine from an estate facility. But the fruit that we've gotten and worked with from the growers on Spring Mountain has been to a quality level quite comparable to the fruit that we grow here…
LM: For some of them, we've actually taken over the farming. And most of them are neighbors, really.
NM: So, the "7" Cabernet is really not conceptually a 'second' wine, in the sense of being a step down in quality from the 'grand vin.' In fact, it's very much in keeping with the terroir of this very specific location and elevation on Spring Mountain. To have access to fruit from other vineyard sources that's so similar to your own is quite a luxury to have!
WS: Yeah, and that's why it's hard to call it a 'second' wine, because it's not in the traditional definition of a 'second' wine — we're not saying that it's of lesser quality. Rather, it's a wine that reflects the relationships we have with our neighbors.
NM: In a sense, you're a spokesman for these growers whose fruit your source, because you are very closely representing their own site, their own terroir.
LM: We see them pretty much every day. And they actually come to the winery to taste the wines, too.