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Thursday Thorns: The Report Card
The Next Cabernet Heaven

By Charles Olken

Steve Heimoff has an uncanny ability to make people think. In fact, I can go one step further and tell you that I like his blog because he makes me think. He sees ideas in his head and plays them out on his eponymous blog, Steve Heimoff. Yesterday, he asked the simplest of questions yet got no answers because there are none.

He asked of himself and his legions of faithful followers: Can other regions challenge Napa when it comes to Cabernet? He forthrightly answered the question with No and Yes, but, by the end of his essay, he had changed his mind and his answers were now Yes and No. To be fair to Mr. Heimoff, he did expand his question into two parts—could any region come along to challenge Napa Cab for supremacy OR is Napa Cab such a strong “brand” that no one could catch up.

By initially answering No and Yes, Heimoff was giving in to the conventional wisdom that says the Napa/Cabernet pairing is so good, so delicious that no region could get inside it for prominence, and even it could, it would still stand behind Napa in prestige. Whether his blog-borne conversion was the result of a second thought or a bit of writer’s artifice, a bit of drama to make the conclusion stand out we will never know. But it does not matter in any event.

The problem with the question is that it has no answer. Nobody knows. Somewhere in California may lurk another Sutter’s Mill or Napa Valley. We have not had a second gold rush and we have been waiting a century and half. We have not yet found a full-on challenger to Napa Valley Cabernet and winemakers have been looking for almost a century and a half.

But we do know this. Most of the large, plantable land masses in California are planted. Not all are in grapes, but almost every potential site of any size has been tried and that includes land from one end of California to the other and from the ocean to the Sierras.

At the ZAP tasting last week, Bob Marr of Marr Vineyards came by the Connoisseurs’ Guide table to say hello, and, oh incidentally, would I like to taste his Cabernet from Tehama County. He was particularly excited about it because it hails from an area where no one expects fine wine to hail from. And it led us into a fascinating conversation about all the possible undiscovered sites in California where the potential exists but has not been given a good test.

Perhaps they never will. Or perhaps we are waiting for a visionary like Randall Grahm to take up the “next great Cabernet site” search the way Mr. Grahm has wrestled with Rhône varieties and has now cast his lot with a barren but fertile hillside just south of Hollister in San Benito County.

For now, Mr. Heimoff’s answer to his own questions grades out as: Incomplete. If you ask me, that kind of question is always going to grade out as Incomplete because there is always the chance that somewhere in this world, we will discover a better place of Pinot Noir than Romanée-Conti, a better place for Sauternes than Sauternes, a better place for sparkling wine than Champagne. And even if we never do, someone somewhere is going to keep on trying and folks like thee and me are going to be there tasting the results just in case.


Gypsy Cab
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/10/2011 3:41:14 PM

I think it's completely reasonable to assume that nowhere else in CA will rival Napa for Cabernet. Perhaps one tiny spot with a couple of wineries, but that would just be an anomaly, not a rival. After hundreds of years, Bordeaux has yet to be rivaled in France for Cabernet Sauvignon. But isn't the real story where the next appellation of Cabernet renown will be found? It's already happening in Walla Walla, and it seems only a matter of time before somewhere in Bulgaria, or China, or Australia will become the cult wine capital of the world. I think Napa is the Mubarak of Cab--just not going anywhere no matter what you people want.

Of course, no one knows for certain, but there are worse bets to take. A region emerges where the Cabs rival Insignia and Spottswoode and Harlan Estate and Staglin and Sloan and Diamond Creek and fifty others? Yeah, right. And one day Mel Gibson will be honored by B'nai B'rith.

by jason Carey
Posted on:2/11/2011 8:27:04 AM

Yes its called Washington State...

Can You Be More Specific?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/11/2011 8:54:11 AM


In this day and age with our increased focus on particular climats and appreciation of terroir, it seems a bit disingenuous to simply say "Washington State".

Would you care to comment on the possibilites in the various recognized AVAs?

No Subject
by Christian Miller
Posted on:2/12/2011 7:56:31 PM

"I think Napa is the Mubarak of Cab--just not going anywhere no matter what you people want." Now that's what I call irony.

It's obvious that Napa has claim on top quality Cab based on ageability, soil, climate, expertise and experience. It's the latter two that intrigue me. Are the "also-ran" terroirs considered such because they got they just couldn't produce (enough) great Cabs? Or because of a historical accident of timing, reputation and resulting investment, so that they just haven't been exploited fully?

Mubarak? MUBARAK ??
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/13/2011 2:47:40 PM

Who's he?

Great places for wine seem to be constants. The Napa Valley has excelled for Cab for over a century.

By the same token, when new places are discovered, they get recognized very quickly. Russ River PN is a relatively new phenomenon. Santa Lucia Highlands hit the big time with five to ten years of its extensive arrival.

There will be other places discovered, but even if another great patch of CS does emerge, it will not diminish Napa any more than Napa diminished Bdx or Oregon PN has diminished anywhere else in the world.

I do think there are possibilities up in WA, but so far, Merlot has impressed me more than the CS across the board.

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