Cabernet – from rags to double gold

The Sierra Foothills are probably one of the least known wine regions in California.  It is not because it lacks the right components for creating world class wines.  In fact the desert-like climate of dry hot days and cool nights coupled with soils that are mainly sandy loam and decomposed granite are ideal for growing most wine grapes.  The real reason is that most of the wineries in the Foothills are owned by people who have chosen to be winemakers for the lifestyle and they produce just about enough wine to supply their tasting rooms and local wine shops and restaurants.  The good news is that this is gradually changing.  Wineries with larger production capabilities are moving into the region, and they are all getting better organized and making a concerted effort to brand the region.

Against this backdrop C.G. Di Arie submitted 5 wines to the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition held in January 2015 for which we recently received 2 double gold medals; one for our 2012 Primitivo and the other for our 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Any double gold is a remarkable achievement since it requires that all the judges in the group vote unanimously “gold” for the wine.

While getting a double gold for the Primitivo makes me feel very proud, I am elated to have received a double gold for the Cabernet.  The simple reason is that Cabernet Sauvignon which is the most famous grape variety on Earth is generally thought to be capable of realizing its potential only if it is grown in the Napa region and is therefore completely disassociated from the Sierra Foothills.  And here I am, a relatively newcomer in this field with only 14 years of winemaking experience receiving a double gold in Cabernet Sauvignon made in the Sierra Foothills and completely outclassing Cabernets made in Napa.

The journey to the double gold has not been easy.  While the climate in the Sierra Foothills is ideal for growing many varieties of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon is not exactly one of them. Cabernet Sauvignon matures slowly and requires warm weather to reach the desired level of ripeness for a varietal wine.   But it has a hard time acclimating to consistently high afternoon temperatures of the Sierra Foothills that cause the plant to shut down thus slowing the ripening process.   When the grapes are not sufficiently ripe at harvest time the wines will exhibit green bell pepper and vegetal flavors.

From the time in 2001 that I planted my first acre of Cabernet Sauvignon, I knew that I would have to overcome the effect of the higher afternoon temperatures on the ripening process.  It took me 10 years to produce my first varietal Cabernet Sauvignon that was true to its identity without the herbaceous and bell peppery flavors.  I achieved this through proper clonal selection and creative trellising techniques.

Now that I have solved some of the technical problems associated with making a double gold quality Cabernet Sauvignon in the Sierra Foothills I have to learn how to deal with people that are stuck in their belief that Napa Cabernet is the only game in town.  So the story is not just about one grower.  Rather it’s about the Sierra Foothills.  And more so, it’s about breaking out of the bias that until now has respected only Napa Cabernets.  For me and my little winery it’s about expanding the potential of this great part of California, a place I am so proud to call home.

Cheers, Chaim