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Notes from "A Taste of Oakville" Master Class

"A Taste of Oakville" Master Class was held last Monday at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. Wine professionals came from around the country to learn more about the terroir of the Oakville AVA and to taste how that environment affects the wines which come the vines that grow here.

Giles De Chambure, M.S. began the introduction of the 5,275 acre region where Cabernet Sauvignon is the dominant grape. It shares space with all the Bordeaux varieties and numerous others as well. Oakville was granted its appellation status in 1993 though grapes were grown here long before then. The region's mid-valley location is the home to many of Napa Valley's most distinguished brands.

Graeme MacDonald, 4th generation grower, took to the floor to discuss the history of the region with a focus on the long growing vineyard area, To Kalon. The name is of Greek origin and translates to "highest beauty". Hamilton Crabb, known as the "wine king of the Pacific Slope" planted 400 different grape varieties in the Napa area in the mid 1800's to try to determine which were best suited to the climate and soil. He created the first successful American wine brand using the To Kalon Vineyard name. The history lesson continued through the area's rise of cult wines beginning in the 1960's on up to the present.

David Howell, co-author of The Winemaker's Dance, was up next for a class on Oakville geology. He discussed the varying elevations ranging from 130-825 feet and how the surrounding mountains affect the rainfall. He talked about the 20 different soil types and how they are dispersed through the Oakville growing area. He took the history lesson back millions of years and brought us forward to today discussing how the fault line is still creating change.

Matt Ashby, Robert Mondavi's vineyard manager, discussed Oakville viticulture starting with the more uniform area 4 portion of Oakville where controlling vigor by draining water is the first concern. Other vineyard managers and winemakers stood up to continue our education throughout the tasting.



The Wine - each one, fantastic and highly recommended!

  • 2012 Franciscan Estate Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon- Structured, balanced by mid-palate, dark berry/cherry fruit, minty.
  • 2012 Robert Mondavi To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - 100% To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon from the Monastery Vineyard which is dry farmed and has a higher gravel content with 2,700 vines planted per acre on St George rootstock. 100% aged in new French oak. Powerful, balanced, fruity, dark berries with a graphite/mineral finish.
  • 2012 Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Cabernet Sauvignon - sourced from a single vineyard area with mixed alluvial fans, 45-60% aged in new French oak. Deep, balanced, beautiful, very smooth; mixed berries.
  • 2012 Far Niente Estate Cabernet Sauvignon- pure, perfumed cassis, black berry fruit.
  • 2012 Futo Oakville Estate Red Wine - From a volcanic soil site with sub-marine sediments contains 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petit Verdot; more acid-driven with a mix of black and red fruit
  • 2012 Groth Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon - sourced from 30 acre vineyard area with same soil which was replanted in 2005; black fruit, softer tannins
  • 2012 Plumpjack Estate Cabernet Sauvignon - Aaron Miller, head wine maker, introduced this wine. It was sourced from the estate vineyards which contain 3 different soil types all within 400 yards creating different vineyard management needs. More elegant aroma, more red fruit with sage and minerality, a concentrated dark berry finish.
  • 2012 Dalla Valle Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon - Winemaker Andy Erickson discussed how stressed the vines become in the rocky, red volcanic soil and how that iron gives the wine the unique mineral character. He discussed the importance of controlling the temperature and the level of extraction. Two-thirds of this wine aged in new French oak. He prefers as little racking as possible with no fining or filtering. Big, intense, tannic, black fruits, cedar, mineral finish.
After the Master Class, attendees enjoyed a luncheon prepared by Chef Jeff Mosher and then attended the full walk around tasting in Robert Mondavi's barrel room featuring all of Oakville's best wines. Get a a quicktake of the day in the video below.


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