Cabernet Sauvignon – the noble grape varietal accountable for cultivating some of the world’s greatest red wines. Also the grape that put California on the international map as one of the world’s top wine regions, arguably the state’s single most compelling varietal, capable of becoming powerful, gorgeously rich, and complex wine. Needless to say my very first trip to wine country had to be Napa – the premier wine region in United States.
First order of the day while finalizing the itinerary was to ensure an appointment with Seavey Vineyard, one of the first American Cabernet’s I fell in love with. (Primarily were a left-bank Bordeaux drinker). I applaud Seavey and Shafer wines for opening my palate to the wondrous world of American Cabernets. I can still recall my initial sip of Seavey Cabernet- ripe, aromatic, full-bodied, and complex wine that finished with fine tannins – sensational!
The winding road leading to the Vineyard could hardly deter me from my appointment. And I couldn’t have chosen a better day to visit Seavey – the bright sun dazzled the vineyard, the hint of crispness in the air beseeched an outdoor setting. Ms. Dorie Seavey amongst her many talents might be a clairvoyant too, as she had set the table for an outdoor wine tasting. A freshly baked loaf of Epi (french bread), bowl of EVOO, and line up of stellar Seavey wines awaited us – I was in wine nirvana!
For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to visit or taste Seavey, here’s a quick history synopsis: In the early 1870s, Swiss immigrant Charles Volper acquired a 143-acre parcel along a lovely stream that flowed down the center of Conn Valley, an eastern spur of Napa Valley. He planted grapevines on the south-facing hillsides and purchased dairy cattle, which he grazed in the pasture below. He built a handsome, stone dairy barn in 1881, the same year he added stone retaining walls to support a bridge across Conn Creek.
Flash forward to 1989: the Seaveys renovated the original 1881 stone dairy barn as their winery and tasting room, and made their inaugural vintages of 1990 Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay under the Seavey Vineyard label. They added Merlot in 1994, and a second Cabernet label, Caravina, in 1999. Caravina is Latin for “dear vine”. The Caravina is a handsome, opulent, very approachable wine upon release.
Today at the heart of Seavey is a beautiful vineyard and winery dedicated to producing age-worthy Bordeaux-style wines using sustainable farming and gentle extraction methods. The Seaveys continue to handcraft their wines, sourcing their grapes from the steep hillside land which was first planted to vines by European immigrants over 130 years ago.
In 2003, the Seavey’s installed one of the first solar energy systems used by a Napa Valley winery. The project eliminates 24,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. The Seavey’s practice old world grape growing techniques while utilizing modern technology.
Not only did we had the pleasure of tasting Seavey’s exceptional wines with Ms. Dorie Seavey (CFO) and Mr. Arthur Seavey (GM), we were delighted to catch up with Jim Duane (wine-maker) midst blending of Seavey’s newest vintages including an extremely limited blend, which hadn’t even been named. Yes, indeed we tasted some and it blew our socks off….Shh…..I am not saying another word…..
Since Mr. Seavey has passed the torch to his children, in their own words here is the vision of Seavey Wines by Dorie and Arthur: “Our vision is to build on the remarkable legacy of our parents by continuing to invest in our vineyard, by strengthening the business, and by building a strong team to grow the grapes and make and sell the wine. The most important decision our parents ever made about this business was to choose this piece of land for our vineyard—we still have so much to learn from it and our heartfelt mission is to capture the essence of our steep hillside vineyards in the form of an amazing bottle of wine.”
When I inquired about Jim regarding his signature wine-making: “I pride myself in being acutely attentive to the growth of our grapes in the vineyard and the caring for the wines in the cellar. Making wine at such a boutique scale affords me the ability to know and follow every single barrel of wine we create. This love affair with the wines translates into the luxury of not having to interfere with the wines’ development. In contrast to a defensive wine-making philosophy, which would include interventions such as, yeast additions, early blending, and filtration, at Seavey I am devoted to identifying the most expressive wine lots and encouraging the character from each barrel so that our wines are rich and layered in flavor and supported within a robust texture. I endeavor to make wine with a lot of personality, yet personality that is easy to understand.”
I couldn’t help but ask Dorie and Art about their favorite Seavey vintage. Arthur exuberantly responded: “My favorite vintage is 2002. I remember the growing season – warm year with very vigorous vines. Big canopies with a loads of shade for the fruit. We battled with the canopies to let the sun in on the clusters. We pulled leaves and hedged the shoots. Harvesting yielded bountiful fruit with a good dose of tannin. Tasting the wines through their evolution I understood the focus on tannin and other times sensed that fruit come through and it took my breath away. Today, I feel our Cabernets from that vintage are finally hitting a point where the fruit is holding its own in the struggle for dominance with the tannins. Our merlot from 2002 had amazing flavors of mysterious blue fruits that Merlot drinkers truly relish. I’m looking forward to another 10 or 15 years, as my money is on the fruit.”
A boutique winery is challenging enough to operate, with a grape farm at hand, Seavey is running two business wrapped into one. Sourcing all of the grapes from their own land is one of Seavey’s great strengths while bearing 100% of the farming risks—not the least of which is the weather. At present frost control is front and center midst of a severe drought that California has ever experienced.
Despite these challenges, the Seavey Family continues to make stunningly rich and complex cabernets year after year. Be it the warm sunny days and steep vineyards, or the herculean appetite for life and a palpable hunger for success, Seavey Vineyard continues to make distinctive wines of power and elegance.
The wines we had the utter pleasure of tasting: Seavey 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, 2005 and 2010 Caravina Cabernet, and 2010 Merlot. The 1991 showcased the exquisiteness of Seavey Cabernet: full-bodied, rich concentration, complex yet elegant with well-integrated tannins and acidity.
The experts are proclaiming 2010 as an “epic” vintage. Coolest temperatures on record, especially in the summer, mother nature woke up late August – resulting in producing simply beautiful fruit. Dark and ripe berries, full of perfect acids are destined for making some of the most well-balanced and flavorful Cabernets tasted in a decade. I can’t wait to see how time unveils Seavey 2010’s Cabernet and Caravina potential after a few years of cellaring.
The 2010 Merlot reveals blackberry, blueberry, black and red cherry, ripe cranberry and lingering chewy tannins. Savory notes abound with bitter-sweet cocoa, toasty almond pastry, caraway seed and mocha with a notably long finish.
Quoting Robert Parker: “The 2010 Caravina is a love letter to what Napa Cab can become with a little extra TLC. Robert Parker has called Caravina “perhaps the best ‘second’ label wine in all of Napa Valley.” Drenched with flavors of bright red and black fruits…”
Seavey sells most of their wines to current wine club members and almost everything by word of mouth. The good news for collectors – they typically hold back 20% of each harvest for their library. So bookmark Seavey for your next trip to Napa. In the meanwhile, follow them on Facebook or Twitter or purchase some today from their website.
“There are no shortcuts in the vineyard. Our wine’s best friend is time, with patience being a gift you give to yourself.” William A. Seavey