Exclusive Napa Offer

Every year at Lifford we have our annual Napa wine offer where we pull out the stops and bring in the rare wines from our top producers that we don't usually stock. With such an outstanding stable of California wineries like Joseph Phelps, Barnett Vineyards, Chappellet, Inglenook, Pine Ridge, Heitz Cellars, Diamond Creek, Robert Craig and now with Merus and Kuleto Estate too, this annual offer has become quite a big deal. We've also included all our ultra-premium California 'cult' wines that receive all the top accolades but only produce a couple thousand cases a year, so a small amount of these wines are allocated to us annually to find great homes for them in Ontario!  Please follow these links to the .xl sheet with all the pricing details for the entire Napa offer found below and notice the rare opportunity to buy some mixed cases of back vintages and verticals. This offer really does get better every year. Here are a few of my personal highlights from this year's California offer.

Joe Heitz circa 1965

Joe Heitz circa 1965

To me the very best of Napa can be broken down into two broad categories or styles of wine: a) the classic French-inspired terroir-driven wine reminiscent of the old world which put Napa on the map in the 1960's; and b) the dense, rich, opulent modern wines that Napa has more recently become so famous for.  There is an exciting balance between old-world and new-world styles in Napa and here are a few of the greatest examples.

Classic:

Heitz Cellars - Joe Heitz was one of the pioneers of Napa Cabernet and Chardonnay. He was the first to import and use french oak instead of the status quo American oak vats and has gained most notoriety for his is legendary 'Martha's Vineyard' Cab Sauv which was among the wines that upset Bordeaux in the famous Paris tasting of 1976.  Today his son David continues to make their wine in that original, deep, earthy, old-world style. Martha's Vineyard Cab, with its signature minty eucalyptus note it is not only a great wine, but it has become the measuring stick to which you compare other Cabs against for greatness. They have never changed their style, and they don't plan to. Even when facing poor scores from critics looking for jammier, richer styles of wine, Heitz hasn't budged from their old-school roots. And that is a big reason why they continue to be one of the very best today. Here is a great article from The World of Fine Wine providing some great context on the evolution of Cabernet in California, an evolution in which Heitz figures prominently. Heitz Cellars produces 4 Cabs: Bella Oaks Vineyard Cab, Trailside Vineyard Cab, Martha's Vineyard Cab and their overall Napa Valley Cab, which is a blend of the three sites. For more details and pricing please follow the above links.

When you think "Cult Cabernet" what first comes to mind? Probably Harlan, Turley, or Screaming Eagle? Jump-started by a few 100 point scores from Robert Parker, the economics of supply and demand have driven the cost of these wines up to First-Growth Bordeaux prices, and not necessarily justifiably so. Even though they're still draws for collectors, purists always look for the better value, the Real McCoys. Enter Diamond Creek Vineyards, the original cult Cabernet. Planted by Al Brounstein in 1968 it was the first vineyard on Diamond Mountain, the first exclusively Cabernet vineyard in Napa, the first wine to charge over $100 per bottle, and the first wine sold entirely on allocation, pioneering all this "Cult Cabernet" business. The estate is home to 3 single-vineyards, each with entirely different prehistoric soil profiles and an infamous ability to showcase terroir. The wines/vineyards are each named after the soil profiles: Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace & Volcanic Hill.  Many wineries have since followed their path, but Diamond Creek was the original. It has always remained low-key, a bit underground...it is the wine that those in-the-know collect. Diamond Creek doesn't advertise, and you can't go visit the winery. If you're lucky enough to get an allocation, its some of the very best Cabernet you'll ever have from California.

Just like Heitz Cellar, Diamond Creek has never chased scores or pandered to critic's tastes, and as a result have been slightly overshadowed by the fanfare of the high scoring, big, modern wines. But even though in recent years many critics have championed the modern, opulent, jammy examples of California wine, every so often a writer with an old-world sensibility discovers these wines, is blown away by their authenticity and re-solidifties them as the most legit, original cult Cabernet. This is a quote from Neil Martin, the Burgundy critic for Robert Parker's Wine Advocate:

If somebody asked me to demonstrate terroir then I would chose Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from the Old World and Diamond Creek from the new. Having tasted all three side-by-side on several occasions, their individuality could be discerned in appearance, nose and taste. What I adore about the wines is their purity and honesty. Even though they attract prohibitive prices, for once there is substance behind the price tag. Diamond Creek has the poise and refinement borrowed from Bordeaux, though paradoxically in my experience their texture echoes more Burgundy. There is no hankering for power, richness and lashings of new oak: Al Brounstein was wise enough to allow the terroir of his vineyards to shine through. If you can afford them, the wines of Diamond Creek are highly recommended.             --Neil Martin, The Wine Advocate

To me praise like that is worth more than any 100 point scores could give and wines like Heitz and Diamond Creek are just further to the point of the 'California Classicism' article in The World of Fine Wine linked above.

Modern:

All of this talk about the classic California style shouldn't take anything away from the wildly popular, modern big wines that California also produces so well. If the old-school, earthy, terroir-driven wines are not your cup of tea and you prefer the rich opulent styling of Screaming Eagle, Scarecrow, Harlaan, but are not looking to spend $400-800 per bottle then we have a few incredible wines that are for you. Grouped in with the aforementioned modern cult-Cabernets is the epic Merus Estate.

"Merus" is latin for pure, unmixed, complete, absolute, undiluted. Merus is an icon for what modern Napa cult, 'garagiste' wines are about. Merus began in the late 90's literally as "garage wine", with Erika Gottl and Mark Herold making the first few vintages in their two-car garage downtown Napa. After several years of top scores and critical acclaim, Bill Foley purchased Merus keeping Erika and Mark on board and bringing Paul Hobbs on as consulting winemaker. Bill aspired to take Merus to the next level and moved the winery into one of the many historic 'ghost wineries', old ranches that have been abandoned since the prohibition era and gave it a modern face-lift. Now Merus Estate has it all. An incredibly sought after wine sold entirely on allocation, and an appropriately modern facility that is as architecturally stunning as the wine is delicious. Merus Estate is brand new to Lifford this year, so new customers are welcome. Everything from Merus is sold entirely on allocation and winery visits are by invitation only. So if you're someone that is looking for seriously rich Napa Cabs but have not been able to get on any mailing lists, here a new opportunity to get your hands on one of the very best.

I positioned the very best of Napa in essentially two categories, classic and modern, but if your taste is somewhere in between, Robert Craig Winery is definitely for you. Robert Craig's career really began during the 1980s while the General Manager for the Hess Collection on Mt Veeder where he developed over 300 acres of vineyard for them and became known as the "mountain man" of Napa. He was intimately involved in Mt Veeder and Spring Mountain achieving their AVA designations and then started a winery in his own name in 1992 on Howell Mountain.

His wines have a rare and interesting balance of earth, ash, tobacco and very ripe dense fruit. Most of his production comes from small vineyards on Howell Mountain as well as Mt Veeder and they are some of the very best available.  But Cabernet is not the only wine they knock out of the park: his Durell Vineyard Chardonnay is produced in very small amounts and graces such tables as President Obama's. Barack and Michelle have served Robert Craig's Chardonnay at the White House for Thanksgiving on more than one occasion. If its good enough for the President, its good enough for me!

Pricing and notes on all of the aforementioned wines are available through the links at the top of the page. Please email any requests or questions to me at ottawawine@gmail.com