This series is dedicated to my beloved California wine countries. Fittingly, one must start with the Rolls Royce of appellations. It’s California’s most prestigious viticulture area, with plantable land selling for upwards of a million dollars per acre.
Located in the center of Napa Valley, the Oakville AVA is two miles wide, snuggled between the Vaca and Mayacamas Mountains. It hosts an unusual concentration of Napa’s cult producers of Cabernet Sauvignon. Known for its famed “red dirt” and diverse soils, near perfect climate, and an intense commitment to excellence on the part of growers, vintners, viticulturists, and winemakers, it has a long-standing reputation for producing world-class wines. Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most famous and by far the most widely planted, other notable varieties are Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s difficult to choose the top producers from the AVA’s long list of prestigious wineries. Having tasted virtually every wine produced form this area, some on multiple occasions, I am convinced that these brands represent the pinnacle of California winemaking.
Here are the top 5 wineries within the Oakville appellation:
The aphorism “Behind every great man there is a great woman” is especially true in this case. Originally from Japan, where her ancestors made Sake, Naoko and her husband Gustav started the winery in 1982. Since Gustav’s untimely death, Naoko has continued the legacy. Andy Ericsson, the latest in a string of wine making superstars, along with Michel Rolland’s consulting prowess, continues the tradition of producing stellar, highly acclaimed wines.
Futo Estate is comprised of five vineyards in the western hills of the Oakville AVA. It is planted predominantly to Cabernet Sauvignon as well as a few acres of Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot. Founded in 2002, the vineyards are managed by David Abreu, with Jason Exposto making wines since 2010 (Mark Aubert was the winemaker from 2002-2010) The Cabernet-based blends are perennially wines of distinction. They exhibit complexity, laser-like focus and tons of varietal character.
A namesake of developer Bill Harlan who set out to produce the finest Bordeaux blend from California. He achieved just that. Intense, structurally sound and exquisitely hedonistic, it is the wine for the ages…or a lifetime. Harlan is also well known for his other brands, Bond and Maiden, both of which are poster children for the diversity of Napa Valley’s wildly varied terroirs. Some offerings are broody and a little backward, yet intense and qualitatively off the charts! Think aging potential galore.
Heard of To Kalon vineyard? Well the Macdonald family owned a 15-acre parcel in Oakville for 60 years, with plantings as early as 1954. Robert Mondavi was no stranger in their home and a major purchaser of the fruit which went into his Reserve program. The MacDonald Vineyards brand debuted in 2010 and was an instant hit. Farmed organically, this well-endowed wine is ripe without being macerated. It is composed of deep, compelling, timeless flavors, along with sizable, yet well integrated tannins.
The most expensive wine produced in California, this bottling has earned its honors. With 500 case production, a $750 release price and a 10 year wait list, very few mortals get to taste this elusive bird. Is it worth it? I say a resounding “Yes!” The monumental effort and expense that goes into the production of this wine is mind boggling.