Juicy with ripe tannins, it tastes lovingly handcrafted, detailed and focused in black currant, berry, and leather. Though rich and luxurious it retains ample natural acidity to buoy its way through a meal or several years of aging.
Virginie Boone, Wine Enthusiast Magazine on our 2011 Founder’s Cabernet Sauvignon
This quarter, we release three ‘lovingly handcrafted’ wines of special importance to us: Cabernet Franc (2014), Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve (2011), and Chardonnay (2017).
Cabernet Franc holds a special place in our hearts. We love its structure, its fruits and spices, and its herbaceous notes. It is a wonderful and festive wine for late fall and early winter, and a perfect pairing with any holiday meal.
Cabernet Sauvignon is special for us as well. Our first vintage was in 2009. In 2010 we decided to set aside a reserve blend of this wine and give it an additional five years of controlled bottle age. This fall we release the 2011 vintage, which validates Virginie Boone’s belief that this wine would benefit from several years of aging. Most of our patrons don’t have the facilities to age their wines, so our Reserve program provides a unique opportunity for them to experience a wine near its peak.
Our Chardonnay is barrel fermented in a mix of new and used French Oak barrels. The lees are stirred fortnightly for a period of about ten months when we stop stirring and allow the wine to rest, sur lie, for another one to two months before bottling. We believe that this classical Burgundian technique is best for the terroir of our Vineyards. Our 2017 Chardonnay is full bodied, and generously laced with fruit and oak flavors – a slightly richer version of the classic French style.
Cabernet Franc – the Story
Cabernet Franc, the parent of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is believed to have its origins in the Basque country. It was introduced into France by pilgrims traveling to Santiago de Compostela in the middle ages. Rabelais writes of it in 1534 as growing near the Chinon in the Loire Valley, where it remains a major varietal.
This ancient variety produces a fragrant, herbaceous, medium bodied and well-balanced wine. The herbaceous notes vary with the climate. Cool climate growing regions produce green and leafy aromas while warmer growing regions produce more herbal aromas.
Cabernet Franc came to Livermore Valley via modern day wine pilgrims in the 1880s. Established by 1875 as an ideal growing region for the Bordeaux varietals, Livermore Valley saw a surge in planting when vineyard development began in the late 1870s. By 1900, Livermore grown Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot were highly prized throughout the state.
There is no identifiable aromatic profile for Livermore Valley Cabernet Franc. It depends upon where it is grown. We prefer Cabernet Franc from our cooler microclimates, like Del Arroyo and Ghielmetti Vineyards. Wines from these vineyards produce leaner and more structured wines – yet with slightly more flesh on them than their French counterparts. Cabernet Franc reminds me of the Holiday Season with its spicy and herbaceous nose, a potpourri of aromas and flavors.
Cabernet Sauvignon – the Story
Cabernet Sauvignon evolved from a chance crossing of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc in Southwestern France in the 1700s. Cabernet Sauvignon is characterized by its small berry size and thick skins, which combine to produce wines that are deep in color and with powerful tannins that, when produced by skilled hands, allow it to age for decades.
Cabernet Franc was introduced to Livermore Valley in the 1880s by Charles Wetmore, who planted it for his Cresta Blanca Winery. Here it has thrived for over a century. Today, the majority of Cabernet vines in California are direct descendants of these early vines.
As with Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon is sensitive to where it is grown. In cooler growing regions like Bordeaux, Cab Sauv is lean and highly structured – a skeleton with little flesh. That is why is blended with other varietals, like merlot, which round out the wine and add complexity.
In warmer growing climates like Napa Valley, Cabernet Sauvignon can be harvested at higher ripeness. Cabs from these climates are fleshed out, have dark fruit profiles, and can absorb oak. They have introduced the world to a new style of Cabernet – sometimes called Napa or New World in style. These wines need little blending.
Livermore Valley lies somewhere between these two styles. We are warmer than Bordeaux but cooler than most growing locations in Napa Valley. Our wines can be lean or fleshy depending on where in the Valley they are grown. We favor the cool, but not cold, vineyards in our Valley. These wines we think are the best of both worlds – like Bordeaux in a vintage year or Napa Valley in a cool year. The wines are structured yet elegant, fruity but not fruit dominant.
Chardonnay – the Story
The historical setting for Chardonnay is in France, between Lyon and Dijon. The first reliable mention of this variety was in 1685, when it appeared under various spellings like chardenet, chardonnay, etc. In the cold Chablis climate, Chardonnay expresses more nuanced fruit flavors and often has a steely hardness from the high acidity. In the warmer climates of Montrachet to the south, the wines are fuller bodied and longer lived. These wines benefit from oak fermentation and aging. Here the fruit is more expressive of melons and apples.
The microclimate where we grow our Chardonnay (Del Arroyo Vineyard) is like that of Carneros – cooler than Napa but warmer than Chablis. The father of modern California winemaking, André Tchelistcheff, believed Carneros capable of producing chardonnays like the great Burgundies of Montrachet. In other words, chardonnay made with barrel fermentation, lees stirring, and resting sur lie. If that is true of Carneros, then it is also true of Livermore Valley.
The first documented planting of Chardonnay in California was by Charles Wetmore in 1882 for his vineyard in Livermore Valley. Wetmore obtained his cuttings from Burgundy, and widely distributed them to other growers in the valley. The Wetmore purchase was followed in 1896 by Paul Masson, who planted his Burgundian-styled vineyard in the Santa Cruz Mountains with cuttings imported from France. Carl Wente’s 1912 purchase of cuttings from the University of Montpellier was the final wave of major pre-prohibition imports of this vine.
The original plantings of Chardonnay vines in Livermore Valley were only a small step in the history of Chardonnay’s struggle for survival and ultimate triumph as California’s leading wine varietal. It was the dedication and hard work of Ernest and Herman Wente over thirty years that would lead to Chardonnay vines ideally suited to the growing conditions of Livermore Valley- vines capable of producing elegant and expressive wines with the sense of place that is a hallmark of a great wine.
Ernest and Herman Wente, regarded in their time as being among the world’s elite winemakers, recognized Chardonnay’s potential in Livermore Valley at a time when this varietal was out of favor with most California winemakers. Ernest continued its development in the vineyard, while Herman evolved his winemaking practices for the Livermore terroir.
Wentes’ efforts in perfecting California Chardonnay were so respected that Ambassador James Zellerbach sought out the Wente clone when planting his 1953 Ambassador’s Vineyard at his newly established Hanzell Winery in Sonoma. Zellerbach continued Wente’s practice of evaluation and selection, gradually establishing vines perfectly adapted to the growing conditions in Sonoma, vines that are today known as the Hanzell clone.
So ubiquitous are the Wente clone and its scions that they account for about 80 percent of all Chardonnay produced in California. Yet the story of Chardonnay does not end here. We are still at the beginning of a process of continual adaptation of vineyards and winemaking practices in pursuit of expressive wines. It is a process we continue each and every day in the making of an Occasio Chardonnay.