The Grade Cellars
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon
California: Napa Valley
Make the Grade
After a protracted surveillance we are thrilled to finally bring you a stupendous wine from The Grade Cellars, in Napa Valley.
This wine was first brought to our attention more than two years ago when our good friend and winemaker, Rudy Zuidema, poured us a glass. It was love at first sip and Agent Red spent the next two years trying to secure a small cache of the wine for you, dear Operative.
This stunning 2007 has earned numerous awards, including a 92 Point score from Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a 94 point score from the Cabernet Shootout. Too great to pass up, our entire tasting panel gives this wine our heartiest recommendation.
From nose to tail, this wine shows nearly perfect balance, with flavors that span the entire palate and aromatics that encourage you to deeply inhale the wine between sips.
Stock up on this age-worthy wine. It has plenty of life left in it and you can be sure that we’ll be laying down our bottles for the next several years.
This wine can be served with a wide variety of hearty food, but we’d recommend that you enjoy a glass all on its own. Over a stimulating conversation. Probably about the wine itself!
Dark and evenly concentrated, with dark garnet hues from core to edge. Thick legs move very slowly down the glass after a hearty swirl.
Dark and intense, bursting with black cherry, dark wild strawberry, black plum, red currant, cedar and smoky chocolate. Underneath sage, subtle cigar box, early grey tea and eucalyptus.
Cool and elegant on entry, the wine glides across the palate, carrying with it lovely flavors of acacia, blueberry, raspberry, Bing cherry and subtle tobacco. Dark bakers chocolate, tobacco leaf and cedar round out the flavors.
Ultra-long with flavors that present all across the entire palate.
What the Winery Says
THE GRADE is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit cultivated at our estate vineyard. The wine captures the distinctive upland earthiness and rusticity of Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon expressed through the wine’s balanced structure and the deep richness of crisp red-berry and dark-berry fruits.
This single-vineyard handcrafted wine has a clean fruit-forward style that expresses the benefits of our sustainable farming practices and unique barrel-aging techniques.
Review: Shows a great return to form over the 2006, with the lush flavors and rich attractions of the 2005. With soft but complex tannins, the wine immediately appeals for its wealth of blackberries, black currants and plums, enriched with smoky oak. Very rich, pure and refined. Fine now, with a good decant, and should age well for a decade. - S.H.
Rating: 92 Points
About the Winery
That characteristic earthiness of the upper Napa Valley, in and around the foothills of Mount Saint Helena, is a volcanic, cobble-filled, mineral-rich loam that is an ideal recipe for grape growing. Robert Louis Stevenson described its “common earth” as “a masterpiece of nature” and Robert Parker compared Calistoga’s “earthiness” to the Saint-Estèphe region of Bordeaux.
And we were lucky enough to discover Calistoga for ourselves – we being Tom Thornton and Brenda Mixson. We met on a blind date and immediately discovered that we shared a passion for food, fun and wine, a spontaneous outlook on life and its opportunities and an ethic for hard work. The real estate we picked up along the way is testimony to all those tendencies! Yet, it was still a surprise to friends and family when we decided to make the move from New York City environs and take on the stewardship of a piece of that Calistoga earth…
We visited Napa Valley in the mid-nineties while on business from the East Coast and decided it had promise as a wonderful retirement milieu - someday. Fast forwarding a couple of years to 1997, and we had taken the leap, purchased our 32-acre ranch outside Calistoga, to be named Winfield Vineyard (Winfield is Tom’s middle name) and traded the intense experiences of the East Coast lifestyle for life in Napa Valley. We weren’t retiring, but entering the wine industry on top of everything else we were doing. Talk about jumping off the cliff! Tom is an architect, still practicing and passionate about his work, and Brenda has made a career in the investment world. Today’s technology lets us maintain our Type-A personalities. We haven’t looked back.
In 2000 we replanted the vineyard into five distinctive Cabernet blocks and began selling our fruit to some of Napa’s finest wineries. This was our initial goal – to grow the highest quality fruit our little piece of Napa Valley could produce.
In 2004 we undertook our next life-changing endeavor – we made our inaugural vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon wine – THE GRADE. That officially marked our return to intensity. We found that name for our wine and winery in the writings of Robert Louis Stevenson who visited Napa Valley in the late 19th Century and honeymooned on Mount Saint Helena above our vineyard. His travels up and down the Old Toll Road (“the grade”) were a thread throughout the book “The Silverado Squatters.” We also took this reference to his route as our name because “making the grade” is a metaphor for achievement in life - to be the best that one can be.
In 2008 we made our first vintage of SEA-FOG Sauvignon Blanc. The fanciful name was taken from a chapter title in Stevenson’s book. The year 2008 conjures up a lot of shared memories for us all, but it also is the same year we held our first release event of THE GRADE with some of our friends and colleagues at a special event at P.J. Clarke’s in New York.
The years have flown by, and with Stevenson as our muse, (Tom is now on the Board of the Stevenson Museum in St. Helena), we have continued our pursuit of our goal to produce the best fruit possible from Winfield Vineyard. The vineyard has reached a level of maturity that produces wonderful Cabernet Sauvignon fruit, cultivated by hand and watched over by the viticulturalist, vineyard manager, and ourselves. Mother Nature also sits at our table and, as our silent partner, keeps us on our toes as we meet her challenges in each growing season. Winfield Vineyard is the genesis of our vineyard-driven wines.
This year, we opened a cozy Arts & Crafts Style office in Calistoga where we run the business and share wine with friends. We also enjoy alfresco experiences together overlooking our reservoir at our 1971 vintage Airstream trailer in the vineyard. No matter what the venue, we feel fulfilled to be in the Napa Valley and to have the opportunity to share the beauty and bounty of Napa Valley through the handcrafted wines we put in our bottles!
Winemaker Rudy Zuidema
Rudy was born in Sacramento, California, and grew up in the nearby agricultural community of Davis. Building on a love of the outdoors and an interest in farming, Rudy studied Plant Science and Agricultural Management at the University of California, Davis, where he focused on viticulture.
Upon graduating from UC Davis in 1991, Rudy moved to Napa and took a position at the famed Oakville Grocery. That inspired Rudy’s desire to pursue winemaking. Working alongside wine buyer Mary Danielak, Rudy tasted thousands of wines, refining his palate and expanding his base of knowledge about vineyards, vintages and winemaking styles.
In 1993, eager to gain hands-on winemaking experience, Rudy traveled to Australia’s McLaren Vale to work at Wirra Wirra Winery. Under the guidance of Australian winemaker, Ben Riggs, Rudy learned techniques for achieving ideal ripeness, cap management and extraction—techniques that still form his approach to winemaking.
After returning to the United States, Rudy worked for St. Clement Vineyards and White Cottage Ranch under his mentor Dennis Johns. From there he moved on to such respected wineries as Cuvaison and Honig Vineyards, where Rudy was the assistant winemaker working alongside James Hall, of Patz and Hall Wine Company.
In 1996, Rudy joined Robert Craig Winery as winemaker, where he spent the next seven years focusing on terroir-driven Cabernet Sauvignon production from Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder, and the Napa valley floor. Eager to combine his love of agriculture and winemaking, Rudy moved to a post as the winemaker and vineyard manager for Ehlers Estate from 2003 to 2008.
His most recent position was back on Howell Mountain for his second stint at White Cottage Ranch. As Winemaker, Vineyard Manager and General Manager, he converted the property to a certified organic and biodynamic estate.
Today, as a consulting vineyard manager and winemaker for small estate programs, Rudy combines a passion for agriculture with an expansive knowledge of winemaking. He follows organic and biodynamic farming practices to naturally enhance the flavorful diversity of the estate’s rich tapestry of vineyard blocks. This natural approach continues in the winery, where Rudy emphasizes classic, small-lot techniques and gentle handling to craft balanced wines that embody a sense of elegance, purity and power.