Mission Codename Return of the Lilian
Here we go again…
Like finding a Jackson Pollock at a garage sale.
Or a bottle of Pliny the Elder hiding behind the Coors Light at your local bottle shop.
These are the kinds of discoveries we love. In a similar vein, we recently stumbled upon a virtually unknown Cabernet producer, who quietly made wine from their tiny 0.89-acre vineyard in St. Helena. A vineyard sandwiched in between elite vineyards and wineries (Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane).
Their website hasn’t been updated in a decade. They developed few if any sales channels. Never sent samples to writers. Sometimes, people just make wine because they want to make wine - and that’s all.
And the wine they made? It just sat, aging, for years… until we liberated it for you. Best of all? The price – over 50% off! A far cry from the original $75 release price from way back then. Factor in how many price-jumps other producers have made in 14 years… and yea, $37 seems like quite the bargain.
This project began when Carolyn Lawrence teamed up with her mother, Lillian Harrison to start a winery in 2002. They named it after her late father, Leo Joseph. They had connections in the industry, with Paul Garvey as vineyard manager. And George Vierra as winemaker, of Bell Wine Cellars, who had spent years at Charles Krug and Robert Mondavi.
Some of you may remember before the string of exceptional vintages from 2012 onward, there was one standout year - 2007. It was a near perfect growing season, and while a majority of the wines flashed an ultraripe, high octane style, some producers took a more restrained approach - like Leo Joseph did right here as a strong testament to the 97 points the vintage got from Wine Spectator, calling it a “textbook year; small crop, ideal ripening, wines defined by complexity and plush tannins.”
This is NOT a fist-thumping Ogre of a wine that bashes you over the head with jammy extracted fruit. More of a pure old-school, classical European sensibility, made in the same style as Corison, Heitz or a Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars from back in the day. That means lower alcohol - clocking in at just 13.1% - a figure you probably cannot find in 99% of today’s Napa Cabernet producers. And it has a life-affirming acidity, along with some terrific tertiary bouquet of tobacco leaf, and fresh herbs. Still, it shows a remarkably youthful purity of red fruit - dusty cherries and red plums. Just an all-around enjoyable, complex Cab at peak.
Maybe you scored some of the 2010 Cabernet we had a while back. If so, you already know what to expect. We uncovered the hidden treasure. All you have to do is take it home.
Dan Berger, Press Democrat, 2014 - An unknown, but great wine
There are a lot of great wines that fly well below the radar of wine lovers. One reason for this is that a wine may be made in a style that the owner believes won’t appeal to many wine reviewers, so the producer doesn’t send samples to most reviewers. Another reason: the company making the wine has little or no understanding about how to market wine, and thus its distribution is largely by word of mouth. Both of these scenarios apply to a Napa Valley wine called Leo Joseph Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is a story that started some 15 years ago when George Vierra, one of the Napa Valley’s best winemakers, was playing bocce ball one Friday night. Another player began chatting about a dream she had to make a great Cabernet to honor her father.
Despite the classic nature of the wine, it sold slowly. Part of the reason was that Lawrence never developed a sales system. Nor where samples sent to most wine writers. As a result, the only place to find the wine is direct from the winery. Over the years, she and Vierra made Cabernets in 2006 (still fresh and appealing), 2007 (called Lillian’s, and a more approachable wine), 2008 (with a silky finish), and 2010.
What the Winery Says
2007 'Lillian's' LHV Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- George Vierra
- 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc
- St. Helena, Napa Valley
- Lawrence Harrison Vineyard
- 0.89 acres
- 4, 337, 15 and 191 (Cabernet Sauvignon) and 332 Cabernet Franc
- 22 months in used French oak
- 4 barrels