2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon
Cabernet Sauvignon •Schmidt Ranch Vineyard
California: Napa Valley: Oakville
What We Say
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Today’s selection from Swanson Vineyards is a truly exceptional and remarkable Napa Cab. If you are a fan of big, rich and dense Cabernet Sauvignon then you won’t want to miss out on today’s special deal on this outstanding wine.
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Mission Codename: How I love Alexis
Operative: Agent White
Objective: Visit Swanson to acquire their exceptional 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Swanson Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaker: Chris Phelps
Swanson Vineyards is located in Napa Valley’s Oakville AVA. The Oakville AVA, centrally located and adjacent to Napa Valley’s famous Rutherford AVA, was established in July 1993. Oakville is considered on of the most diverse AVA’s in the Napa area and grows some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon in California.
Today’s selection is a blend of 90% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Schmidt Ranch Vineyard on the border of Rutherford and Oakville along with 10% of Swanson’s exceptional and trademark Merlot which smooths the edges and makes this wine a truly remarkable wine.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Extremely dense ruby red and nearly opaque black though its dark but clear core. The wine shows ruby hues along its edges. When swirled, clusters of slow thin legs ring the glass and hang for a moment before descending to the wine below.
Smell – Rich and bold aromas of spiced black fruit including redolent black cherry, blackberry, and boysenberry. Balanced notes of toasted oak, wild anise and subtle green herbs adds complexity to the fruit lead nose.
Feel – Silky and dry, this full-bodied wine is extremely well structured with firm and sturdy fine grained tannins. The wine is shows off a balanced but lively acidity with a distinctly dusty and textured dark mineral component. Allow the wine breathe for at least one hour.
Taste – Densely concentrated and fruit forward on the palate with ripe black cherry, currants, cassis, blackberry. Other black and red fruits warmly and expansively linger as notes of spice, toasted sweet oak, while hints of mocha coffee and the wild anise (from the nose) frame the fruit.
Finish – Extremely long with the dark berries, especially the black cherry, lingering for several minutes as the other flavors cling to the palate and then gracefully dissipate. This wine’s sturdy texture and minerality are the last to fade and beg for another flavorful gulp.
Conclusion – The 2007 Swanson Vineyards Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon is a delicious Top Shelf Napa Cabernet with just enough Merlot to round the edges out, making this fruit forward classic not only complex but a joy to drink. Its textured structure, acidity and minerality makes this a nearly perfect wine to enjoy with a seared rib-eye. This wine will drink very well right now after some time in the decanter and will evolve and age gracefully for the next ten years and beyond.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: Chris Phelps
WINE EDUCATION: Son of wine lovers, UC Davis, University of Bordeaux (that’s in France)
CALIFORNIA WINE JOB BRIEF: 12 yrs. Dominus, 7 years Caymus, 7 years Swanson
WINEMAKING PHILOSOPHY. My approach to making wine is clearly influenced by the 2 years+ I spent in Bordeaux, because I was trained to be flexible. It all comes down to maximizing what a particular section of a specific vineyard has to offer. I need to be light on my feet. It’s not about me, it’s about channeling the essence of the vineyard.
WINEMAKER QUOTE: It is an outrageously enormous privilege to be living and working here in the heart of Napa Valley. It’s very rewarding to be part of the winemaking renaissance here at Swanson.
FIRST COMMERCIAL WINE RELEASE: 1984 Dominus in 1986 (the 1983 Dominus was released a year later, in 1987)
AGENT RED: Greetings, Chris. We are thrilled to be showing your 2007 Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon today. The wine is really fantastic. Thanks so much for the wine, and for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today. We are really impressed by your wines!
CHRIS PHELPS: I always appreciate hearing that, Agent Red. It’s a pleasure to go ‘covert’ with you today.
RED: Thanks, Chris. Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
CHRIS: Well, yes, but more cumulative experience than specific. I grew up in Livermore, CA, a stone’s throw from Cocannon Vineyards. My parents made a barrel or two of Zin or Cab every year when I was a kid. They picked the grapes with friends, and I helped with crushing, racking, etc. when I was old enough. I found it fascinating that the wine quality could vary so much, depending upon variety, grape source and vintage. Wine was often on the family dinner table, so I was able to taste when I was a kid, and I liked it.
RED: So, winemaking was really in your blood. Tell me, where did you learn the most about winemaking?
CHRIS: I learn more about winemaking every day! There is so much nuance in winemaking, which consists of hundreds of details, some of which might seem insignificant, but can really affect the final product. I was fortunate to me mentored by many colleagues along my career path, starting with Mike Martini at Louis M. Martini in 1980. I graduated from UC Davis in Enology, then continued my education at the University of Bordeaux. Those years in academia, coupled with the key internships I did at Martini, Chappellet and in St. Emilion / Pmoerol as I cut my winemaking teeth, were very formative years.
RED: It sounds like it! What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
CHRIS: In a word, minimalist. If the fruit, at the time it is picked, is physiologically ripe and balanced, intervention through winemaking techniques is minimized. Speaking of red Bordeaux varieties, I’m looking for perfectly ripe fruit, but avoiding super-high Brix levels, which lead to some of the very stylized wines produced today, which need huge doses of input by the winemaker. If the fruit is handled correctly, it is possible to coax the optimum extract out of the must, and produce a wine which honestly reflects the terroir from which it came. My job as a winemaker is precisely this: to form an honest interpretation of what a specific vineyard site in a specific vineyard is trying to tell me. I hope that makes sense to you…
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
CHRIS: Jean-Claude Berrouet, winemaker for Ets. JP Moueix in Libourne, France. After being the winemaker for Petrus and a number of other Moueix properties on the Right Bank of Bordeaux for 44 years, he has ‘retired’, staying on in a consulting role for Petrus in Pomerol, and Dominus, here in Napa. During my 12 years as the first winemaker at Dominus, he had a significant influence upon my approach to winemaking.
RED: How long have you been making wine?
CHRIS: My first stint was 6 months in 1980 at Martini. I became a ’winemaker ’ in 1984, when I joined the team at Dominus. I remained there for 12 years, before moving to Caymus for 7 years. I have been at Swanson for 6 years.
RED: Who do you make wine for?
CHRIS: Chuck Wagner at Caymus gently reminded me from time to time that I should not make wine for myself, and this was an important lesson. I don’t fixate on ‘who’ the wine is for, per se, but it does get factored into the overall picture. I am conscious of the fact that Clarke Swanson would like me to be producing wines that appeal to consumers, critics, bloggers, etc. At Swanson, as in my previous winemaking roles, I strive to make the absolutely best wine possible, given the fruit sources and other resources I am given to work with. I’m sure this sounds cliché, but it always seems to work out. The wines are not just for the critics, not just for the consumers, not just for me. Wine should be universal. We’ll need to sit down and discuss this question more over a bottle…
RED: Any time. It would be a great pleasure. Tell me, what makes the Napa Valley so special?
CHRIS: The well-drained alluvial soils are critical, but the climate is the single most important factor. Warm days, cool nights, and the cooling influence of fog from the San Francisco Bay after hot weather – these are what makes the center of Napa Valley such an amazing focal point for growing super-premium Bordeaux varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.
RED: Nice to hear someone else call Napa ‘Mecca’. What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
CHRIS: Seek a mentor or mentors who are willing to share what they know. Plan on internships in different international wine regions. Study, sure, but not to the exclusion of lots of practical experience. You must be willing to get your hands dirty.
RED: And stained purple. What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
CHRIS: We’ve just bottled a delicious 2009 Oakville Merlot, and are preparing to bottle our 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon wines. The last few 2010 reds have completed malolactic fermentation and are being racked this week. The buds have opened on most vines on the Valley floor, young shoots have emerged into the Spring sunshine – the 2011 growing season is officially underway!
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
CHRIS: The 2007 Alexis Cabernet is an excellent representation of three important points:
The 2007 growing season in Oakville was long and cool, making Oakville – and Napa Valley in general – a CLASSIC Cabernet vintage
Single-vineyard origin. This wine is proof-positive of the quality of the Schmidt Ranch vineyard in Oakville, which we farmed ourselves through the 2007 vintage
Classical winemaking techniques: fruit harvest at optimum ripeness, maceration management and barrel aging – as dictated by our constant tasting and vigilance, not by reliance upon technology
Helpful hint: if you DO NOT like deep, ripe black currant, anise and blackberry, sumptuous tannins, and silky, firm texture in your Cabernet, then DO NOT drink this wine!!
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
CHRIS: If you were here for lunch today, we would enjoy this Cabernet with my favorite steak, marbled, aged rib eye, cooked quickly à la Bordelaise over aged grapevine canes.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
CHRIS: I’m an Indigo Girls (folk-rock duo) groupie. I love to get to as many shows as possible. Emily Saliers (one of the IGs) has become a good friend, and she loves wine.
RED: What is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
CHRIS: Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve made a barrel or two of home wine every year, kind of like my folks did. In addition to being the communion wine at our church in St. Helena, this is our everyday table wine.
RED: You’ll have to tell me your secret formula one day. How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
CHRIS: Keep an open mind. Minds are like parachutes, they function best when open. Drink what really appeals to you, not what someone else thinks you should like. Always be open to trying new wines.
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
CHRIS: I would love to try the 1961 Petrus again; I’ve tasted it out of both 6 liter and 750 ml format, and it was phenomenal.
RED: If I come across a bottle, I promise to share! What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?
CHRIS: What are my favorite Napa Valley producers? It’s actually a tough question, and my answer varies, but Joseph Phelps, Chappellet, Provenance, and Honig are always on the list.
RED: Thank you so much for your time, Chris, and for the extensive answers. Our Operatives love getting to know our winemakers and I appreciate that you spent this much time with me today.
CHRIS: Thank you for spending time with me, and for your insightful questions. Is your name really Agent Red?
RED: I could tell you, but, you know…
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of Swanson Vineyards can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
About This Wine:
Voluptuous, celebratory, and exquisitely finessed, our bewitchingly original Cabernet Sauvignon stands tall among Napa Valley’s blockbuster Cabernets. Highlighting the very finest of our celebrated Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in Oakville, Alexis is a wine lover’s wonderland: complex, aromatically beguiling and as powerfully elegant now as ten years forward. A consistent Swanson Vineyards classic with a cult-like following, mouth-watering richness, and a friendly price tag which makes buying a case of this rare gem irresistible.
Winemaker Notes: The 2007 Swanson Alexis Cabernet Sauvignon, which was not fined nor filtered in order to maintain maximum flavor intensity and texture, is dark garnet in color. The aroma is dominated by ripe black currant, anise and blackberry. In the mouth this wine speaks with considerable authority. The first impression is one of sweet fruit and sumptuous tannins, leading to a very silky, firm texture in the mid-palate. The wine is very long in the mouth, with a finish that is thick, supremely wellbalanced, with layer upon layer of deep, dark cassis and espresso, coupled with sweet oak in the background. Drinks quite nicely now and will continue to age gracefully through at least 2018.
Vintage: The 2007 growing season in Oakville was marked by relatively unusual conditions: subfreezing temperatures in January and only 60% of normal rainfall. A warm spring meant the major events for our Cabernet Sauvignon vines – budbreak, bloom and set – occurred early. We are privileged to have extraordinary well-drained, benchland for our Cabernet vines; coupled with a long, relatively cool growing season, 2007 was truly a classic Napa Valley Cabernet vintage. All fruit was hand-harvested.
Vineyards: This wine was sourced exclusively from the three best blocks in the Schmidt Ranch Vineyard, located on benchland in Oakville on the western side of the Valley, along the Mayacamas Mountains. The well-drained alluvial soils produced a small crop of very intense, concentrated fruit
About The Winery:
We are a family winery founded on a passion for evolving the existing standards of wine and food. In the 1950s, long before founding Swanson Vineyards, the Swanson family introduced the first lifestyle product, Swanson frozen dinners, which helped women get out of the kitchen and enjoy life.
In 1985, at his 25th Stanford University reunion, W. Clarke Swanson, Jr. was inspired by a tip from a fraternity brother and successful vintner to purchase a parcel of vineyard land on the Oakville Cross Road in the heart of Napa Valley.
Clarke immediately hired André Tchelistcheff, one of the century’s most influential winemakers, as a consultant to help determine how to make the best use of the vineyards. For André the answer was to plant the then relatively unknown variety merlot—a move that would shape the future of Swanson Vineyards.
The family continues to expand the simple and sensual pleasures of life through Swanson Vineyards. With an eye toward quality, relevance and innovation, the next generation is enticing a whole new audience with a progressive approach to wine, food and the good life.
About The Winemakers:
By the summer of 1987 the vineyards were replanted, and André made another influential suggestion—to hire the young novice talent Marco Cappelli to oversee winemaking. Marco, a first-generation Italian-American, was 26 and hired based on André’s gut instinct. It was a wise decision; Marco’s distinctive wines became the founding flavors of Swanson Vineyards.
For the rest of his life André lent his visionary talents to our winemaking pursuits, meeting with Marco biweekly and consulting on matters of the vine and winery. Marco remained Swanson’s winemaker for seventeen years, after which he purchased his own vineyard in the California Foothills. Marco is currently making four dessert wines for Swanson, which include Angelica, Crepuscule, Arsene, and Les Trois Filles.
In 2003, Swanson Vineyards was fortunate to obtain the talent of Chris Phelps as its new winemaker. Chris has had an illustrious career in the wine industry, first as winemaker at Dominus for twelve years and at Caymus Vineyards for six years. His wines are more refined and sophisticated than ever, yet they remain delightfully accessible and approachable—the perfect embodiment of our trademark decadence with a wink.