2006 Bancroft Ranch Howell Mountain Merlot
Merlot •Bancroft Ranch
California: Napa Valley: Howell Mountain
What We Say
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Mission Codename: The 1800
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Return to wine colossus Beringer Vineyards and return with another of their excellent and exclusive limited-production wines
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Beringer Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2006 Bancroft Ranch Vineyard Howell Mountain Merlot
Winemaker: Laurie Hook
Backgrounder: Merlot, one of the primary grape varietals from Bordeaux finds an exceptional home in the Napa Valley. The Howell Mountain sub-appellation is among the most famous of names in the valley and is primarily know for its exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon and the other big Bordeaux varietals like Merlot. Today’s remarkable Merlot hails from the Bancroft Ranch Vineyard, which sits at 1800’ elevation, on the western slopes of Howell Mountain. At today’s price, this wine is a remarkable value.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Darkest garnet, with a dense and darker core. Color is evenly maintained, from the core of the wine, right out to its fine red edges. When swirled, skinny clusters of tall, wine-stained tears move very slowly down the glass.
Smell – Bold and lush and loaded with dark fruit and wonderful spice. Blackberry, black cherry and cassis just leap from the glass to greet you on the nose. These are followed, closely, by braised plum, seared mission fig, cigar box, leather and brown spice. Just beneath these, hints of mint, black pepper and earthy mushroom round out the aromas.
Feel – Soft and slightly round on the attack. As the wine passes the mid-palate, it settles in and then coats the entire palate. Soft, ripe tannins and a fine acidity provide great structure and the perfect framing for the lush fruit.
Taste – Ripe, dark and very flavorful, this wine initially offers up ripe blackberry and black cherry, with a hint of smoky sweetwood. These are closely followed by plum, bramble, black tea leaf, leather and hints of caramel, lavender and black pepper. At the very end, dried black rose petal makes a long and mineral-laced appearance.
Finish – Long and full-flavored, black and red fruit slowly yield to earthy flavors, spice and creme brullee. Mineral and dried black flower petals persist, long after the fruit fades, drying the palate, slightly.
Conclusion – Elegant, delicious and filled with flavor, today’s 2009 Beringer Bancroft Ranch Howell Mountain Merlot is one of the finest Merlot we have tasted in some time. Decant for at least 30 minutes for best results – and you’ll find the treasures that are buried within this initially shy wine. When it does open up, it really springs to life, driving deep aromatics and really terrific fruit flavors. Once opened up, this is a wine that you can smell long before you lift it to your nose. And, it is one that you can smell for a long time before you even take your first sip. Rich and concentrated, on the palate, this delicious wine is an obvious companion for a great meal. Pair with your favorite meat pasta or a herb-roasted chicken. Enjoy this wine now, but be sure to cellar a few bottles for the next 5 to 7 years.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Beringer Vineyards as well as their tasting room can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the Winery Says
Awards & Accolades:
91 Points – Stephen Tanzer, Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar – “Good deep red-ruby. Inviting nose offers plum, chocolate, graphite and nutty oak. Concentrated, sweet and deep; a step up in texture from the foregoing samples. Lush flavors of plum, minerals, tobacco, leather and earth. A big, rich, soil-inflected merlot that finishes with serious tannic clout. I would have scored this even higher had it showed a bit more lift and treble notes."
About This Wine:
Winemaker’s Comments: “This vineyard, and the relationship we’ve had with the Bancroft family, has always been deeply special to Ed and myself. We’ve been making a vineyard-designated Bancroft Ranch Merlot since the 1987 vintage when Ed first demonstrated how fantastic Merlot can be when planted in the right place. Bancroft Ranch consistently produces grapes with amazing concentration of flavors, tannins and structure. The 2006 Howell Mountain Merlot is an exceptionally complex wine, full of espresso and dark cherry aromas that lead into a rich ripe black fruit flavors with hints of cedar and orange rind, brown spice and mint. It has tremendous body, complex layers of black fruit, and a supple, lingering finish.” – Laurie Hook, Winemaker
The Vineyards: Beringer’s Bancroft Ranch vineyard is located at an elevation of 1,800 feet on Howell Mountain, a growing area with well-drained volcanic soils. In 1984, Howell Mountain became the first area within the Napa Valley appellation to be declared a separate viticultural area (AVA) for the distinct characteristics of its wine grapes and now it is home to several of Napa Valley’s most famous wines. Bancroft Ranch produces clusters with small berries whose high skin-tofruit ratio results in well-structured wines with concentrated flavors. The flavors are further enhanced by the climate: the vineyard is about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than the valley floor but experiences more hours of sunshine over the course of a day because it is above the fog belt. This allows for both extended hang time and slow, even flavor development. Beringer first vinified grapes from the Bancroft Ranch in 1986, when its Cabernet Sauvignon was chosen for the Private Reserve program.
Vintage: The 2006 growing season began with an early budbreak followed by a cool, wet spring. Summer was also on the cooler side, without the usual warm spells, resulting in a nice, extended growing season. As a result, the harvest was long, allowing the grapes to develop more complexity and layers of flavors, aromas and color. The crop was larger than average, with excellent sugar development and balanced acids. Grapes for the 2005 Bancroft Ranch Merlot were picked between October 16th and November 16th.
Winemaking: The lots were kept separate through fermentation and aging to retain the individual terroir characteristics of each part of the vineyard. After gentle crushing and destemming, the juice and skins were sent to small fermenters where color, flavors and tannins were slowly extracted from the skins as vinification progressed. Ed and Laurie agreed on 100-percent-new customtoasted French Nevers oak barrels to age the wines. After 22 months aging, they were satisfied that the big, Cabernet-like tannins in the Howell Mountain Merlot had enough time to soften, and the aromas from the barrels had integrated well with fruit characteristics from the grapes. Small percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were added upon blending, to elongate the finish and add additional complexities to the blend.
About The Winery:
Jacob Beringer left his home in Mainz, Germany, in 1868 to start a new life in the U.S., enticed by his brother, Frederick, who had sailed to New York five years earlier and wrote home constantly of the grand opportunities to be found in the vast new world. New York did not appeal to Jacob, however. He had enjoyed working in wine cellars in Germany when he was younger and had heard that the warm, sunny climate of California was ideal for growing wine grapes. So in 1870 he traveled by train from the East Coast, first to San Francisco and then on to Napa Valley . To his delight, he discovered rocky, well-drained soils similar to those in his native Rhine Valley .
The volcanic soil was ideal for growing the same grapes found in Europe ’s great winemaking regions. Best of all, the hills could be dug out to provide storage and aging tunnels that would maintain the constant temperature needed to produce fine wines. Jacob and Frederick together bought land in 1875 and set about making wines that compared to the best in Europe . In 1876, they founded the Beringer Winery.
The tough task of hand-chiseling the tunnels in the mountainside behind the winery fell to Chinese workers who had returned to the Bay Area after helping build the Trans-Continental Railroad. The tunnels took several years to complete but were the perfect place to age and store fine wine.
Even today, the average 58°F temperature inside the tunnels makes them the ideal place for Beringer Vineyards to age fine wines and the newly restored Old Stone Winery, a popular focus for visitors, marks the entrance to this cool, subterranean world.
While the winery was being built, Jacob took up residence in a farmhouse on the property built in 1848, now referred to as the “Hudson House.” Meticulously restored and expanded, the Hudson House serves today as Beringer Vineyards ’ Culinary Arts Center . In 1883, Frederick permanently moved to the Napa Valley and began construction of a 17-room mansion that was to be his home—a re-creation of the Beringer family home located on the Rhine River in Germany . This unique “Rhine House” is the center of Beringer’s reserve and library tastings. It is a place where guests can enjoy a glass of wine while relaxing in the old library or on the same porch that Frederick once sat, overlooking the expansive lawns, lush gardens, and out across the Napa Valley .
Beringer Vineyards is the oldest continuously operating winery in the Napa Valley . In 2001, the estate was placed on the National Register for Historic Places as a Historic District. Jacob Beringer’s foresight in recognizing the quality and potential of grape growing in the Napa Valley is part of the living heritage of Beringer Vineyards . With the present use of state-of-the-art technology applied to age-old traditions, Beringer Vineyards ’ wines continue to reflect a single-minded dedication to the making of memorable wines from great Napa Valley vineyards.
About The Winemaker:
Laurie Hook – Growing up in Sacramento , California , Laurie Hook never dreamed of becoming a winemaker. “I didn’t even know the job existed,” she explains. “But then I found out that my family had owned a French Chateau (Chateau Olivier) before the revolution and it piqued my interest. Also, I loved history, science and agriculture, and the idea of doing something that connected you to the earth. And when I started tasting and reading about wine in college, I realized that winemaking brings all three disciplines together.”
Laurie transferred to the winemaking program at the University of California at Davis , training ground for noted winemakers in California and around the world. After graduation in 1984, she traveled to Australia to work in a small Melbourne-area winery for six months. “I did everything from pruning the vines, driving a tractor and harvesting the grapes to making and bottling the wine and even selling it. I got a real hands-on education as well as great travel. And I had the irreplaceable experience of looking up while pruning one day and seeing a kangaroo in the vineyard.” A harvest at a Sonoma County winery followed.
In 1986, Laurie came to Beringer as an enologist, a job that allowed her to solidify the scientific side of her training. In 1997, she was named Assistant Winemaker to Winemaster Ed Sbragia, and in 2000 was promoted to Winemaker for Beringer Vineyards.
“You can’t make wine only through science,” says Laurie. “ California winemakers learned that in the 1970s and early 1980s, when a highly scientific approach resulted in very clean wines but not necessarily very interesting ones. Of course you need to understand the process by which wines are made, but now we’ve learned to trust our intuition as well. And I’ve learned from Ed that making great wines—wines that are unique—means taking risks.”
While Ed developed the styles for most of Beringer’s wines over his 25-plus years at the winery, they continue to evolve as a result of the teamwork between the two winemakers. “When you’ve worked next to someone for almost 20 years, there’s a trust that builds and our wines benefit from that,” explains Laurie.
Laurie is a member of the American Society of Viticulture and Enology, the Trellis Alliance, and the Napa Valley Wine Technical Group. Outside of the winery, Laurie has a myriad of interests and hobbies revolving around travel, gardening, the study of history, collecting antique and regional cookbooks and funny quotes about wine. She’s also a passionate animal lover.
Appellation: Howell Mountain