Summit Lake Vineyards
2003 'Emily Kestrel' Cabernet Sauvignon
California: Napa Valley: Howell Mountain
What we say
SUPERIOR WINE ALERT:
Today’s Howell Mountain Cab from our new friends at Summit Lake Vineyards is an exceptional wine that beautifully captures the terroir of Howell Mountain. If you are a fan of the wines from Howell Mountain wines, then this one belongs in your collection
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Mission Codename: The Kestrels Flight
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Secure an exception Howell Mountain Cab for our operatives
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Summit Lake Vineyards
Wine Subject: 2003 Howell Mountain “Emily Kestrel” Cabernet Sauvignon
Winemaker: Robert Brakesman
Napa County’s Howell Mountain AVA, established in 1984 is known for its wines of deep concentration and intensity. The higher elevation and relatively flat aspect make the location great for vineyards, and specifically Cabernet Sauvignon. The first vines in the Howell Mountain area were planted in the 1880s.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
Look – Deep and dark, almost purple in color, with a dark inky core and hued edges. When swirled, this wine shows a rapid cascade of fat tears along the edge of the glass
Smell – Bold intensity, but not overpowering. Present here are layers of rich aromas of ripe cherry, smoky blackberry, and authentic rhubarb. These are layered atop of earthy cedar, spicy white pepper, soft oak and black tea
Feel – Big, chewy and mouth-coating, this wine shows an initial spiciness on the attack that soon softens and open up as fine grained tannins and easy acidity linger with hints of spice
Taste – Ripe and richly concentrated dark fruit of raspberry, dark cherry, blackberry and plum. These are layered over soft oak and spice with earthy bramble, toffee and black coffee
Finish – Long and rich with lingering fruit and smoked flavors that taper off gently and with a wonderful hit of back-palate spiciness
Conclusion – We here at Wine Spies H.Q. are just crazy about Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. This unique high-elevation section of the Napa Valley consistently blows us away with wines of such beauty and distinctiveness. If you love Napa Cabernet Sauvignon, but have never tasted a Cab from Howell Mountain, it is high time you did. Howell Mountain is known for wines of deep concentration, and this wine delivers on that, but does so with balance and food-friendly finesse. this wine opens as it breathes, softening somewhat and opening up more supple flavors and a finer feel.
Several times each year, Wine Spies H.Q. issues its senior agents cross-training orders. Usually, I end up with some menial task or other. This time, however, I got the ultimate assignment: Swap roles with Agent White!
Agent White, my equal in terms of seniority here at The Wine Spies (we’re both founding agents, as you know), is what you might call our Ops Officer. That’s a shorthand way of saying that he is usually the guy stuck at H.Q. while we field agents get to have all the fun.
I won’t bore you with the tasks that I had to complete as I staffed Agent White’s post. The real fun was to be in monitoring (scrutinizing) White’s performance as he took my place during a mission. At least I was supposed to be fun. You see, he had been assigned a rather grueling surveillance Op in the worst of conditions, and I was going to have a live video uplink of the whole thing. I was going to enjoy seeing him under pressure. Not that Agent White doesn’t work hard, he does, and then some. I have never met a more hardworking or dedicated professional in my life. I just wanted to see him squirm – just a little.
That all went kablooey! on me, though. Not only was his mission reassigned at the last minute, but his reassignment was cushy! His new mission: Infiltrate the Howell Mountain tasting in the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. Just my luck! Classic cars and the finest wines, and I was stuck behind a desk! Conducting the most menial of tasks while White got to mix it up with some of my favorite wineries – and some of my favorite automobiles!
Agent White returned to H.Q. with an unusual glow – and a few cases of wine! His mission had been a great success. He had retrieved several cases of samples for our review and had made fast friends with my winery assets, and several new ones!
To his credit, Agent White did a great job, and he sluethed out the best wines that the Howell Mountain region have to offer. Today’s Cabernet Sauvignon from Summit Lake Vineyards is stunningly great. And they were a new winery find for us.
So, major kudos to Agent White for a mission well accomplished! And, a hearty thank you to Summit Lake Winery. We love your 2003 Emily Kestrel Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of the Howell Mountain region in Napa County can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
About This Wine:
3rd Generation, 1st Edition – The first vintage of our Cabernet Sauvignon was in 1992, and due for release in 1994 when Emily Kestrel Griffin, the Brakesman’s first grandchild was born.
One of our best vintages ever, the 2003 is medium-bodied and well structured, with a chewy texture and robust, yet approachable tannins. This wine has tightly focused aromatics of cedar, tea leaf, white pepper, dried cherry and rhubarb, and ripe flavors including raspberry, black cherry and cranberries with a lasting finish of dense plum and toffee.
About The Winery:
The story of Summit Lake Vineyards begins more than forty years ago when Bob and Sue Brakesman, the owners and operators of Summit Lake, met at Jordan Jr. High School in Palo Alto, California. After graduating from Palo Alto High School in 1964, Bob went to the University of California at Berkeley to study mechanical engineering, and Sue went to Foothills Jr. College in Los Altos to study biology.
Bob joined the Phi Gamma Delta house and Sue would visit on weekend, enjoying all the activities that made the “Fijis” famous—not protesting the war or burning bras or marching on the student union. What they were famous for was their wild parties and their mysterious fraternity brother Bill Gamma. When the chancellor realized he was a fictitiously register student to whom all vehicles. Library books, beer kegs, etc. were registered, the entire fraternity was asked to leave and never return to another U.C. Campus.
Soon after the “Fiji” fiasco, Bob and fraternity brother Tom Anderson took a year off. They flew to England, purchased a Volkswagen van and traveled through Europe and the Middle East, as far as Afghanistan and Indian Nepal. Upon his return, Bob enrolled in San Jose State. While Bob finished his degree, he and Sue lived in a romantic cabin on a horse-boarding ranch in the foothills of West San Jose. The Agees, their landlords, had extensive gardens, chickens, goats, dogs, cats, and of course, horses. They loved their new home. One afternoon, out byu the north corral, bob met one of the neighbors, Peter Mirassou. Peter had recently retired as COE of Mirassou Vineyards. Bob had begun making his own beer and invited Peter home for a taste. In the course of their conversation, Peter suggested Bob try “brewing” wine. The Agee ranch was surrounded by vineyards and orchards. That fall, late one evening, Bob liberated some of the local grapes. Following the ancient tradition, they crushed the purloined fruit in open top fomenters (new plastic garbage cans). Their wine-making days had begun.
Bob graduated from San Jose state in January, 1971. To celebrate, Bob and Sue packed their Dodge van and took off for South America. They drove to Miami and joined another fraternity brother Peter Downy, who was finishing a Peace Corp assignment in Chili. They spent many hours sipping the luscious wines of small family-run wineries in Peru, chili and Argentina. This led Bob to question whether he wanted to be an engineer or explore his growing passion for wine and wine making. On their return, they moved from the San Jose Cabin. Bob went to Point Reyes to help his friend Tom Anderson build a house in the forest, and Sue went back to her family home in Palo Alto. They would travel different routes through the Northern California wine country, looking for an affordable piece of land to start their own vineyard. Bob was always drawn back to the Napa Valley.
On November 12, 1971, Sue returned home from work. Bob was there with birthday champagne for her. Her mother, acting a bit strangely, kept telling her to open her birthday card. Inside the card was the deed to Summit Lake Vineyards! It described 28 acres of land, eight planted in pre-prohibition Zinfandel (their favorite varietal), fruit trees in the orchard, a chicken house, garage, huge redwood barn, a walnut grove, vistas in every direction, and a house built in the 1880’s. Reading the deed, Sue thought bob had purchased paradise.
On Christmas Eve of that year, they left their old life behind. Having yet to see the ranch, Sue was giddy with anticipation. When they finally entered the gate and drove down the muddy driveway, her heart sank. It was paradise all right, after the fall. The deed had failed to mention that the property had been abandoned for over thirty years and was completely overgrown with Manzanita, poison oak, and coyote weed. Only the house had been used, but it too had fallen into a woeful state if disrepair. The house was filthy, it was freezing cold, and the fireplace barley worked. After placing buckets around to catch the leaks, they went to bed listening to the storm. The next morning there was snow on the windowsill and the bedroom floor. They dressed and rushed outside into their first white Christmas on Howell Mountain. Sue’s anxieties vanished when she saw how a beautiful white coat of snow had transformed the land. They roiled up their sleeves and went to work—a lot of work!
Their first step was to befriend the local farm advisor, Jim Lider, who quickly became their guru. He helped them define the soil, told them the history of the vineyard, and recommended rootstocks. Well into their third month on the ranch, they discovered a pre-World War II Caterpillar tractor hidden in the brush. After several trips to the tractor graveyards” in Petaluma, bob worked his magic and the work became easier. It took a little over two years to clear the land and resurrect the old eight-acre zinfandel vineyard.
After restoring the old Zinfandel vines, Bob and Sue needed to expand and improve the rest of the land. When they needed vines, they both went to work at a nursery in St. Helena that produced bench-grafts (baby grapevines). They worked the 6pm to midnight shift, staying a couple of hours more each night grafting their own vines. They planted them in milk cartons and lined them up behind the house with overhead sprinklers to keep them healthy. On weekend, friends with white-collard jobs would come up to the ranch and help plant new vines, enticed by the promise of a six-pack of cold beer upon the completion of a row. It took three years to plant thirteen acres of new vines, eleven of Zinfandel and two of Cabernet. During this time, Heather, their first daughter was born. She spent time strapped to Sue’s back or sitting in a big canning pot, playing with the water dribbling from a hose, happy to watch her young parents work.
When the vines needed water, Bob went to work for a company that installed drip irrigation systems. It was the company’s policy to bury leftover pipes and fitting because it was too costly to return them to the warehouse. Soon the leftovers began to come home on the back of their flatbed truck. Within a year their irrigation system was complete. It was then time to let the vineyard mature.
When Bob needed to perfect his winemaking skills, he took a position as cellar foreman at Freemark Abbey which, in the early 80’s, was considered one of the best of the 13 wineries an the valley floor. Owners Chuck Carpy, Bill Yeager and Frank Wood were legendary. Their winemaker, Jerry Luper, became a friend and mentor to Bob. Freemark developed many innovative techniques, producing one of the first Trockenbeerenauslesen in California (a sweet late harvest wine). Bob was in heaven for the next six years. During the crush of 1975, their son Brian was born.
Before 1985 all harvests were parties. Friends would begin to arrive on Thursday night and the fields would begin to look like an ad for The Whole Earth Catalog. Bright and early Saturday morning everyone would invade the vineyards with assorted trucks, lug boxes, grape knives, and first aid kits. Soon the fruit would begin arriving at the crush pad behind the house. The men would flex their muscles and begin pitch-forking the grapes into the stemmer crusher. During crush, Sue would act as queen bee in the kitchen directing all the gals in preparing the nights feast. Dining, dancing, and hot tubing would last well into the night. The following morning, those that could crawl out of their sleeping bags, would come down into the basement and help bottle the wine form two harvests ago. The old hand corker made a wonderful rhythm. Music and laughter filled the basement as they worked and talked about the crazy activities of the previous evening. Everyone left with at least one free case of wine.
When they outgrew the small cellar under the house, it was time to build a winery. A sight was cleared and leveled and a massive cement pad was poured. Their three children’s handprints can still be found on the Northwest corner. Their youngest, Danny, born in 1979, and their old dog Blue, left many additional prints. The walls were constructed and raised with the help of friends and neighbors and their tractors, in the true “barn-raising” style. With the rafters in place, Sue’s cousins Mark and Russell skillfully laid the roof. A couple of coats of paint on the walls and a beautiful mural on the big from doors painted by Sue’s Uncle Ralph completed the job. Bonded winery #5255 was finished in 1985.
Bob’s engineering degree kicked into full throttle when the winery needed equipment. He began working for the complete Winemaker in St. Helena. Bob was soon traveling to wineries springing up in Napa, Sonoma, and Mendocino, designing and installing their new bottling lines. He also kept a sharp eye on the equipment ready to be replaced. A filler from here, a labeler from there, tanks, barrels, pieces of this and that, lots of stainless steel, and the winery was ready to go. Summit Lake Vineyards first commercial release, the 1978 Zinfandel, won the coveted double gold medal at the California State Fair. It sold out in just eight days. They had done it!
This year marks our 38th year here at Summit Lake Vineyards, and we are proud to still be 100% family owned and operated. In addition to our Zinfandel, we are now producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Rosé, and Zinfandel Port.
Thank you to all of our family and friends that have supported us over the years! Please feel free to stop by and see what is new (and what isn’t) at Summit Lake.
The Brakesman Family