Mission Codename Wild One
St. Helena Cabernet at $140 a bottle can come as a sticker shock, yet in perspective this on the average $200+ per bottle neighborhood is the home of Spottswoode Estate, Vineyard 29, Bryant Estate, Ovid, Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane and Las Piedras, okay, okay, that’s enough names, you get the idea. From smack in the middle of the land of CULT Cabs, this deal is basically like handing out crisp $100 bills alongside each bottle. Such a phenomenal value proposal. Mic drop.
A darker shade of ruby surrounds the narrow lip while it remains opaque throughout. Overwhelms the senses with gorgeous ripeness, cassis, blueberries, and blackberries on the rebellious nose. Spring flowers and a touch of oak lift the palate with a persistent cocoa powder note that takes over the palate. Extraordinary intensity, purity, and multi-dimensional complexity all seem to converge on the monumental finish. This is the ultimate reverse-sear steak companion, the recently popularized cooking method in search of meaty perfection, juicy inside yet with a perfect crust. Add your favorite sides, friends, or family and brag away that you found this on The Wine Spies.
Then there’s winemaker Kevin Morrisey as if the stunning quality-price ration wasn’t enough. UC Davis educated Mr. Morrisey has a stint at Château Petrus, okay? Like he made wine at THE Petrus, yes. That French connection led him back to California, to star-studded wineries such as Stags’ Leap, Etude and Ehlers Estate. Bonafide experience, authentic winemaking, unmistakable aptitude. Be amongst the first to get in on the highly exclusive Erikson & Caradin project for a song. As you pour this to your friends, try to hide the smile when they ask what you paid for it.
Here’s what the wine press has on Kevin Morrisey:
Winemaker Highlight – Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate - “Some of us look at life and see risks, preferring to avoid those risks and play it safe. Others look at life and see challenges, always on the lookout for an opportunity to learn about or try something new. After a decade in the film business, Kevin Morrisey was looking for a career change. Becoming a winemaker doesn’t seem like a natural path for an ex-cameraman, but there are some surprising parallels between winemaking and the film world… At the age of 35, Kevin decided to apply to UC Davis…
While attending Davis, he decided to pursue an internship at Château Petrus. “I was fluent in French. Davis had an official internship, but I wasn’t sure I’d be picked for it and I didn’t want to wait to find out. So I just decided to go to Bordeaux.” He brought his wife Karen along, who picked grapes out in the vineyard while Kevin learned about winemaking… This experience in Bordeaux influenced Kevin’s ideas of terroir. “I love pondering terroir,” he says with a smile. After the internship at Petrus, he returned to Napa where he worked for several years at Stags’ Leap Winery and later, Etude Wines with his mentor Tony Soter, before accepting the winemaker position at Ehlers Estate in 2009.
Kevin likens the responsibility of being a winemaker to that of a chef. “I’m making something and I’m asking you to put it in your body,” he says. “That’s an intimate act and it gives me a responsibility. If I’m supercharging what I’m making with all the goodness that I can harness, that will nourish you. Compare that to the angry chef pistol-whipping his employees in the kitchen—is that food going to nourish your soul? Anything you do affects everything else, near and far. If you approach your work that way, you’ll get more out of it and put more into it. I don’t think about it as making better wine; I think of it as a more fulfilling way to approach your work.”
As part of this holistic approach, the estate commits to a full-time crew, rather than hiring labor at pruning or harvest time. It’s a more expensive way to run a business, but it may be one of the answers to the labor shortage wineries have increasingly faced the last several years, compounded by the rising cost of living in Napa Valley. “Schoolteachers, cops, firemen, librarians—they can’t afford to live in Napa,” Kevin says. “At what point do things tip? We rely so much on hand labor in the wine business. I’m worried about the years when we have a heatwave during harvest. I don’t think we’ve had the big test yet. If we are maxed out on labor year-round, and we have an event like a heatwave that forces the need for labor, people won’t be ready for it.”
They say there’s no reward without risk, and Kevin encourages others who are passionate about winemaking to follow the path. “Follow your bliss and chase after your dreams,” he says. “Being on the treadmill working for the man . . . ,” he shakes his head. “You’ve got to find the work that makes you happy. Go for it but do it for the reasons that drive you.” As for Kevin, he’s seen the reward. “When I was at Davis, I was fired up. I was a full-time student but worried about being able to find work. I was prepared for failure and knew that there might not be a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow. But I got exactly the opposite.”
What the Winery Says
2017 'Craftsmen & Wolves' St. Helena Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
- Kevin Morrissey
- 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
- St. Helena, Napa Valley
- 21 months
- 40% new French oak
- 12 barrels