WHAT: If you want to surprise Dad with a special bottle of wine this Father’s Day, you should try a big, bold cabernet sauvignon like the Mt. Brave. It comes from a great spot, is made by a talented winemaker and has a great name.
The grapes come from mountain vineyards at 1,400 to 1,800 feet elevation on Mount Veeder, one of a handful of great mountain appellations in Napa. The rugged terrain makes it difficult to grow and harvest grapes, but for those brave enough to do it, the results are spectacular.
This is a full-bodied, muscular Cab that looks inky in the glass. It starts with aromas of violets and raspberry and blueberry tastes. The long finish ends with a note of minerality. While the flavor is great, perhaps the best thing about Mt. Brave is the mouthfeel. It’s a chewy wine you can touch as well as taste.
“Part of the signature of my wine is the texture,” said winemaker Chris Carpenter when he stopped in Atlanta for a tasting a couple of weeks ago. “I love tactile aspects of the wine. We had to take financial risks to assure that.
“I’m only asked to make great wines, not necessarily a lot of wine. If it’s not where it needs to be, I might not put it in the bottle.”
Carpenter works for the Jackson family of Kendall Jackson fame. They brought him into several of their top wineries and told him to make memorable wines. Besides Mt. Brave, he makes wine at Lakoya, Cardinale and LaJota.
He particularly likes to work with mountain vineyards, where the vines are under stress.
“Each has its own distinct climate and its own distinct soils,” said Carpenter. “When you taste a wine you want to know it’s from Mt. Veeder or Spring Mountain.
“You get more intense sunlight on the mountains. The combination of soil and light are powerful forces to create great wine. You get concentrated fruits and good tannins, so these wines will age forever. And you have to think about the angles to the sun.”
Carpenter works with vineyards on Mount Veeder, Howell Mountain, Spring Mountain and Diamond Mountain. They all benefit by the influence of the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, but Mount Veeder is closer to the water. The vineyard is relatively cool, but it sits above the fog line so it gets the morning sun.
The soil is a sparse, gravelly loam, with few nutrients, forcing the vines to struggle. They produce tiny berries full of concentrated and complex flavors.
Because the slopes of the vineyard are so rugged nearly everything is done by hand. Grapes are put in small boxes that are carefully moved up and down the slopes to protect the workers and the vines.
The wine undergoes in-barrel malolactic fermentation using native yeasts. It is aged for 22 months in French oak barrels (85 percent new). The blend is 93.5 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5 percent Merlot and 3 percent Cabernet Franc.
A lot of intensive labor goes into making this wine, but the result is worth it. I would open this bottle at least an hour before drinking it, and I certainly would decant it.
WINERY: The story of Mt. Brave is as much about the winemaker as the winery. The Jackson family bought the property in June 2007 because it was near another piece of property they have owned on Mt. Veeder since 1994.
The original vineyard is on a flat stretch of ground, but the new property was bowl shaped, giving the grapes more mountain characteristics.
The family thought they could use the fruit from this new vineyard in their Cardinale Cabernet Sauvignon, because it uses fruit from all over Napa Valley. But they discovered more diversity of flavor in the Mt. Brave parcel. That gave them an opportunity to create a new wine. Besides the Cabernet Sauvignon, Mt. Brave also produces a Merlot and a Malbec.
The name is an homage to the native Wappos, “the brave ones,” who were the original inhabitants of the area. Great wines have been produced on Mt. Veeder since the early 1960s, but the first Mt. Brave vineyards weren’t established until a couple of decades ago.
Carpenter joined the Jackson family team in 1998 via an unusual route. He grew up outside of Chicago and played defensive back for the University of Illinois football team. He earned an MBA and sold medical products, but he also tended bar once a week at one of my favorite bars, Butch McGuire’s in Chicago.
As he and his friends explored the lively food and wine culture of Chicago, he found himself drawn to it. Finally, when his company wanted him to move to Indianapolis, Carpenter decided it was time for a change.
After getting a master’s degree in viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis, he worked in Italy and Napa before landing at Cardinale and the other Jackson family properties. Through it all he has remained true to these two philosophies:
“Winemaking should be about place,” he said. “And wine is best made in the vineyard, not in the winery. These two things drive everything I do.”
It looks like Carpenter will soon have new territory to practice his philosophy. The Jacksons have bought a vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and the McLaren Vale in Australia. He said the Australian property probably will come online later this year.
GOES WITH: One thing I like to do is dress up leftovers with a special wine. So with the Mt. Brave I had a piece of my favorite deep dish Chicago pizza from Lou Malnati’s and my wife, Teri, scrambled a couple of eggs. We were both happy.
The pizza has a lot of crushed tomatoes on top, along with a layer of spicy Italian sausage, so it has plenty of flavor. You really need a bold wine with a dish like this, or else the wine will disappear. The powerful tannins backing the lush fruit were exactly what I needed with the pizza.
When I tasted the wine I didn’t know about Carpenter’s Chicago connection, but that made the food choice even more appropriate.
Surprisingly, the wine didn’t overpower the scrambled eggs. Teri thought the lush fruit was a great complement to the mild eggs.
The wine will pair well with all kinds of red meat, hearty stews, flavorful cheeses, and even a bite or two of chocolate.