In this series, The Conscientious Consumer in Quarantine, I’m going to point to some of my favorite producers, wineries that are owned by individuals human beings, human beings who use their wineries to employ other people and feed their families, human beings whom I would encourage you to support with your patronage. Wineries make money primarily in two ways, namely by selling wine and by having visitors. Both of those revenue streams are being deeply slashed during the Covid 19 pandemic, as restaurants are closing and, in some instances, tasting rooms have been asked to close down for the time being to help stop the spread of the disease. The following wines are wines I encourage you to purchase online to help support these small producers so that, when this is all over, they will still be there for all of us to visit.
Following up the post about Zinfandel, I felt like I had to break “Cab Sauv” down into something more manageable. This varietal is my jam, and I drink a lot of it — especially from Napa. Napa Cab is a distinctive, unmistakable thing, a “savage” monster at times, but it can also be amazingly smooth and hold more flavor in a mouthful than an entire meal might. Often, if it gets to spend a little time with French oak (which it frankly should), it becomes one of the most nuanced and enjoyable wines imaginable.
I once told one of the winemakers whose wine will be mentioned below that if I had my way, I’d drink Napa Cab most nights. His response: “I do have my way and that’s what I do.” I already feel like I’m going to be apologizing tomorrow to those I leave off this list, but damn it if there aren’t an insane amount of amazing Napa Cabs out there. That said, here is a list of what I consider to be the very, very best, and these are all people that I would ask others to support with their money during this epidemic which is being pretty hard on our friends in the wine industry.
Ad Vivum — $150
Sonja and I met Chris Phelps at Inglenook, now owned by Francis Ford Coppola, where Chris makes the wine. Ad Vivum is a single vineyard Cab that’s 100% varietal that Chris pours his generous soul into. You can get yours at advivumcellars.com.
Buehler — $35
John Buehler is hilarious, and his family estate in the Vacas range east of the Silverado Trail is absolutely worth a visit. His daughter, Helen, came out to support VinNEBRASKA a few years ago. Until you can visit in person, however, I encourage you to order this wine, which is as good a value on Napa Cab as I’ve ever found. Visit buehlervineyards.com to get your hands on some.
Burly — $75
Hank McCrorie is a kind individual whose retirement project was to make the sort of wine he loves to drink. We should all be so lucky! I always enjoy Hank’s Cabernet, or for a real splurge his special selection. Learn more at burlywine.com.
Calafia “La Reina” — $80
Randle Johnson is the winemaker for The Hess Collection and one of the nicest men I’ve ever met in my life. He’s also been making his Calafia wines for more than forty years, and his Cabs are always so on point it’s ridiculous. You can order his amazing wines at calafiacellars.com.
The Debate — $175
The Debate is actually a collection of three prestigious single vineyard properties, including To Kalon, Dr. Crane, and Missouri Hopper, sourced by master winemaker Jean Hoefliger. The combination of Jean’s talent and these incredible sources is some of the best wine on the market. They are typically sold in three-packs, but I didn’t want to scare you off with the price tag. You can get on the list for an allocation of these amazing wines at thedebatewine.com.
Dunn Vineyards “Howell Mountain” — $125
Randy Dunn is famous for a reason, yet he’s kind enough to see me whenever I’m up on Howell Mountain. A generous conservationist who has worked incredibly hard to preserve the beauty and agricultural heritage of the Napa Valley, along with her pristine vistas and wildlife habitat, this is a man — and a family, worth supporting with your money. Visit dunnvineyards.com to get on the list for an allocation.
Elizabeth Spencer — $60
I honestly came across this wine very recently, though I knew the label because Sonja and I regularly buy their Grenache at the Oakville Grocery because it’s really good and dirt cheap. When I tried the Cab alongside several other amazing wines in my kitchen a few weeks ago, it really stood out. You can get yours at elizabethspencerwinery.com.
Euclid — $100
Euclid is the father-son project of Mike and Lucas Farmer. Mike made wine for Robert Mondavi for a long time, then made Opus One when Robert asked him to. A few years ago, he retired and started making Euclid with his son, Lucas. It’s amazing, and I highly recommend it. Also, Mike makes great tacos. Visit euclidwines.com to stock up.
Kelleher “Brix Vineyard” — $95
Sonja and I have known Valerie, one of the Kelleher sisters, for some time now. Their parents own the restaurant Brix on Highway 29, and behind it is the ten-acre “Brix Vineyard” from which they source their fruit. This is great wine. You can find it at kelleherwines.com.
Monticello “Jefferson Cuvee” 1985 — $150
So far, I’ve avoided including vintages, because that isn’t really what we’re doing here. However, Monticello, owned by the Corley Family, keeps an impressive array of library wines readily available online. They date back to 1980, and run through current vintage, though understandably not every year is there. Their wines age really well — Sonja and I tasted a 1989 when we were there with friends a few years ago. Visit corleyfamilynapavalley.com for more.
Palmaz Vineyards — $165
Christian and Florencia Palmaz are the children of Julio and Amalia Palmaz, an Argentine couple the former of whom invented and developed the Palmaz-Schatz heart stent. Randy Dunn was the first winemaker at this estate, and the wines are absolutely killer. The winery is impressive and worth a visit, but until such a time as that is possible again, you can obtain their wines at palmazvineyards.com.
Pellet Estate — $95
I met Eric Risch and Tom Rinaldi in Omaha, and have since visited their estate vineyards in Napa. The picture above with the dalmation came from their section of the famous Dr. Crane Vineyard. Pellet Estate wines are fantastic, and I especially enjoy their Cab. You can buy it at pelletestate.com.
Salvestrin — $70
Another winery with a stake of the beautiful and fruitful Dr. Crane Vineyard is Salvestrin. Their winery includes the Dr. Crane Mansion, and after staying there Sonja and I would strongly encourage you to do the same on your next trip to Napa. Rich Salvestrin is a third-generation Italian immigrant whose family is deeply connected to the land and the wine industry. Buy their wines at salvestrinwinery.com.
Sciandri — $75
I met Rebecca, and later Ryan, here in Omaha where they have a familial tie to Creighton University. Located in Coombsville, I’ve always felt like their wines were a cool expression of that rather distinct terroir, and I get excited every chance I get to try them. You can get them at sciandrivineyards.com.
Smith-Madrone “Cook’s Flat” — $225
Ok, ok, technically at 58% Cab Sauv this is a red blend, not a Cab, but I freaking love this wine and I wasn’t going to let that stop me from talking about Stu, Charlie, and Sam Smith, all of whom I also absolutely love. Stu comes to Nebraska on an annual basis for VinNEBRASKA, and has generously supported our local charity for thirty years. Their Spring Mountain fruit is phenomenal, and the two brothers have been making wine there since the early 70’s. Charlie once told me they make Cook’s Flat “Because it makes us really happy.” I get that. It’s a hell of a wine. You can buy it at smithmadrone.com. Spoiler alert: You’re definitely going to see their Riesling in a future edition of this blog as well.
Volker Eisele Family Estate — $60
If you follow me on Vivino, you know that I drink a lot of this wine and that I absolutely love it. In fact the Eisele Family, Catherine, Alexander, and their two boys, were part of the inspiration for writing this series of blogs to begin with. They’re wonderful people, and when I think about how this quarantine is impacting families in an already difficult industry, I wanted to do what I could as a writer to help. So, please, buy this wine. The fruit is sourced from high in the Vacas, and is rich, dark, complicated, and delicious. You’ll love it. You can get some at volkereiselefamilyestate.com.
You know, it was difficult narrowing the list down to this size, but I think I’ve done a good job. If you buy a few bottles each from all of my suggestions above, you’ll have an amazingly well-stocked cellar, and you’ll be helping to keep some really fantastic people going while their tasting rooms are closed and the restaurant and wine retail industries are down. Alternatively, if you know where to get these wines in your hometown, and if you have industrious shop owners like we do here in Omaha, you can order them for delivery. Corey at Corkscrew would love to bring you a mixed case of Volker Eisele, Dunn, Calafia, and Buehler, all of which I know he stocks. Just remember to keep these folks in mind, and good luck with the rest of yet another week in quarantine. As always, thanks for reading.