Tue 22 Dec 2009
Mount Veeder was founded in 1973 by Michael and Arlene Bernstein, 2,000 feet up the mountain for which the winery is named. From the beginning, they produced earthy, tannic, mineral-laced cabernets that often required a decade to shed their austerity and then rewarded those having patience with deep, rich, resonant flavors and balanced structures. Occasionally, the mountain-side tannins got the better of the wines, and there are Mount Veeder cabernets from the 1970s and early ’80s that never came around. Still, it was always gratifying to know that one could expect no compromise from this focused winery. The Bernsteins also made a little zinfandel, chenin blanc and chardonnay. I previously wrote, in the “100 Wines: A Chronicle” series, about the Mount Veeder Late Harvest Zinfandel 1980, and I went back in my notebook and found a label for a Mount Veeder Pinot Blanc 1981, as you can see a tough label to get off the bottle.
The Bernsteins sold the winery to Henry and Lisille Mathieson in 1982, but the significant change came in 1989, when the Mathiesons sold Mount Veeder to the partnership of Agustin Huneeus and the Eckes Corp. of what was then West Germany. The Eckes had hired Huneeus, a Chilean, to put Franciscan in shape to be sold, but under his sensible leadership, the winery had turned around and improved. In optimistic expansion mode, Huneeus launched Estancia, and then acquired the venerable Simi and Mount Veeder wineries. Along with Veramonte, in Chile, these properties comprised Franciscan Estates. The whole kit-and-kaboodle was sold to Constellation in 1998. Mount Veeder is now part of that giant corporation’s Icon Estates portfolio.
Here are reviews of the most recent releases, sent as review samples, from Mount Veeder Winery.
My first notes on the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Napa Valley are “so lovely and seductive.” Indeed, the warm, ripe, attractive bouquet is black fruit-laden, deeply spicy and winsomely floral and finely etched with notes of cedar, tobacco and lead pencil. In the mouth, grainy tannins and polished oak take over, and the wine turns briery and brambly, though leaving room for hints of bitter chocolate, platonic potpourri and a touch of toasted walnuts. Flavors of black currants and black raspberries need two or three years to find space to expand, though the potential is there for something fine. The blend includes 15 percent merlot and 3 percent “other red varietals.” The wine spent two years in French barrels, 84 percent new; that’s a pretty strict routine for a wine that came out fairly light on its feet, oak-wise. Try from 2011 to 2015 or ’17. Very Good+ to Excellent. About $40.
No caveats apply to the Mount Veeder Reserve Red Wine 2004, Napa Valley. The interesting blend — 53 percent cabernet sauvignon, 44 percent merlot and 3 percent malbec — represents the sort of fine balance between cabernet sauvignon and merlot sometimes seen in the Bordeaux Left Bank communes of St.-Estephe and St.-Julien, though the goal of the Mount Veeder Reserve 2004 is not Bordeaux-esque elegance but mountain-side eloquence. The wine opens with smoke, cedar and lead pencil-like minerality woven with ripe and concentrated black currants, cherries and plums. It’s an intensely aromatic and seductive bouquet, but in the mouth, the wine reverts to a rigorous strategy expressed in elements of wheatmeal, dried porcini, briers, brambles and underbrush, all the dusty, earthy range of dense, grainy tannins and polished oak. The regimen was 80 percent French oak barrels, 99 percent of them new; one wants to say, “Oh, hell, throw in that other damned barrel!” That’s a lot of oak, but as with its “regular” cousin from 2005, the Mount Veeder Reserve ’04 absorbed that wood and came out stronger, more supple, more nuanced. Indeed, after a few minutes in the glass, the wine gives up hints of mulberry and some bright, vivid wild berry, bacon fat, licorice and cocoa powder. Above all, the wine is characterized by tremendous, engaging vitality and resonance. Try from 2011 or ’13 through 2016 to ’20. Exceptional. About $80.