Wed 23 May 2012
Tom Thornton is an architect and Brenda Mixson works in commercial real estate finance, but like so many other people who have successful careers, they wanted to own a vineyard and make wine. They acquired a 32-acre ranch in Napa Valley’s northern Calistoga district in 1997, and within that spread they focus on the 12-acre Winfield Vineyard. They first produced wine from the vintage of 2004; this was The Grade Cabernet Sauvignon, its name taken from a passage in Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Silverado Squatters. In 2009, they made their first sauvignon blanc, called Sea-Fog, also taken from Stevenson, who sojourned in Silverado and Calistoga in June 1880. The Grade Cellars produces only these two wines, in small quantities, but they are definitely Worth a Search, the cabernet if you’re flush, while the sauvignon blanc is less expensive. Winemaker is Rudy Zuidema.
These wines were samples for review.
Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Napa Valley, receives a trace of oak aging, that is, to the extent of 10 percent of the juice going into 11-year-old French barrels for three months; I like the thoughtful deliberation of that choice. This is 100 percent sauvignon blanc from a single vineyard in a warm area of Calistoga, at the foot of Mount Saint Helena, and the wine is beautiful, sleek, suave and tremendously appealing. Enticing aromas of tangerine, nectarine and lemongrass are woven with hints of roasted lemon, ginger and quince, bay leaf and thyme and a floral element — jasmine and honeysuckle — that seems to wreathe itself around your head. The wine practically shimmers with crisp and crystalline acidity and a burgeoning limestone character that support winsome flavors of lemon balm, orange rind and just a wisp of mango. Paradoxically, for all its sensual allure, the Sea-Fog Sauvignon Blanc 2010 finishes with spareness and a touch of astringency, as if grapefruit gets the final word. 14.1 percent alcohol. Production was 380 cases. Now through 2014. Excellent. About $25.
The Grade Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, Calistoga, Napa Valley, spent two years in French oak, 40 percent new barrels. Sporting a dark yet radiant ruby-purple color, the wine feels like classic Napa Valley in its scope and dimension, its intensity and concentration, its remarkable presence and tone, vibrancy and resonance. The bouquet is a beauty, a beguiling and fairly exotic amalgam of cassis, black raspberries and mulberries buoyed by lavender, violets and sandalwood, thyme and cedar, with back-notes of fruitcake, black olive and graphite. In the mouth, the wine forgoes a bit of its seductive power for a more solid, brooding aspect, though there’s nothing heavy or obvious here. Ripe and spicy black and blue fruit flavors are permeated by clean loamy earth, granite-like minerality and dense, grainy tannins that grow in import through the long, slightly austere finish; all these aspects are wrapped around a core of bittersweet chocolate, potpourri and a bit of iron. Power and elegance seamlessly allied. 14.3 percent alcohol. Production was 270 cases. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.