Tue 1 Apr 2014
Our ideal of and faith in the minuteness of soil variations is formed by Burgundy, where vineyards separated by only a stone wall or the width of a country lane are assumed to evince subtle differences in wines made from the same grapes, either pinot noir or chardonnay. Why, then, wouldn’t a difference in 200 feet elevation produce some deviation in wines made from cabernet sauvignon grapes, all other aspects being equal?
That’s the question that two 100 percent cabernet wines from Anakota in Knights Valley asks. Winemaker Pierre Seillan, who also makes the Verite wines for Jackson Family, produces these wines from the Helena Dakota vineyard, which lies at 750 feet elevation, and the Helena Montana vineyard, 200 feet higher at 950 feet elevation. Knights Valley, nestled in the western reaches of the Mayacamas range, is the warmest AVA in Sonoma County as well as the most isolated and least populated, at least by wineries and vineyards. The landscape is dominated by the 4,339-foot peak of Mount St. Helena, located just west of the cusp where Lake, Sonoma and Napa counties meet. In the 1840s, the vast area of what was then Mallacomes Valley formed the hunting grounds of Jose de los Santos Berryessa, whose lodge still stands. When California became part of the United States in 1850, Berryessa returned to Mexico; Thomas B. Knight purchased a large portion of the ranch and eventually the valley was named after him. Beringer and Kendall-Jackson own most of the vineyard acreage. Just north of Anakota is the Peter Micahel Winery and its Les Pavots Estate Vineyard.
While only 200 feet — 2/3 of a football field — separate Helena Dakota and Helena Montana, they are also divided by Yellowjacket Creek and a rocky ridge, geographical or geological factors that must have some influence on the make-up of the vineyards. Below the creek, Helena Dakota consists of red-brown silty loam, and vine roots tend to be deeper; above the creek, Helena Montana contains yellow-white sandy soil and gravelly loam, and the vines are shallow and stressed. Both wines — this pair is from 2009 — see 15 months aging in new French oak barrels; both exhibit 14.5 percent alcohol. The first vintage of these wines was 2001.
These wines were samples for review. The label images below display previous years.
The color of the Anakota Helena Dakota Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, is deep ruby-purple with an opaque center; aromas of dust, briers and graphite, cloves and allspice, lavender and bitter chocolate are tightly wound around notes of intense and concentrated dark plums, currants and cherries. This is a deep, dark and dusty cabernet, gird by polished tannins, granitic minerality and a slightly austere finish with a hint of a charcoal edge, yet the whole package is vibrant and resonant. I knocked the cork back in the bottle and reopened the wine 24 hours later; it had opened beautifully, adding more spice, more graphite minerality, though also softer and more macerated fruit and a touch of anise. Still, the structure was forthright and rigorous. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent. about $75.
So, a clamber over the rocks, jumping the mountain stream and a short stroll upward, and here’s the Anakota Helena Montana Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Knights Valley, not so much a different wine as an intensification of all the virtues of its lower elevation cousin. The same opaque ruby hue, yes, but a wine that’s deep and powerful yet expressive, almost elegant in its litheness and sleekness, its chiseled minerality — this sounds like the guy you don’t want to work out next to at the gym; you certainly feel the dusty mountain roots, translated as leather and loam and earth, and something cool and distant, aloof, even; yet the wine is wrapped around a seductive ash, lavender, bitter chocolate core that only hints, sparely and obliquely, 24 hours later, at the ripeness of its intense black and blue fruit character. Try from 2016 or ’17 through 2028 to ’30. Excellent. About $75.