By Celia Strong
I’m not sure if you remember this story, but, all the years that my sisters and brother and I were growing up, my father always bought himself a Christmas present that no one else would get him, wrapped it up, and put it under the tree with a tag that said “to Dad, from his best friend.” All the kids have continued to do the same thing. It’s amazing how what seem to be little, silly things can become so meaningful and important. It’s also amazing what I’ve found for my best friend to get me this year.
This gift starts at the Beringer Winery, one of the much larger ones in California that makes a wide range of wines grapes, styles and prices.
In 1868, Jacob Beringer left his home in Germany for sunny California where the soil and climate were perfectly suited for growing wine grapes. In 1870, Napa Valley was his final destination where he and his brother bought land in 1875. Beringer Winery was founded in 1876. Chinese workers were employed to hand-chisel rock tunnels that were to be used for the storage and aging of the wines. Even though these tunnels took many years to complete, they are still part of an excellent facility. Jacob’s house on the property, known as Hudson House, is now the Culinary Arts Center and his brother’s house, Rhine House, is the 17 room mansion that was built in order to recreate the family house on the Rhine River in Germany. Beringer lays claim to being the first winery in Napa Valley.
Over the years, Beringer has acquired acreage in many top quality grape growing areas. Of interest to us today, is the Howell Mountain AVA. This site, or mountain actually, is located in the Vaca Mountains on the northeast side of Napa Valley around the town of Angwin and overlooks the town of St Helena. Designated in 1983, Howell Mountain was the first sub-appellation within Napa Valley AVA. Most vineyards in the Howell Mountain AVA are planted between 1,400 and 2,200 feet above sea level. This is well above the usual height of Napa vineyards that are most affected by the cool fog and winds from San Pablo Bay. The mountains does get cool breeze directly from the Pacific Ocean and the high elevations result in a cooler climate than on the valley floor. An area is given AVA status for the distinct characteristics of its wine grapes.
On Howell Mountain, Beringer has a property known as Bancroft Ranch. It is located at an elevation of 1,800 feet. The ranch produces clusters with small berries whose high skin-to-fruit ratio results in well-structured wines with concentrated flavors. The flavors of the grapes, and the wines they make of course, are further enhanced by the climate. This vineyard is about 5 to 10 degrees cooler that the valley floor but experiences more hours of sunshine over the course of a day because it is above the fog belt. This allows for both extended hang time and slow, even flavor development.
Our wine is the 2005 Bancroft Ranch Merlot. Yep, that’s right, 2005! The 2005 growing season on Howell Mountain began with an early budbreak followed by a cool, wet Spring. Summer was also on the cooler side, without the usual warm spells, resulting in a nice, extended growing season. The harvest was long, allowing the grapes to develop more complexity and layers of flavors, aromas and color. The merlot grapes were picked between October 16 and November 16. The different lots of grapes were kept separate, even for fermentation and aging, in order to maintain the individual terroir characteristics of each part of the vineyard. There was a gentle crushing and destemming, the juice and skins were sent to small fermenters where color, flavors and tannins were slowly extracted as vinification progressed. The wine was aged for 22 months in custom-toasted French Nevers oak barrels. This length of time allowed the tannins in the merlot, which really were closer to Cabernet tannins, to soften. Then, finally, small amounts of cabernet and cabernet franc were blended into the wine to extend its finish and add additional complexities. Beringer’s 2005 Merlot from Bancroft Ranch is “an exceptionally complex wine, full of espresso and dark cherry aromas that lead into rich, ripe black fruit flavors with hints of cedar and orange rind, brown spice and mint. It has tremendous body, complex layers of black fruit and a supple, lingering finish.” And, that’s according to Laurie Hook, the winemaker.
So, this all sounds like a pretty good wine. Actually, when I first tasted it, I thought it was like a cab drinker’s merlot. Big, intense, layered, just like “they” said. And, my mouth, like yours, knows when it’s got more expensive wine in it. Regular retail for this wine, this vintage, is $100 a bottle. But, you must realize by now, I wouldn’t expect my best friend to buy me something too expensive. So, what if I told you this wine is now half off? Or, actually, more than half off? Of course, I didn’t tell you that until after my best friend had bought my bottle for $39.97. Yes, it’s a deal. Yes, it’s Christmas. And, yes, we all have to make sure we have best friends shopping for us. Enjoy!
By Celia Strong