Top 10 Rising Stars of 2006
"Who are these people and why should I care?"
Many of us asked this question when Jean Philips released her 1992 Screaming Eagle, or when Bill Harlan first offered his 1990 Harlan Estate. Or even when Colgin Cellars entered the Napa Valley wine scene with its Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet.
Now, to buy Screaming Eagle, Harlan, or Colgin, you have to get on each winery’s waiting list and sit patiently for a good five to ten years before you'll be placed on their actual distribution lists.
Lesson learned: it's very important to find hidden gems before everyone jumps on them. In that spirit, I've put together my own list of California collectables: the Top 10 Rising Stars of 2006.
The wines below have four important things in common: tiny production, talented winemakers, passionate owners, and great vineyard sites. There's no guarantee that these wineries will continue to produce top notch wines year in and year out, but their wines so far have been nothing short of spectacular. With that in mind, you should seriously consider getting on their mailing lists now, because some of these wines are bound to command more than their initial release price once they get into the secondary market.
So, drum roll please, let me introduce the Top 10 Rising Stars...
1. Levy & McClellan Cabernet (Bob Levy and Martha McClellan, owners and winemakers)
This is a new wine project by the talented husband and wife team of Bob Levy and Martha McClellan, the winemakers at Harlan and Sloan, respectively. Their debut vintage is a 2004 Cabernet, and Robert Parker is already raving about it (Parker 95-98). Get on their mailing list now. www.levymcclellan.com
2. DuMOL Chardonnay and Pinot (Andy Smith, winemaker)
DuMOL makes some of the most profound Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from the Carneros and Russian River Valley. Kudos to owner Kevin Murphy and his talented winemaker Andy Smith. Every one of their 2003 and 2004 Chardonnays and Pinots scored in the 90s by Parker. They also produced a tiny amount of Eddie’s Patch Syrah, which received a score of 95 for the 2003 vintage and 93-95 for the 2004. www.dumol.com
3. Buccella Cabernet (Mark Harold, winemaker)
Dr. Mark Harold, the talented “Mad Scientist” behind this exciting new project, is making some serious headway for Buccella. They've consistently scored above 93 points since first releasing in 2002, including in the overall challenging year of 2003. Get in line now for next April's release of the 2004 vintage. www.buccellawines.com
4. Pax Cellars Syrah (Pax Mahle, winemaker; Joe Donlan, owner)
When it comes to knock-your-socks-off Syrah, look no further than Pax Cellars. Pax Mahle is the face behind its portfolio of Syrahs, and Joe Donlan is the very proactive owner—sign up for their newsletter, and chances are you'll get a personal phone call from Joe. The key to Pax's winemaking is to source fruits from top notch vineyard sites. His wines are always aged in new oaks, and are all bottled unfiltered and unfined. All of the wines that I've tasted from Pax are lush, rich, full-bodied, and ripe. Great stuff! www.paxwines.com
5. Gemstone Proprietary Red (Philippe Melka, winemaker; Paul Frank, owner)
I first read about Gemstone in Wine Spectator Magazine. Most recently, I met owner Paul Frank and winemaker Phillipe Melka at a tasting, and I was able to try their 2003. I was impressed! Rich, sweet nose of chocolate, followed by black cherries and cassis. Dense, dark and thick, this is a wine to be reckoned with. According to Parker, Paul Frank continues to sell some of his fruit to star clients like Pahlmeyer. www.gemstonewine.com
6. Hestan Cabernet (Mark Harold, winemaker)
This is another one of the many Mark Harold consulting projects. While it's still too early to tell the evolution of this winery, all of its wines so far have been wonderful. They also produce a Cabernet and Chardonnay under their second label, Meyer (not to confused with Justin Meyer’s Meyer Family wines). www.hestan.com
7. Kapcsándy Family State Lane Vineyard Proprietary Blend
I first heard of Kapcsándy from a Napa insider. This winery is situated in the old State Lane Vineyard formerly owned by Beringer, and the Kapcsándys have been meticulous in replanting their vines. Given time, the vineyard will mature and I believe we will see some serious stuff coming from them. Remember what happened to the good old Eisele Vineyard, and the vineyard where Rudd Estate is situated... www.kapcsandywines.com
8. Kobalt Cabernet (Kevin Carriker, owner and winemaker)
If you like cold climate Cabernet, check out this winery. Typically, you will find nose of blueberry and kirsch, with a hint of licorice. Kevin Carriker is a self-taught, "garage" winemaker, advised by Mark Harold. He only makes 250 cases a year—the 2003 is already sold out—so don't wait too long. And in another couple years, watch for his extremely limited Cabernet Sauvignon Port. www.kobaltwines.com
9. O’Shaughnessy Cabernet
These guys produce two wines. One is the Mt. Veeder Cabernet (100+ cases). The other is the Howell Mountain Cabernet (1,200+ cases). Parker raved about their wines when he tasted the 2002 vintage. I like them because the wines fit my favorite tasting profile, which is ripe, sweet and lush, balanced with some acidity. www.oshaughnessywinery.com
10. Varner Chardonnay and Pinot
This tiny Santa Cruz winery is still under the radar, but they're making some seriously good Chardonnay and Pinot. In fact, Bob and Jim Varner's handcrafted wines demonstrate that you don't have to have a million dollar budget to get ratings that all winemakers dream about. Go to their Web site now: you can still get their 94-rated 2003 Bee Block Chardonnay in case quantities. www.varnerwine.com
This article written by Sam Chen, Echelonwines. Copyright © 2006-2008. Not to be reproduced without express written permission.