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Enterprising Winemaker Aims to Better Sonoma's Reputation for Cabernet
— An Interview with the Winemaker of Super Sonoman —
Many in Sonoma County would take issue with being told that their winemaking region suffers from what might be called a bit of a varietal void. But arguably, much of its reputation has been built on the quality-driven production of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah. Can the same thing be said of Cabernet Sauvignon? With a negative answer to that question, at least one local producer has gone out on a limb to assert not only that the Bordeaux varietal can, in fact, become a major player in Sonoma, but that there is one particular geographical feature that would be instrumental in making it so: the micro vineyards on the slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains overlooking the Russian River Valley. Super Sonoman, the relatively recent venture of Chris Taddei and his wife Dana, involves the making of wine from those ridge-top vineyards. As a brand, it serves as a testament to their firm belief that Sonoma's potential for producing lush, elegant, and ageworthy Cabernet Sauvignon has gone largely untapped and is capable of surpassing the best on which neighboring Napa has established its own reputation. Curious, I set out to learn more about Super Sonoman and what its winemaker hopes to achieve with its implicit message.
A native of Sonoma County, Dana Taddei herself was instrumental in providing her husband's first significant exposure to California wines. This was an important shift for Chris, an Old World enthusiast whose point of reference was firmly established early on through his exploration of French wines, in that it eventually provided the foundation for his enthusiasm and eventual advocacy for the industry in Sonoma. Upon discovering the quality of the fruit produced on its mountaintops, he set out on a mission to realize what he vehemently believes is the region's capability to make world-class Bordeaux varietal wines. I sat down with the couple in the facility where Super Sonoman is produced, and listened to Chris tell their story from his perspective as winemaker.
NM: What are you hoping to accomplish with Super Sonoman?
"For Cabernet, I really believe that the right locations in Sonoma are as good or better than some of the best locations in Napa."
CT: The whole concept behind Super Sonoman is that as I got to learn more about California wines, I realized a couple of things. One, I really love Cabernet. I mean, I love wines, but I really love Cabernet; to me, it's just an amazing varietal. Another thing is that Sonoma County is a very different region, obviously, than Napa. What people haven't really focused on so much in Sonoma is tweaking out their vineyards for Cabernet. And I really believe that the right locations in Sonoma are as good or better than some of the best locations in Napa. And the reason I think that is because you have all that cool air coming in at night — there's literally a 10-15 degree difference if you drive over that hill (I do it all the time). With that, you get higher acidity. When you try these wines, you'll see that the acids are there; these wines are going to last a long time and are just going to get better and better. And that, to me, was the crux. I could buy fruit from anywhere, but what no one has really done is looked at Sonoma County [for sites that are ideal for Cabernet]. They're doing it now with Pinot Noir, but at the point that I started all this, Pinot wasn't even on the charts, frankly. When I made the '03, there was no [movie] Sideways. The average person wasn't thinking about Sonoma in the context of being able to produce super high-quality wines.