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A Tale of Two Styles: Weaving Elegance & Unleashing Power
NM: How does everything that you've described doing in the vineyards ultimately translate into the bottle? What's the hallmark of the wines of Spring Mountain Vineyards; how do they stand out?
JC: The Spring Mountain Vineyards wines start out with a great deal of fruit, which given the amount of time necessary, then ages and evolves into something really special. But it's the wines' structure that carries them for a very long time. The elegance and balance of these wines gives them life now and longevity into the future, and the essence of the fruit coming off the mountain vineyards gives them character. And it's beautiful fruit that ranges from the bright lively stuff you'll see in our 2005 vintage to the evolved, almost pie-filling loveliness of what's in the 2001 vintage. But again, it's the structure — the tannins and acid — that gives you the time you need for all that to happen. So, these are wines with beauty and balance that are deeply appreciated with patience, and if you wait, you'll be rewarded! Looking at their profiles, I think red [as opposed to black] fruit is always seriously part of our Cabernets' character. Of course, you'll find black currant flavors and pick up some anise and such, but I really think that red fruit is prominent, because of the acid maintenance that we have. Even though we have a great array of exposures in the vineyards, our principal exposure is easterly, so that means they're shaded early in the day because of the steepness and that really preserves acid in the fruit, keeping it very lively. And then there's a polish that we get in the tannins after a period of aging — they're never harsh or overly angular. Now, I don't know that any of this is completely unique, but it is a formula for great appreciation of wines that really show themselves five years down the line.
"The elegance & balance of these wines gives them life now & longevity into the future. The essence of fruit coming off the mountain vineyards gives them character."
NM: You've alluded to the diversity of Cabernet fruit that you work with — a function of the patchwork of vineyards and their different aspects and elevations. Doesn't that present a challenge to maintaining a single vision in your winemaking?
JC: It certainly does present some difficulty. It presented an even greater difficulty for me when I started, because at the time we were making two Bordeaux-style blends. We were trying to use all the same material, all the same base wines to produce two wines of the same stock. There wasn't any way for me to put them together. But I did take what I considered to be the best base wines to produce our house style, and then the second best version of that style. Even so, I had a dilemma during the first year that I was here, because as I looked at the fifty-some base wines we had [from all the different vineyard blocks], not everything fit into the Elivette package; not everything we were making was Cabernet suitable for going into the Elivette. Some of it was too big, too bold, too round, and perhaps a bit too rustic to fit into the program of being a refined Bordeaux-style wine. And so, that's when we convinced the owner that we should make a dedicated Cabernet separate from the Elivette. And that simplified my life entirely. It really opened the door because now, since the 2003 vintage, there are three wines types coming out of those fifty Cabernet base wines: an elegant, graceful, structured, complex, and ageable Cabernet [the Elivette]; a bold, direct, powerful, and more intensely Northern California approach to Cabernet [the SMV Cabernet]; and one that won't fit into either and goes into our 2nd label, Chateau Chevalier.
NM: Can you describe the process of crafting these styles, and how you decide exactly which base wines goes into which of the two finished Cabernets?
JC: When I do my evaluation of the wines each year, I try to categorize them and put them into areas that they need to be in, and they naturally break apart into these two wines. The mindset you have to have when you make blends is that you're putting together a couple of jigsaw puzzles: you know what the picture is supposed to look like, so when you pick up a piece, you know whether or not it's going to fit into one picture or the other. But occasionally a piece it doesn't really fit anywhere — a beautiful wine or a powerful wine that doesn't fit into either one of my blends — so we'll just bottle it up on its own and sell it in the wine club. Because when a [base] wine doesn't mix in with any of the others, you have to leave it out, even though it's a high quality wine.