In 2003 I received a call from John McGraw asking me if I would be interested in making some cabernet sauvignon for him and his wife, Lynne, from their vineyard in Glen Ellen. Now Cabernet typically needs more heat to ripen than we often have here in Glen Ellen, but the McGraw Vineyard sits up above the Pagani Ranch in the center of Sonoma Valley on a south facing hillside with good exposure to the afternoon sun and with some elevation above the fog. It turns out that I was well acquainted with the vineyard, and had watched new owners (the McGraws) pull out the old Dion Chardonnay vineyard and replant it as I took walks along Slattery road which was just behind where I used to live. The vineyard had been planted in three blocks and we decided that we would take a little from each block to make a wine representative of the whole vineyard, with the balance of the fruit sold to a bigger winery. It has been a fun project working with the McGraw family and getting to know the vineyard. Most years have culminated with a “family pick”, where friends and family have picked the latest ripening sub-block of this lower block, and its that attention and care that helps make the wine so special.
By 2005 I had come up with an idea to get some of this fruit for my own use and took a small amount to inaugurate my “Grandfather’s Cuvee” Cabernet-Shiraz program. Then in 2007 I took on additional fruit to begin my Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon wines. After 4 years of working with the vineyard I had settled, somewhat against expectation, on the lower section of the vineyard that sloped off towards Pagaini’s ranch; this section uses the cane pruning method and is farmed differently from the remainder of the vineyard. I’ve always liked the wine from this section, being more pure in its cassis fruit and being the last block to ripen, has excellent tannin structure. While later ripening can be an issue with early rains, intensive farming practices have allowed Lynne to deliver excellent Cabernet fruit even in the challenging years like 2010 and 2011. This hillside site produces tiny berries that give intense fruit flavors and a tannin balance appropriate for young Cabernet that should allow the wines to age gracefully.