Since its founding in 1972, Caymus Vineyards has focused its attention on Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Charles F. (Charlie) Wagner, his wife Lorna B. Wagner and their son Charles J. (Chuck) Wagner built their winery among the vines planted on the family’s ranch in Rutherford, a district long recognized for producing high-quality Cabernet Sauvignons.
The Wagner Family, including the late Lorna Belle Glos Wagner
Charlie Wagner planted most of his Cabernet vines in 1965 before this varietal was universally considered the king of Napa Valley wines. The Wagners’ first production of just 240 cases came from the 1972 harvest, and Caymus has released a Napa Valley Cabernet in every vintage since. In 1975, the Wagners produced their first Special Selection Cabernet, made from the outstanding lots of that vintage. Special Selection Cabernet is produced only in vintages that Chuck Wagner, who directs all of Caymus’s vineyard and winemaking operations, feels are appropriate for this bottling.
Wine Spectator covers featuring Charlie and Chuck Wagner
Over the years, Caymus has won numerous awards and praise from wine critiques and fans alike. Among these awards is “Best Winery for Cabernet” by Wine Spectator magazine, so you know that Caymus is the real deal when it comes to Cabs. Ask anyone who has tried their Cab, they’ll tell you. Caymus helped make American Cabernet the staple in the wine world that it is today.
Today, Chuck and his children are proud to showcase quality Wagner made wines produced from the premier winegrowing regions of California. This year celebrates the release from the 2012 vintage and marks the 40th Anniversary of Caymus Napa Valley Cabernets release. In honor of this monumental occasion and achievement, Total Wine & More is holding a special event in our classrooms to help toast to Caymus with the Wagner family.
Please join Chuck, Charlie, Joseph and Jenny Wagner for an exclusive live-via-webcast guided tasting featuring five delicious wines, including the 2012 40th Anniversary Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, on June 14th from 4-5:30 PM EST. You can search for remaining tickets here
Winemaker Philip Togni pulling barrel samples for tasting
First on our agenda is driving up Spring Mountain to visit two producers. Because the wineries are so small, we had to split into two groups. My group visited one of my absolute favorite producers, Philip Togni. He has been making wine in the Napa Valley for over 40 years, and in the early 80’s he planted vines of his own on Spring Mountain. Today, he, his wife Birgitta and his daughter Lisa, manage a small plot of land where they produce two Bordeaux varietal based wines and one dessert wine. There is no sign indicating the winery from the road, no tasting room, and no place in the valley to taste their wines so this visit is a special and exclusive treat! I first tasted Togni’s wines in 2000, when I lived in Napa Valley and was working at Dean & Deluca where my wine team got a bunch his wines from the 1980’s. It was my true first experience tasting mature aged wines, one I will never forget. These wines are proven to withstand the test of time, and today Philip shared the 2011 vintage in barrel and both the 2005 and 2008. I cannot pick a favorite, they are all equally amazing. Thank you Brigitta, Lisa and Philip for hosting us!
View of Barnett Vineyards, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
Next was Barnett Vineyards – hosted by owner Fiona and Roy Barnett along with their winemaker, David Tate. The property features a stunning view of the valley, I can’t imagine waking up to these views every day! The Barnetts are super-organized, we were escorted into the caves where the three of them had tables set up classroom-style for our team to really focus on the wines and take good notes. We tasted two Chardonnays, three Pinot Noirs, a Merlot, their famous Cabernet Sauvignon and the legendary Rattlesnake Cabernet were all open for us to taste. I was really impressed with these wines, there definitely will be a few of both Cabs going into my cellar and some of those tasty Pinots for enjoyment over the rest of the summer.
From left: Joe Wagner, Cyrus Hazzard, Chuck and Jenny Wagner.
After the tasting, we headed down the mountain to the town of Rutherford for a visit with the team at Caymus Vineyards. Our group was particularly inquisitive this year, and had so many great questions for each stop with our Caymus visit being no different! We were greeted by the fantastic team of Jenny, Joe and Chuck Wagner – a family of Napa Valley icons. Jenny is the newest addition to the Wagner winemaking team, and there will be another addition to the Wagner Family of Wines soon, Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc which Jenny is in charge of. Joe Wagner is making the Pinot Noirs from Belle Glos, and of course, family patriarch Chuck Wagner makes the great Cabernets of Caymus. All were tremendous hosts, greeting us with a glass of Conundrum white as they led us out to the vineyards for some education on growing
Owner Chuck Wagner speaking with our team
Cabernet grapes, hosted by Chuck. It was a bit warm out there, but not to worry, once we were finished The Wagners refreshed us with a crisp glass of Emmolo Sauvignon Blanc and then took us into the cool caves for an amazing lunch and tasting with Chuck and Joe. We tasted Mer Soleil Silver, Mer Soleil, Meomi Pinot Noir, Belle Glos Dairyman Pinot Noir and the upcoming release of the 2011 Caymus Vineyard Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon and as a special treat, their 2003 Special Select. A big thank you to the Wagner family hosting us!
Rich Salvestrin (right) speaking about his winery
A quick jaunt up the road to St Helena took us to Rich Salvestrin, owner and winemaker at Salvestrin Winery. There’s a cool story here, the Salvestrins actually own the property that the Dr. Crane (of the famous Beckstoffer Dr. Crane vineyard fame) lived on and includes some of his original vineyards. The Salvestrin Sauvignon Blanc was bright and refreshing and their Cabernet Sauvignon was silky and elegant.
Long Meadow Ranch
From there, we headed down to Whitehall Lane Winery and then up the Mayacamas Mountains to Long Meadow Ranch. Long Meadow Ranch is a very interesting property, it’s not only a winery, but they have olive orchards including a stone wheel oil press for producing olive oil from those orchards. Here was another amazing view of the valley, overlooking the small town of Rutherford, with views of St. Helena and Oakville. Long Meadow Ranch also owns the restaurant Farmstead in St. Helena, which features delicious farm-to-table cuisine where they showcase as much as possible from their ranches on the menu.
Our team with the owners and winemaker of Amici Cellars
The last stop of the day was at Amici Cellars located just off Old Toll Road near Calistoga. After last year’s visit, Amici set the bar very high! As expected, they were up to the challenge, greeting us at the winery with their Sauvignon Blanc (there seems to be a lot of great ones today!) and a tasting of their new releases of Olema Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and No Curfew Red Wine. After the tasting, we walked down to a beautiful clearing to taste through the entire line of Amici wines – and like last year, the Morisoli Vineyard Cabernet was a stunner! Sadly, there’s not a whole lot of this around but if you really want to treat yourself, this one is the one to get. They also introduced us to the newest addition to the Amici family of wines – the Amici Reserve Cabernet which will be available soon at your local Total Wine & More, it was spectacular! As if the tasting wasn’t a good enough, we were treated to Gott’s Roadside for dinner – for those of you that have visited the Napa Valley, you would remember it as Taylor’s Refresher, definitely the best burger in town! As we watched the reflection of the sunset off of the beautiful Palisades mountain range, the night came to a close.
Tomorrow the agenda is packed again, this time with some of the biggest hitters in the Napa Valley, stay tuned!
Check out more of my photos from the trip here!
Baldacci Vineyards was beautiful. The vines were almost 100% through veraison with great clusters of purple! We spent some time in the vineyards learning about what makes the environment of the Stag’s Leap District so special. The family was on hand to pour the wines in the caves and explain their vision with their wines. The Brenda’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon was fantastic – it comes right from the vineyard outside the winery. What a treat to taste these, we also got to taste the 2011, which is still in barrel.
Then we were off to the other side of the valley to visit Black Cordon and 16×20. The property is on the western side of the valley. Their property actually is split between two appellations, Oak Knoll District and Mount Veeder. This is not a winery to visit. It is a small husband and wife operation with the help of their friend, famed winemaker Paul Hobbs. They hosted us at their home with spectacular views of the valley. As we arrived, we realized that the road was too narrow and steep for the buses so we had to hike up the mountain to their home. It was a steep, steep road that really got the heart pumping to get up there. That 16×20 chard never tasted so good!
Caymus for lunch – what can I say, Chuck Wagner hosted us and CLOSED the winery for our visit! Chuck was a really fantastic host. The smoked tri-tip roasts served were outstanding, a California specialty. Our team tasted through the entire portfolio from Mer Soleil to the Belle Glos Pinot Noirs, to the Special Select Cabernet Sauvignon. I now have a Conundrum cooking apron and a Belle Glos hat to add to my two collections of winery hats/aprons.
We headed off to Long Meadow Ranch in St Helena with full bellies. Originally we were supposed to meet at their tasting room just around the corner from Tra Vigne restaurant, but they invited us up to the ranch instead. Now that was a tight road. I felt sorry for our bus driver Adolfo; he was a brave man! We made it safely and the view – well, it was worth it. These folks have really an amazing story. Not only do they make great wine, but they are all about being local. The Long Meadow Ranch is a very old ranch that has been in operation for over 100 years. They raise cattle, have a large garden in Rutherford and own the restaurant The Farmstead in St Helena. The majority of the food that is served there comes from their products, seasonally. We got to take a hike up the mountain into their vineyards which was a real treat – although some of the “city folk” didn’t enjoy the walk as much as I did. Long Meadow Ranch has been farming their grapes organically since 1998 which makes for really fantastic wines!
Then we went back down the mountain and over to Oak Knoll district to visit with the Corley family, owners of Monticello Vineyards. This is a really cool property. They have replicated Thomas Jefferson’s house in Virginia. The wines were the most “old world” of the day, a refreshing change from all the classically structured cabernets we had enjoyed previously today. Their Merlot and Red Blend were team favorites. The winery is owned by the Corley family. You might see some of the Corley reserve in our stores from time to time, but the production is so limited, there’s not much to be had.
The FINAL stop of the day was in Rutherford with our great friends of Arroyo Seco Vineyards. These folks make the Montoya, Muirwood and Dominican Oaks wines for us and they really laid out the spread. The team tasted through the new vintages of the entire lineup from each of those brands. I believe these wines are top in class for values and this tasting just confirmed it for me. These folks not only make wine but they grow table grapes that make fantastic raisins! We got a canister of raisins to take with us for snacks later in the week and were able to snack on their grapes throughout the meal. Speaking of the meal, while sitting under 100 year old olive trees they served us whole pig, homemade sausage and of course some great wine! I had the pleasure of sitting next to and chatting with the owner, Morgan Zaninovich, over dinner. We actually used to live right down the road from each other in Napa many years ago!
What a great second day in California wine country! Sleep is next on the agenda, then off for another winery packed day in Napa tomorrow.