Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cain Vineyard and Winery

Cain Vineyard and Winery is something of a magical Shangri-La winery up on Spring Mountain, with beautiful views and unique wines.  It is located on a winding, forested road (Langtry) several miles long that veers off to the left as you climb Spring Mountain Road.  The winery was founded in 1980 by the Cain family.  Jim and Nancy Meadlock purchased the winery in 1991 after having worked there for some years.  Christopher Howell is the manager and winemaker.  Our excellent guide and host was Katie Lazar, Director of Sales and Marketing. Cain, like all of the Spring Mountain wineries, requires reservations for tastings.

Walkway to winery building

The vineyards range in elevation from 1400 to 2100 feet, with vines clinging to the sides of sweeping hillsides with steep inclines.  Planting this vineyard must have been an incredible feat and very expensive, and one can only imagine the amount of time and effort that goes into the care and production of these mountainside vines. The soil is composed of mostly of sandstone and shale with some clay. Conditions are not only adverse but also diverse, allowing for great variation and complexity. The weather is quite unlike that in the valley floor, with much more rainfall and a colder climate that sometimes produces snow in the winter but has fewer spring frosts.

Winery building

Cain produces only three wines, each one a classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec, a concept that began with their 1987 vintage.  These are the Cain Cuvee, the Cain Concept and the Cain Five.  Our tasting began with the 2002 Cain Concept from the Cain library that sells for $70.  This was a lovely cab blend with a good nose of cherry and more red fruit on the palate.  With good acid and well-integrated tannins, this was very well balanced.  It was interesting to compare this to the 2008 Cain Concept ($60) that had a nice nose, red cherry on the palate and wonderful balance.  It is 48% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 18% Cab Franc and 9% Petit Verdot.  It is quite drinkable now but should age well. The Cain Cuvee NV8 (mostly a 2008 vintage with some 2007 and a touch of 2006) comes from vineyards in Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville, Spring Mountain and Atlas Peak and sells for only $34.  It has 48% Merlot with 32% Cabernet Sauvignon along with some Cab Franc and Petit Verdot, making it more of a right bank type red Bordeaux that leans toward the soft and silky end of the spectrum. Although the winemaker described this as light bodied, that is only in comparison to some of the bigger, bolder Napa Cabs.  It might be more on the subtle “feminine” side for a Cab, but it is very much within the classical Cab tradition and is not a thin wine.  It does not have overripe Robert Parker like fruit or those big Napa Valley tannins that need taming with air, age or food pairing.  You can drink this one alone.  It had some raspberry and spice on the nose, with more red fruit and other subtle notes on the palate along with soft tannins, decent acid plus a very nice balance and decent finish.  Although I enjoyed each of these wines at their price range, especially the 2002 Cain Concept, it was the 2007 Cain Five ($100) that I loved the most.  It is 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 6% Malbec, 5% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Franc and all the grapes came from Cain Vineyards.  It is a complex wine that is very layered and complex, a bigger more structured wine than the others, but not excessively so.  It obviously has some great fruit in it but is terroir driven with a great emphasis on balance and subtlety. It is substantial but also graceful. I found the nose rather restrained with a finish that was medium in length but delightful.  On the palate, it was mostly cherry with some mocha.  I found the wine to be very interesting, even intriguing.  Because of its subtle nature, I don’t think it would stand out that well in a blind tasting.  This is a wine that requires a more careful approach to appreciate it.  It is more like a Tarkovsky or Bergman film that demands more time and attention than some Hollywood blockbuster.  

Larger tasting table
Cain makes some very interesting wines that are extremely well balanced and have a lot going on.  It is not the sort of winery that would be appreciated by many tourists or those new to wine.  After 44 years of drinking Cabs and 39 years of visiting Napa Valley wineries, I appreciate wines that are unique, interesting, and have something to say.  So many times I’ve had a good Cab or Cab blend and thought to myself, “Oh, that is rather nice, but rather typical and not really different or interesting.”  Cain is a small winery up on Spring Mountain that seems more like a monastic retreat than ordinary winery. Their wines are interesting and unique.  I really enjoyed them, especially the 2002 Cain Concept and the 2007 Cain Five, and suggest you check their wines out if you are serious about Cabs.

Our tasting table

3800 Langtry Road
St. Helena, CA 94574
Date of visit:  July 25, 2012

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