Tuesday, November 9, 2010

2008 Au Sommet from Heidi Peterson-Barrett

Heidi Peterson-Barrett just released her new baby, a winery called Au Sommet Wines that was founded in 2008 in partnership with her longtime friend John Schwartz. This is really a brand new project, and it’s based on a vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon and some Petit Verdot in poor volcanic soil 300 meters above sea level in the Atlas Peak district in Napa Valley by the well known vineyard consultant Jim Barbour (he is, for those who doesn’t know, together with David Abreu, one of the most famous vineyard managers in California). The size of the vineyard is just 2.83 hectares, so production will be tiny and prices very high. It takes some guts to set the price on the inaugural vintage (2008) at 250 dollar per bottle – almost the same as the well established and highly acclaimed wines from Bond. On cannot help wondering if, and when, the so called cult thing about great cabernets from Napa Valley will come to an end. Do we need more of them? And, quite frankly, can there be more great wines from the tiny valley of Napa?
Nevertheless, the 2008 Au Sommet is a very fine wine indeed and nothing has been spared to make this wine what it is. Just an example, with the poor soil and the strict pruning to get good concentration in the grapes, yields are no more than 18 hectoliters per hectare! That may justify a part of the price tag. The second, and most important explanation, is of the course the winemaker, the famous Heidi Peterson-Barrett.

Heidi Peterson-Barrett was born into wine. Her father was a wine grower and winemaker and Heidi spent a lot of time with him, learning all the basics in viticulture and winemaking. After graduation in fermentation science at UC Davis, Heidi worked as assistant winemaker for several wineries in California, and among them with the legendary winemaker Justin Meyer at Franciscan Winery and Silver Oak Cellars. Heidi also worked in Germany, where she learned the importance of making wines with finesse, and in Australia.
At the age of 25, Heidi was hired as winemaker at Buehler Vineyards in Napa Valley, and according to herself, it was there she finally understood she wanted to craft elegant and exclusive wines. And that’s exactly what Heidi has become world famous for doing. Being the first winemaker at Screaming Eagle, and playing a very important role in the newborn wine cult in Napa Valley during the 90s, Heidi soon became one of the most renowned winemakers of California. As a consultant, she was (or, in some cases, still is) responsible for the wines from Jones Family, Grace Family, Hartwell Winery, Lamborn Family, Vineyard 29, Oakford (now closed) and Showket, and she also makes the wines for Barbour, Amuse Bouche and Revana, as well as making wines under her own label, La Sirena.

2008 Au Sommet Cabernet Sauvignon / 94 p
This inaugural vintage is a blend of 95 percent Cabernet Sauvignon of the very good classic clones 7 and 377, and six percent of Petit Verdot. Since the vines are young, the yield is very low, only 18 hectoliters per hectare. Grapes were harvested at a moderate ripeness of 24.5 to 25.8 Brix, which explains the elegance and vibrant and fresh perfumes of the wine. As expected, the wine have been raised in brand new French oak barrels, which has flavored the wine with some vanilla and chocolate notes, as well as some structure, but the overall impression is that the balance is just fine. The nose is driven by dark and concentrated but not heavy or overly ripe fruit, with just a hint of stony minerals. On the palate, it is surprisingly elegant and silky – no harsh tannins or bitterness whatsoever, and no overly sweet fruit or alcoholic spice. It’s actually quite silky and elegant, but the aftertaste is a bit short, but good and elegant rather than great.
I decanted this wine for four hours prior to pouring it, and it really needed that. It continued to develop and open up in the glass during the tasting (for at least 30-45 minutes), and what was left in the bottle for day after, was even more elegant and harmonious.
Although it is a very fine wine, it doesn’t have the intensity and depths that other great Napa Valley cabernets have, yet! I'm cinfident in that it will gain that weight and depth in the future vintages. Still, it is a very good first release, and it’s well worth following over the years as the vines are getting older.
Drink it 2012-2023.

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