Thursday, May 19, 2011

2008 and 2007 from Futo Wines

This is an impressive estate!

Many years ago, I bought the wines of Oakford Vineyards. At that time I didn’t know exactly where it was, but friends in the valley told me it was the neighbor of Harlan Estate and that the wines were made by Heidi Peterson Barret. For me, that was just the right information to make me buy the wines. And I did.

They were good, sometimes not (like 2000), but sometime immensely impressive (especially the 2001 vintage, which ironically enough was the last one). I tried to call them to see them, to learn more. Nothing happened, no replies, never. On my regular visits at their neighbor vineyards Bond Estates and Harlan Estate, I passed by their gate that said “Oakford Vineyard – not open to public”, so I gave up.

Well, I didn’t. I continued, and finally a certain Joshua Lowell answered my calls, and told me the estate had been sold. Okay, “wait and see”, I thought.

And I did. On May 12, I did my first visit at the estate. And it’s so easy to summarize it: “WOW!”

Texan business man Tom Futo is the new owner – hence the new name Futo Wines. He bought the property in 2002. Immediately he started to replant the vineyards, and – which is extremely important it you should be able to make a world class wine – build a winery. In California, there’s a trend for winemaker to rent space in so called custom crush wineries, but that’s not the final solution. Numbers of winemakers have told me over the years all the problems involved with that, such as the pump isn’t available until tomorrow, you can only use the tank for 12 days (so no cold soak, fermentation and post maceration – please choose either one of that), and limited space for again. The first vintages from 2004 (not sold until quite recently, because it due to its richness didn’t fit in the program, until clients more or less asked for it), until 2007 were made at Laird Family Winery, on of the largest custom crush facilities in Napa Valley. The choice was fully natural – the first winemaker was Mark Aubert, who made his own wines down there.

Since 2008 the winemaker is the young and extremely talented Jason Exposto. So why him? Why didn’t owner Tom and manager Joshua opt for one of the true stars in the valley? Why didn’t they hold on to the heroic Mark Aubert, or hire Andy Erickson, Philippe Melka or Heidi Peterson Barrett (again)? Well, after meeting the young Jason, I know!

Why opt for what is already known as rthe best, when you can surprise with the next generation of superstar winemakers?

Not that Jason is an untested winemaker – his track record is quite impressive. After working in New Zealand and Western Australia, he moved to California where he worked with superstars David Abreu and St-Emilion winemaker Stépahne Derenoncourt (an exceptional vigneron, modernist and hero) in is efforts in Napa Valley, so there’s nothing rookie or interesting about him. He may be young, but he knows for sure what has to be done.

The Futo estate covers only 5.25 hectares of vines, all planted to Bordeaux varietals, but spread out over 24 vineyard lots stretching over 800 meters from north to south on the east facing slopes of Mayacamas Range, touching Harlan Estate (next to) and Stelling Vineyard and the even more famous Martha’s Vineyard below.

2008 Futo / 96 p
This is a blend of 70 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 30 percent Cabernet Franc, a grape that really thrives in its high, sunny and well exposed lot high up on the mountain. After a rigorous sorting, the grapes are fully destemmed and the juice is then fermented in stainless steel tanks of four tons, thereafter transferred into mostly brand new French oak barrels from the cooper Taransaud (“They are the best, and the most consistent in quality”, Joshua says), among them a quite impressive amount of the ultra premium barrels T5, for which the oak staves have been air dried for at least five years. In these barrels, the wine may rest for somewhere between 18 and 20 months.
Color is purple and dark, almost opaque. Joshua decanted the wine almost two hours before I came, which has to be taken into consideration (that was certainly a smart move), so it had started (not more than that) to open up a bit. Already 15 centimeters above the glass, the beauty tried to seduce me, the aroma was loads with dark berries, a touch of vanilla and sweetness from the oak, but also more elegant nuances of graphite and cedar tree. I was surprised how Bordeaux like (vintages 2000, 2003 and 2005 in Bordeaux that is) this wine was.
On the palate its medium to full bodied, in no way too much or too rich, there’s too much sophistication in the construction of true flavors in this wine for that. Slowly it opens, little by little, to reveal its true glory, dark and densely concentrated fruit, mostly cassis and blackberries, but with no sweet notes. Also, there’s much more complexity to it, cedar tree and graphite mostly, but also a fine note of walnuts. And it’s damn delicious! On the palate, there’s first a silky sweetness, then the more serious texture and structure will take over, and the overall impression will be an almost impeccable balance with just a touch of alcohol warmth before the tannins, the slightly sweetish but by no means obvious oak flavor comes through, followed by a tickling minerality and long, very fine finnish.
Even though the wine hade been decanted for a while, and that’s neccisary when served young, it continued to open up and evolve in the glass during the hour I had it there.
Drink it 2012-2032

2007 Futo / 96-97 p
I didn’t taste the wine side by side, but the the the after each other. The 2007 shares a lot of the characteristics of the 2008 (therefore most of the tasting notes would have looked the same) with a young and dark, almost opaque purple color. It was decented one hour before it was tasted, as was the 2008, so in that sense the tasting conditions was equal. This wine had a slightly greater and more aromatic nose with dark berries such as blueberries and cassis, but also a peppery spiciness and a hint of walnuts. It was a bit closed on the nose, but it opened up just lovely with the time in the glass, but even after that, it’s well structured with a lingering minerality and acitidy that makes a great balance to the rich and almost silki textured fruit body. It’s not only the densely packed but yet so elegant nose that makes this wine so great, all the way from the first sip through the midpalate to the lingering aftertaste is built on intensity and balance. Drinking it today, I recommend decanting at least one hour prior to pouring it.
Drink it 2012-2032

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