2017 has been a year few in California will forget as wild fires tore a devastating trail of death and destruction through great swathes of the state. In the aftermath of this horrific natural disaster, focus for the wine industry has understandably been on what has been lost, so it was both informative and hugely relieving to spend the morning with Phil Ross from Diamond Creek to hear a positive story from 2017.
Phil described how his step-father Al Brounstein, a lover of French literature, culture and food enrolled on a course in French Wine Appreciation at university, not due to a love of wine of which he knew very little about, he was a spirits man, but it was the only course available to do which had anything to do with France. It was one of those serendipitous moments for which fine wine lovers across the globe should be eternally grateful.
Having been introduced to some of France’s finest wine he spent a vintage at Ridge and swiftly came to the conclusion that in Napa, Cabernet Sauvignon was king, and that the best quality could be found in the mountain fruit for its high acidity, thick skins and concentration. In 1968 he found and purchased 70 acres of land on the wild Diamond Mountain and was one step closer to realising his dream. Al made a bee line over to Bordeaux and hassled the 1st Growth producers until they relinquished some cuttings of their Cabernet to him. Taking them in through US customs and quarantine would have been both expensive and likely resulted in dead vines, so Al opted to take them to Mexico and then fly them up to Diamond Mountain in his own plane – one never knows when a private pilot’s licence might come in handy!
Al and his wife Boots were at the time, the first to establish a Cabernet only winery and were the first to plant Cabernet so far to the north. They are true pioneers of American viticulture. Before long, Al’s love of Burgundy led him to start to vinify the 3 distinct soil types of his three vineyards separately, a concept almost anathema in California at the time. The 3 wines, incredibly different in flavour and style due to the vastly different soil compositions are aptly labelled to reflect their terroir rather than grape variety; Gravelly Meadow, 5 relatively cool acres of gravel, Red Rock Terrace, 7 warm acres on iron rich deposits and Volcanic Hill, 8 acres on the warmest, south facing white Volcanic Ash.
When asked about the 2017 vintage, Phil reassured us that, though the workers were evacuated for a week, the fires cut a swathe to the north of the winery, not endangering the winery or the vineyards and thankfully leaving all the workers houses intact. A further blessing was that the grapes were in tank by the time the fires took hold, and there was no loss of power to the winery ensuring a safe fermentation and what he can only describe as an excellent vintage. For those who were able to produce, and had their grapes in the winery prior to the fires (Ross estimated 80% of the grapes were in) 2017 is a quality vintage to look out for.
In good years, Diamond Creek produces a mere 24,000 bottles across all the cuvees, in drought years such as 2015, which we had the pleasure to taste, volumes were 30% down. These are wines of astonishingly good quality that have ridden the changing fashions of wine over the last 50 years, holding true to their identity and their unwavering quest for quality and terroir. The wines offer both opulent pleasure early on, and immeasurable depth and refinement that promise extraordinary development and complexity over 3 or 4 decades. We are extremely proud to be the exclusive UK partners with this extraordinary family endeavour.
Gravelly Meadow 2015
A wonderfully intense nose of cassis and rich purple fruit with integrated sweet spice. The tannins are velvety ripe and mouth-coating encasing the voluptuous, dense fruit and subtle hints of tobacco which are underpinned by a firm chalky minerality and a lovely balancing freshness. Plenty more to come with this beauty.
Volcanic Hill 2015
A more lifted nose than Gravelly Meadow with an ethereal yet powerful quality to the dark fruit. The palate is silky and fresh with beautifully plush, ripe tannins and sweet black fruit with a hint of liquorice underpinned by a powdery, mineral texture. Exceptionally long and begging for a long sojourn in a dark cellar.
Red Rock Terrace 2015
Rich red and black fruit with elegant, lifted violet notes. The concentrated palate shows thick, ripe velvety tannins and fresh acidity which balances the rich cassis and red berry notes while the lingering aroma of wild flowers adds complexity to the persistent length. As with its brethren it will certainly reward patience.