It was exactly one l-o-n-g year ago that the world changed and we hunkered down. Now fully vaccinated, winter ending and anxious for some quality ski time, we headed west to Squaw Valley in Lake Tahoe. After skiing several days with fresh snow and bluebird skies, we couldn’t leave California without visiting the nearby mecca of wine junkies, Napa Valley. With advance planning I scheduled winery visits to smaller producers; those not owned by large corporations and who focus on quality. Today prime vineyard property in Napa sells for $1 million per acre and family-owned wineries are disappearing. Robert Craig and Larkmead have successfully transitioned ownership from the founders to the next generation.

ROBERT CRAIG WINERY is located at the summit of Howell Mountain. After Bob Craig, the founder, retired in 2012, ownership was maintained by existing partners and CEO, Elton Stone, who hosted us during our visit. Howell Mountain is one of most prized locations in the valley and Robert Craig property has reputable neighbors such as Dunn, Turley and Outpost. At an elevation of 2,400 feet, the vineyards produce mountain fruit and full-body wines with structure and strong tannins. Estate mountain vineyards in Mount Veeder, Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain and Coombsville are also used to produce their portfolio of Bordeaux varietal wines.

– View from Howell Mountain looking west
– Lineup of Robert Craig Howell Mountain wines

Robert Craig Howell Mountain Cuvée Red 2018 | $35
Vinous Media 93 rating “2018 Cuvée Howell Mountain is gorgeous. Best of all, it will drink well early, while the Cabernets soften in the cellar. Dark red/purplish fruit, rose petal, lavender, spice and leather all flesh out in the glass. Cuvée marries the racy personality of the year with the character of Howell Mountain, a winning combination in my book. Cuvée is 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 44% Merlot and 4% Malbec, mostly from Robert Craig’s Candlestick Vineyard, with a bit of fruit from the Summit Lake property.”

Robert Craig Affinity Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 | $59
Cabernet Sauvignon 77%, Petite Verdot 8%, Merlot 7%, Cabernet Franc 4%, Malbec 4%
Vinous Media 92 rating “2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Affinity is a gorgeous entry-level offering. Ripe and plummy, with striking up-front fruit, the 2016 has a lot to offer, including tons of immediacy and sheer appeal. Super-ripe red cherry, raspberry jam, vanilla and sweet spice add to the wine’s racy, inviting personality. The Affinity is now mostly (85%) estate grown fruit from a site in Coombsville.”

LARKMEAD VINEYARDS is a historic winery celebrating their 125 year anniversary. Erik Siebelist, tasting room lead, explained winery history and the owners’ loyalty to their employees during the pandemic. Larkmead has 110 acres of vineyards, produces only 8,000 cases per year and sells 65% of grapes to prestigious clients such as Rivers-Marie and Dariousch. Located in Calistoga, it is the most northern and hottest appellation in Napa Valley. Cooling breezes from San Francisco Bay to the south have little influence in Calistoga and summer temps on valley floor are brutally hot, causing high alcohol wines. However, winemaker Dan Pietroski has adapted the winemaking style since he joined in 2012. Harvesting grapes earlier enables him to produce lower alcohol wines near 14% in contrast to older Larkmead vintages approaching 15% alcohol.

– Larkmead vineyards in winter hibernation
– Morning fog hovering above valley floor vineyards in Calistoga
– Sunday morning and doing what we do Best …

Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 | $120
Vinous Media 63 rating “2017 Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley) is a real overachiever in its peer group. Wonderfully layered and vibrant, the 2017 is just magnificent. All the elements come together in a sublime, wonderfully nuanced Cabernet. Larkmead ultimately decided not to bottle their Dr. Olmo Cabernet and instead used that wine (which was fabulous from barrel) to improve this blend – which it most certainly did.”

Cheers, Bob the WineGuy
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