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The Keys to Far Niente's Cave Collection: Crafting Age-Worthy Cabernet

01.06.22

The Keys to Far Niente's Cave Collection: Crafting Age-Worthy Cabernet

After making Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for four decades, we’ve learned a few things about crafting wines that endure – and even transform – over the course of 10, 20, 30 years and beyond. It’s why we launched the Far Niente Cave Collection in the 1980s, and why we remain one of the only North American wineries to have a dedicated library program like the Cave Collection.

So, what, exactly, makes a Cabernet age-worthy (hint: it starts with legendary Oakville, Napa Valley vineyards)? From excellent raw materials to exacting bottling standards, Winemaker Nicole Marchesi breaks it all down below. Read on to hear what she has to say. Then mark your calendars for the January 17 release from Far Niente's Cave Collection. This year’s allocation is one of our most limited to date, with less than 100 bottles available for our most sought-after vintages.

"Although there are dozens of qualities we look for in our vineyards and wines," Nicole says, "the following four traits are essential.

  1. Tannin and Color. These are the essential building blocks for a red wine. When it comes to tannin, you need enough mature fruit tannin – found in grape seeds, skin and stems – to ensure that the wine retains its structure over time. Color, quite literally, refers to anthocyanins, phenolic compounds found in high concentrations in the skins of dark grapes. Although color does not contribute directly to a wine’s flavor, when it binds with tannin, the resulting compounds, or polymeric pigments, do contribute to texture and mouthfeel. These polymeric pigments are “stable” color, making them key players in making wines designed to age.
  2. Balanced Oak. From the slow, controlled introduction of oxygen to its ability to impart tannin and flavor, the benefits of oak can be varied and nuanced. In wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, which possess powerful fruit intensity, a good oak regime helps “carry” a wine’s fruit through time. That word balance is critical. Oak should refine and support a wine, not overwhelm or smother.
  3. Acidity. Moderate acidity, like tannin, gives a wine structural integrity. It also adds brightness and lift to some of the deeper, dark flavors of red wines, like Napa Valley Cabernet. When we talk about an older wine possessing a sense of vibrancy or “life,” acidity is definitely a contributing factor.
  4. Excellent Raw Material. At the end of the day, you can’t achieve it in the winery if it wasn’t first achieved in the vineyard. You need a great site, the right clonal material, and rootstocks that best match the soil profiles in your vineyard. Stretching into the western Oakville foothills and surrounded by famed vineyards including To Kalon and Martha’s Vineyard, our Martin Stelling Vineyard is the cornerstone to our Far Niente Cabernets. Vintage after vintage, Martin Stelling Vineyard gives us rich concentration, ripe tannins, beautiful color and an astounding freshness.

Assuming you’ve got the vineyard to grow the raw material with the great tannin, color and acidity (and that you don’t over – or under – do it with oak), what steps are required in the winery to ensure your wines retain these qualities? There are the basics – possessing a sound knowledge of winemaking, maintaining great equipment, employing that top notch barrel program. At Far Niente, we also take some subtle steps that we believe help a wine not only survive but also improve over time. Below, are three we consider to be key,

  1. We don’t overwork our wines. From the way we sort to how we introduce oxygen during fermentation and racking, every touch on the wine has a purpose. We are gentle and careful, and it’s worth stating that good oxygen management is critical.
  2. We work hard to achieve balanced extraction. Although we want to be sure we’re pulling out plenty of great phenolic content – color and tannin – from our fruit, it’s very easy to go from balanced extraction to over-extraction. We pay close attention to our fermentations – smelling, tasting and analyzing daily – so that each lot is pressed off with just the right amount.
  3. We have exacting bottling standards. We don’t want to expose the wine to oxygen, nor do we want there to bottle to bottle variation. Again, oxygen management is critical. We want great closures, proper temperatures, accurate fill heights, and honestly, top quality sanitation. Maintaining our own bottling line here at the estate isn’t glamorous, but it’s so important. If ever there was a place for micro-management, the bottling line is it!

Of course, even when you hold your team to the most exacting standards, the key to making a wine that not only holds up, but also beautifully transforms, over time extends beyond great science and good housekeeping.

That’s the elusive magic of wine, isn’t it?"

Martin Stelling Vineyard

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