In 1968, Bill and Kathy Collins purchased 54 acresof grapevines in northern Napa. The vines were mostly planted to Zinfandel, and many weren’t producing any grapes; the couple replaced them with Bordeaux grape varieties and began sourcing Cabernet from other vineyard owners in the valley. In between working as an electronics executive, Bill Collins transported grapes to his Los Altos home and started making some of Napa’s benchmark Cabernets. By 1979, the operation had grown to a point where he was able to build Conn Creek’s present winery in Rutherford.
Today Conn Creek is owned by Stimson Lane, and their facility on the Silverado Trail also produces the wines for Villa Mt. Eden. They still make some of the most distinctive Cabernet in California, both from estate vineyards and fruit purchased from nearly all of Napa’s 16 diverse American Viticultural Areas. The winemaking is in the capable hands of Mike McGrath, a graduate of U.C. Davis who spent 13 years in Argentina before returning home.
Conn Creek recently sent me samples of their current vintage releases. I rooted around in my cellar, found a bottle of their 1991 Cabernet, and decided to taste it side by side with the 2009---a highly unscientific comparison, but one that proved to be interesting.
The 2009 ($25) had a deeply saturated purple color and a fresh nose infused with scents of cedar, blackberry and new oak. It was tart and full-bodied in the mouth, with good acidity and delicious flavors of black cherry and cassis; the finish was long, with slightly drying tannins and echoes of dark berries and grape skins. It was large-scaled but drinkable, particularly with steak or lamb.
By contrast, the 1991 had a ruby-purple center and crimson rim, but displayed no undue signs of age. There was a family resemblance on the nose, with aromas of cedar and slightly stewed red fruits. It was medium-bodied and compact in the mouth, with the fruit just starting to fade but still prominent, along with the ghost of a very good acid structure. It finished long and dry, with mouthwatering flavors of red and black cherries. Even allowing for the fact that the bottle had been perfectly stored since release, it was a fascinating glimpse into the ability of Napa Cabernet to age gracefully.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to http://www.iconicspirits.net.