One day in the 1970s, when David Arthur Long was in his twenties and engaged in the classic quest to find himself, he was chatting with his father on the phone while sipping a glass of Chappellet Chenin Blanc. His father revealed that years before, he had purchased land on Pritchard Hill adjacent to Chappellet, and asked David if he wanted to start a winery there. His son’s distinct reply was: “Hell, yes.”
David began clearing land in 1978, commenced planting vines in 1980, and released his first wine---a Chardonnay---in 1985. While the wine garnered critical acclaim, he soon realized that Pritchard Hill’s true destiny was to be a Cabernet site. The current vintage of his Chardonnay, the 2011 ($45), is sourced from grapes grown in Napa’s Oak Knoll district. The wine is clean and crisp, with mouthwatering acidity, firm flavors of green apple and lingering citrus notes.
Today, the David Arthur winery is best known for a trio of stunning red wines that are among California’s best. The most unusual of the three is the Meritaggio, which contains 18% Sangiovese blended in with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot. The nose of the 2009 ($58) is forward and prickly---you can smell the Sangiovese’s classic notes of leather and smoke. It is smooth and ripe on entry, with an explosion of juicy berry fruit in the mid palate. The acidity is high, and the texture is rich and sturdy.
Two recent vintages of his estate Cabernet ($95), also known as Three Acre, display a distinct family resemblance. The 2007 is full-bodied and meaty, with a large but subtle tannin structure; massive yet seamless, it displays rich, mineral-infused blackberry fruit. Aromas of anise, minerals, fresh herbs and mocha mark the nose of the 2010 Cabernet. In the mouth, the wine is just as vivid as it seems on the nose---rich and spicy, with no sharp edges.
David Arthur’s crown jewel is Elevation 1147, composed of 100% Cabernet from a single vineyard block. The 2010 ($150) is a gentle giant: It enters the mouth softly and then creeps up on you, with flavors of blackberry, fresh herbs and tart plums wrapped in an attractive and fleshy texture, followed by a long and spicy finish.
The production of David Arthur is small (around 2000 cases in a good year), and the wines require some searching to find. Prices are high, but so is the reward.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to iconicspirits.net.