Dinner with Cuvaison Winemaker Steve Rogstad

Cuvaison Winery has a history in Napa Valley that dates back to 1969. However they were reset in 1979 when the Schmidheiny family from Switzerland purchased the property. A decade ago they built a new facility in Carneros under the stewardship of winery president Jay Schuppert and winemaker Steve Rogstad, who both joined on in 2002 and are still onboard. Previous to that the wines were made in Calistoga where they still own a facility and a satellite tasting room. Last week I had the opportunity to have dinner with Steve Rogstad at Tocqueville. We tasted through the core releases as well as a couple of wines made from the Brandlin Estate on Mount Veeder. My thoughts on my favorite wines from the evening follow. The Cuvaison 2011 Estate Chardonnay Carneros is their flagship offering. It makes up roughly 75% of their total production which varies between 40 and 50,000 cases from one vintage to the next. The fruit for this wine came from 44 distinct blocks within their Estate. Each lot was picked and vinified separately. This Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in French oak for 8 months; 20% of the barrels utilized were new. This widely available wine has a suggested retail price of $25. This is a gorgeous Chardonnay with clean and crisp flavors. Apple aromas lead the nose and carry on to the palate. Tropical fruit flavors join in as well with pineapple and guava of particular note. Spice, minerals and a little kiss of crème fraiche emerge on the finish which has nice length. It is classic example of well made Carneros Chardonnay that allows the fruit to shine brilliantly through. This wine is a very solid value at its price point.

The Cuvaison 2011 Kite Tail Chardonnay is produced each year from a single block. This block is planted to the Wente clone. The fruit was hand harvested and whole cluster pressed. It was fermented and aged in barrel over 15 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested price of $42. Hints of smoke and toast light up the nose of this Chardonnay along with bits of orchard fruit. The flavors here are more concentrated and have a greater intensity. Apple and pear are in strong evidence along with a bit of mango. Bits of toasted almond, and copious spices such as nutmeg and white pepper emerge on the finish which has substantial length. Tasting these two Chardonnays side by side is a tiny little window into how diverse this grape is. In this case multiple factors play in to the distinction. Both wines are delicious and interesting in their own right.

The Cuvaison 2011 Estate Pinot Noir Carneros was produced with fruit sourced from 20 distinct blocks within the Winery Estate. Each block was vinified separately. Barrel aging took place over 11 months in small oak barrels; 30% of them were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $38. Fresh red fruit aromas fill the nose of this Pinot Noir. Bing cherry and strawberry characteristics are at play on the palate along with a bit of cinnamon and black pepper spice. Raspberry emerges on the finish along with wisps of rhubarb and earth. As a counterpoint to the Estate Chardonnay this is an equally engaging and well made example of Carneros Pinot.

The Brandlin Estate Mt Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon is largely varietal (94%), with small amounts of Petit Verdot (4%), Malbec (1%) and Cabernet Franc (1%) blended in. This wine was aged over 22 months in French oak; 50% of the barrels utilized were new. This wine has a suggested retail price of $55. Cuvaison purchased this property, which has been farmed by the Brandlin family since the 1870’s in the late 90’s. This is a historic Napa vineyard whose history they honor by name and in practice. Less than 40 of the 170 acres have been planted to vine. There’s a ton of excellent Cabernet Sauvignon in NapaValley. Personally I think some of the most compelling examples are made from mountain fruit. This selection from Brandlin is no exception. Black fruit aromas dominate the nose along with hints of toast. This is a young Cabernet and it’s a bit tight out of the bottle right now. It opens up nicely with some air and shows off blackberry and raspberry fruit flavors as well as hints of cocoa. Earth and black pepper emerge on the finish which has good length. This wine has firm, gripping tannins and solid structure. It’s tasty now but will be even better a few years from now. This is a nice example of Mt. Veeder Cabernet.

The connective tissue with the wines Steve Rogstad is making for Cuvaison and their Mount Veeder Property Brandlin is proportion. These are lovely, vineyard-driven wines that pair well with a wide array of foods and quite frankly life in general. Each wine is distinct yet it’s clear the guiding hand and winery principles employed at Cuvaison have led to the creation and maintaining of an impressive portfolio that leads with their property in Carneros and the beautiful grapes that are grown there. Add to that the rugged Cabernet and other Bordeaux varietals of Mt. Veeder and the picture of a producer that lets their properties speak through the bottle emerges. It’s always a pleasure to taste wines alongside the person who shepherded them into existence. When the winemaker is one like Steve Rogstad with his wealth of experience in the business in general and at his length of tenure at his current Winery, its all the more interesting and informative.