Last week I had the privilege of being part of a tasting conducted by Beringer Winemaker Emeritus, Ed Sbragia.
In case you’re not familiar with Sbragia, here is a brief background: A third generation wine maker, his grandfather emigrated from Tuscany to Northern California in the early 1900’s. Ed’s father eventually started his own winery in Healdsburg, and this is where Ed learned he harbored a passion and talent for winemaking. After obtaining a degree in Enology, Ed landed the coveted position of working alongside legendary winemaker, Myron Nightingale of Beringer Vineyards. In 1984 Ed became the head winemaker of the oldest and most recognized winery in American, Beringer Vineyards. While being at the helm of Beringer offered Sbragia countless opportunities and awards, his dream was to own and operate his own family-oriented estate. In 2004, after nearly 30 years with Beringer, Sbragia founded Sbragia Family Vineyards, where he continues to make wine today.
Before we began our tasting, someone in the crowd asked him what it meant to him to be “Winemaker Emeritus”. Ed chuckled and told us that his son says that it means “Has Been.” We all laughed as he explained that to him it means “Honored” and he still tastes and offers his opinion to the current chief winemaker at Beringer, Laurie Hook. He explained to us that he felt his job at Beringer, although at times not easy, was particularly lucky. “Beringer’s prime vineyards provided me with such a wonderful starting point, that it was really quite difficult to mess it up. Every harvest the vineyard manager would provide me with diamonds. The best. It was just my job to polish them.” His unique insight and jovial manner made this tasting truly a pleasure. The following are my notes on the esteemed Private Reserve series:
2007 Private Reserve Chardonnay. Used 60% New French Oak. Although the Oak is very strong on the nose, it isn’t so on the palate. Very nice, easy to drink fruit.
1989 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Was a difficult harvest year, lots of rain right as they were ready to pick. Spends 2 years in New French Oak. Smoky nose, cassis, finish perhaps a little diluted. Definitely still has tannin structure. Interesting that this was the only Private Reserve Sbragia made in 30 years that he felt the need to add merlot.
1995 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Atypical nose, smells French or Old World. More softness of texture than the 89. Blackberry fruit. Tannins refined. Was a cool vintage, with a long harvest. 70%Howell Mountain fruit.
2001 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. Heavy tannin, 62% Howell Mountain. Noticeably a hot vintage, structured with plenty of alcohol.
2006 St. Helena Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. Really ripe fruit, bright and cherry flavors predominate. Tannins stick to side of mouth. Can taste Cabernet Franc, blueberries in nose and a bit herbal.
2006 Chabot Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. This vineyard site is decomposed volcanic ash. Smells like a cool climate wine, very velvety in texture. Plum and cassis.
2006 Steinhauer Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Resistant nose, especially compared to others. More chocolate on the palate, lush and jammy.
2006 Lampyridae Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Mt. Veeder fruit, most tannin of all single vineyards. Has an earthy, meatiness to it.
2006 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon. So interesting to try to pick out all the components of this wine and guess the predominance of which single vineyard. Has plethora of tannin, a hint of meatiness and smoke. Finish is a bit green and tight. Age worthy. (I went back and sipped a bit of the 1989 against this newest vintage. Upon comparison I could taste some caramel and raisin in the 89 that wasn’t apparent when I first tasted it.)