by Fred McMillin
for September 29, 1997

The Cab That Couldn't

Prologue: Hopes were so bright on September 24,1991. After 20 years of amateur winemaking, Dr. (chemistry) John Smith was leading the harvesting and crushing of his first commercial vintage. To maximize wine intensity, he and his friends had selected the driest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Then disaster! There was so little of the ultra-rich juice that the crushed grapes couldn't be pumped. The sun had set, the volunteers were tired, and four tons of grapes were waiting. Oakstone Winery's initial vintage was history.

The Rest of the Story: Then, the team broke from the huddle, formed a bucket brigade, turned on the crusher, and got the skins-seeds-pulp-juice into the fermenter. Time and strength were running out, so the last ton bypassed the crusher and the whole clusters were pitchforked into the vat, which can add bright, cherry-like flavors. Of course, with so much skin/seeds and so little juice, the wine was tannic city. But time would soften it. John waited four years. No luck...still puckery and harsh. So, with little to lose, he decided to bottle it, "hoping that the fruit would outlive the tannins and some day come into balance." Still no luck. Then, about the first of this year Dr. Smith was startled. The Cab was opening and softening dramatically. It had arrived.

My panel knew nothing of these travails when I poured it for them. Without hesitation, they unanimously voted it the Best $12 Cabernet Tasted This Year.

The Wine
1991 Cabernet Sauvignon, De Cascabel Vineyard, El Dorado
Oakstone Winery, Somerset, CA
Owners—John and Susan Smith
Winemaker—Dr. John L. Smith
Phone—(916) 620-5303
Food Affinities—Lamb, ham, veal. Ideal with Chef Amey Shaw's Cumin-Dusted Pork Medallions at the Alta Plaza in San Francisco.

Postscript: Why is the Smith's vineyard named De Cascabel? Well, when the land was being cleared in 1981, a large boulder was moved and beneath it was a nest of hibernating rattlesnakes (serpiente de cascabel in Spanish).

About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

Read more articles by Fred McMillin in the eGGsf

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