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06.22.2008

2005 Star Lane Vineyards "Astral" Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley

astral_lg.jpgThere are those in the wine world who seek out (and often pay for) the best possible advice they can get. Winemaking and winegrowing are sciences as much as they are arts, and these days, there are plenty of experts to be had in both arenas. And then there are those in the wine world that no matter what the scientists, experts, and even their friends say, choose to follow their instincts. Call them pig-headed, call them eccentric, call them iconoclasts, there are certain people that will always walk their own paths when it comes to wine.

Jim Dierberg seems to be one of those people. He's a man that puts a lot of stock in his intuition. He proposed to his wife on their first date, and the first time he set eyes on a piece of property near Santa Ynez Valley he knew it was where he needed to live and to make wine. And not just any wine. Jim decided that this little plot of land was where he was going to make the Cabernet that he had dreamed of making for years.

Never mind that the idea of making Cabernet Sauvignon in the chilly, fog-influenced Santa Ynez Valley (known, for good reason, for it's cooler climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) was pretty much the most insane idea anyone had heard of for some time. Jim spent nearly ten years fending off his friends and neighbors, all of whom confirmed the insanity oh his plans. In those ten years he methodically planted his vineyards and experimented with rootstocks, built a winery, and (perhaps just to prove that he wasn't totally bonkers) bought some land in the neighboring Santa Rita Hills and started making excellent Pinot Noir and Chardonnay under the Dierberg Estate and Three Saints labels.

Jim's faith in his own vision wasn't easy to shake, perhaps because Jim lived on the property that came to be known as Star Lane Vineyards for those ten years. And he needed little more than a good set of eyes and a thermometer to prove to himself that the tiny little North-South valley where his vineyards climbed up the steep valley walls was a climatological anomaly. At the start of his driveway, several miles away, the mid-summer fog would be thick and the air a chilly sixty degrees Fahrenheit, but out his front door it would be sunny and between 80 and 100 degrees.

Indeed, the Happy Valley, as this little crease in the San Rafael Mountains is named, happens to be both the highest and the hottest place in the entire appellation. Daytime temperatures routinely climb above 100 degrees and nighttime temperatures often fall well below fifty degrees. This wide range of temperature, known as the diurnal shift, is coveted by winemakers for its ability to coax complexity and richness out of grapes of many varieties.

Now, after ten years of work, Jim and his winemaking crew, which includes winemaker Nick de Luca and consultant David Ramey, are releasing the first vintage from Star Lane, including this wine, which is a special selection from three specific blocks of the vineyard. The vineyards are planted almost exclusively to Bordeaux varietals, with the exception of a little Syrah that is mixed in amongst the Cabernet Sauvignon, and are so steep in places that there is only one guy on Jim's staff that is willing to drive the tractor between the rows (he apparently keeps asking for a raise on this account).

The vineyard management crew, all of whom are full-time employees rather than hired contractors, pick the grapes in the dead of night to escape the day-time heat, and load them in small batches into the winery (which has been built with two distinct sections, one dedicated to the Dierberg Estate Burgundy-style wines, and the other dedicated to the Star Lane project). The 98% Cabernet, 2% Petite Verdot grapes ferment slowly with native yeasts, and are then aged in 100% new French oak barrels for 20 months before bottle aging another 14 months before release. The wines are never filtered and are fined lightly with egg whites before bottling.

Star Lane makes about 1900 cases of this special Cabernet Sauvignon, and about 9000 cases of their estate Cabernet (which is also fantastic).

Santa Ynez Valley, barring some serious effects of Global Warming, will never be known as a place that's ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, but if Star Lane Vineyards continues to produce blockbuster wines like this one, Santa Ynez Valley may well become known for at least one Cabernet.

Tasting Notes:
Inky garnet in color, this wine bursts out of the glass with a rich nose of earth, tobacco, and dark fruit aromas that had me salivating immediately. In the mouth it is rich, heavy, and pure liquid silk on the tongue, with powerful flavors of black cherry, vanilla, and chocolate mixed with an undertone of dirt. The wine has just the slightest touch of sweetness to it that I eventually decided was a hint of residual sugar, but couldn't possibly hold against this wine in all its lusciousness. Perhaps it's best to think of this wine as a monster Napa Cab, that isn't from Napa. A wine for those times when you'd prefer that your wine not show a little restraint.

Food Pairing:
This is a wine that while perfect for grilled meat, I would simply prefer to drink on its own. It's big enough to demand all of your attention.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $100

This wine is available for purchase on the internet.

Comments (3)

Bill Ward wrote:
06.23.08 at 12:35 PM

Great assessment as always, Alder. Thjis is quite the operation. The Star Lane syrah is earthier and less blueberry-pie-ish than most of its California counterparts.
And under his own name, Dierberg has an excellent Santa Maria Valley pinot noir, also on the loamy side and true to the region. Apparently Paul Hobbs AND Ramey are consultants for this wine.

Tyler wrote:
06.23.08 at 6:33 PM

I had a chance to try the 2003 Three Saints Cab a while back and it was amazing. Wonderful complexity and very rich without being overdone. A great deal. Their Syrah is also good, very big, almost cloying. Their Merlot, done in the same whopping style, is in my opinion overdone and lacking finesse. Interesting stuff, and a great story about a serious endeavor. I'm sure the big Star Lane Cabs are worth every penny.

Brian wrote:
06.27.08 at 10:56 PM

Hey, Alder. I sampled the 2006 Three Saints Syrah from this vineyard tonight, and it is definitely different than the typical California blueberry oakshake Syrah. We are talking a blast of black pepper, olive, herbs, and black fruit. Very unique-and under $20! This project bears watching!

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