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1997 Staglin Family Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Rutherford

97_staglin_cabernet.jpgFrom the late 1800's to the first half of the twentieth century California represented a land of opportunity for many. In Northern California, this potential seems to have been realized in particular by Italian immigrants who settled North of San Francisco in great numbers, founding small towns up the coast and in the inland valleys. Drive Highway 1, Highway 12, Highway 116, and the Bohemian Highway North of the city and you'll pass old barns and homesteads, country stores, and several Italian restaurants that have been operating continuously since at least the Thirties.

That these fiercely determined immigrants met with success here is evidenced by not only by the preponderance of these small towns and farming communities, but also that these same towns are, after several generations, still populated with Dinuccis and Gonnellas.

Garen Staglin grew up the son of one of those early Twentieth Century immigrants. His father, Pasquale Stagliano, later naturalized as Ramon Staglin, emigrated at the age of two with his family from Calabria, Italy and settled first in New York and later California. Like so many other immigrants, the Staglianos brought with them their love of food and wine and the central role they both play in family life.

It's no wonder then that when Garen met with considerable success, going from UCLA to Stanford Business School to the corporate world, and then to boardrooms and the halls of Silicon Valley venture capital, he and his wife Sharalyn dreamed of owning a vineyard. Carefully biding their time, they finally found just what they were looking for.

In 1985 the Staglins purchased a very old, very large estate in Rutherford that for many years had been under the management of André Tchelistcheff, known by some as the "Godfather of California Cabernet." Tchelistcheff managed this vineyard for Beaulieu Vineyards under the ownership of the La Tour family, and it was this 50-acre parcel that he selected for producing the vaunted BV Georges De La Tour Cabernet.

The Staglins took this vineyard and the adjoining ranch and literally transformed it, carefully replanting the vineyards with direction from Tchelistcheff and building an underground winery and a home for themselves in the style of an Italian villa.

Today, and for nearly the past twenty-five years, Staglin Family Vineyards has been winning praise for the small quantity of estate wine that it produces each year: 350 cases of Sangiovese and 2,000 cases of Chardonnay in addition to the slightly more than 6,000 cases of this Cabernet. They are certainly my favorite producer in Rutherford, and in my opinion, one of the top three producers in the appellation.

Winemaking is currently done by Fredrik Johansson, but I believe this vintage was made by then winemaker Celia Masyczek, who spent almost a decade making some of the most celebrated of Staglin's wines before continuing her career as one of Napa's superstar winemakers.

The wine is made from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon grown organically on the Staglin Family estate in the shadow of Mt. St. John in the Mayacamus Range in an area known as the Rutherford Bench. After destemming and crushing, the berries cold soak before a fermentation that lasts anywhere from 14 to 28 days. After secondary fermentation is complete the wine is aged for 26 months in 100% French oak barrels, (65% of which are new).

Tasting Notes:
Medium ruby in color and showing little sign of its age, this wine has a nose of leather, cherry, and wet cedar bark aromas -- distinctively an older California Cabernet. In the mouth it offers flavors of fresh and dried cherries, cinnamon, and what can only be described as both the flavor and texture of the softest suede. A long finish completes a very satisfying experience that, if tinged with anything other than pleasure, might be said to involve a little regret at drinking this wine now, as it clearly has a good decade ahead of it.

Food Pairing:
I drank this wine with a nicely grilled filet mignon and fresh vegetables, which is certainly a classic pairing.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: This vintage can be had at auction or select retailers for around $120

This wine can be purchased online.

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