Text Size:-+
07.06.2009

Lang & Reed Wine Company, Napa: Current Releases

lang_and_reed.jpgAll of us wine lovers inevitably discover, in the course of our explorations, our own secret wineries. These are the wines that we hold close to our chest, revealing them to those with whom we share only our choicest of morsels, which often include such things as parking spaces, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and great movies and books.

As I'm in the business of sharing great wine with readers all the time, I can't really afford to hold much back. But I'd be lying if I told you I had reviewed or written about all my most favorite wineries around the world. Some of them I've just not gotten around to yet, and others are just easier to put off writing about with the excuse of wanting to come up with just the right way to talk about them.

But as I'm a blogger, rather than a print journalist, I lack the luxury of thoughtfully composed, well researched, professionally edited prose. The conceit of a considered essay is a blogger's fantasy, for the most part. Instead I scrape an hour or two of my day together out of 15 minute snippets and toss out raw thoughts about the things I care most about, including those secrets that a better writer might spend months deciding how to frame.

Lang and Reed Wine Company is simply one of those labels that represents everything I wish Napa might become over time. Or perhaps put another way, they are something I hope Napa never manages to lose.

Run by John and Tracey Skupny, Lang and Reed winery represents the culmination of a love affair with Cabernet Franc that is perhaps outlasted only by John and Tracey's own romance, which began back when both of them were just teenagers in Missouri, and carried them on adventures together on shoestring budgets throughout Europe after they both graduated from college. From the Midwest to the Loire and many places in between, the Skupnys finally settled down in the town of St. Helena in the Napa Valley to raise a family and to slowly cultivate the idea that maybe, just maybe, someone could survive making wines that contained solely Cabernet Franc. Yeah, they thought that was a pretty insane idea, too.

John Skupny had the length of a whole career in Napa to consider the possibility. Over the past twenty years he has worked for more than twenty five vineyards in the Napa Valley in some capacity or other, but perhaps most notably, he served as the Marketing and Sales Director for Caymus, the President of Clos du Val, and the General Manager of Niebaum-Coppola winery.

It was during his tenure at Niebaum-Coppola that his obsession with Cabernet Franc finally took hold in a way that was impossible to ignore. Plantings of the varietal in the valley were solid and mature, and many vineyards were turning out some great fruit, which everyone promptly blended back into their Cabernet Sauvignon almost without a second thought. But John, with a soft spot in his heart for the Loire wines of Chinon and Bourgueil (and probably some great memories of romantic evenings with Tracey in Angers, France) decided that Cabernet Franc deserved a voice of its own -- a little solo gig in a town dominated by big acts like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and their various ensembles.

So in 1996, John and Tracey began arranging contracts for small amounts of grapes from at first, one or two, and then later, close to a dozen of the best growers of Cabernet Franc in the valley. Their goal was simple: to make a wine that showed what their favorite varietal was capable of in California, and that they would love to drink themselves. They named the wine after their two sons, J. Reed and Jerzy Lang, and did everything themselves, from grape sorting to slapping the labels on the bottles.

And for the last ten years, they've pretty much been doing the same thing. John, an art school graduate who got into the wine business on the bottom run of the ladder (retail), and climbed his way up, takes care of the winemaking, while Tracey takes care of the sales and marketing. When they were younger, the two sons pitched in as well, but now that they're off having their own lives, mostly they just help drink the wine.

The Lang and Reed vision for what Cabernet Franc should be is unique not only for its singularity -- up until their recent first ever bottling of a Bordeaux blend, the label made only Cabernet Franc -- but also for its approach to the varietal. One of the reasons that Cabernet Franc is most often used as a blending grape is that it can very easily be turned into a wine with great aromatics, excellent texture, and completely unremarkable presence on the palate. In describing this phenomenon, John will sometimes refer to the "mid-palate hole" that can occur when Cabernet Franc is treated like Cabernet Sauvignon and dumped into exclusively brand new French oak barrels.

Lang and Reed's approach to the varietal is to treat the grape delicately, almost as if it were the thin skinned Pinot Noir: picking carefully to avoid over-ripeness, fully destemming, fermenting whole berries, gently pressing, and aging in mostly neutral oak. The result is a wine that trades the leathery, stiff tannins that can be typical for the Cabernet Franc for a juiciness and accessibility that make Lang and Reed's wines a pleasure to drink. A certain amount of age-worthiness is probably sacrificed for this approach, but the wines retain an acidity and a subtle tannic structure that will certainly keep them evolving for some time.

The winery produces around 2500 cases of wine each year in three primary bottlings -- a North Coast designated Cabernet Franc, a Napa designated Cabernet Franc, and a reserve bottling named "Premiere Etage" which gets a slightly more traditional winemaking regimen (extended maceration, etc.) and is aged for at least 24 months in mostly neutral oak, but with an occasional new barrel thrown into the mix.

The winery occasionally produces a tiny amount of rosé, and much to my delight, has just started making small quantities of a Bordeaux blend called "Right Bank," which they have, until this point, only made for charity auctions.

Full disclosure: I received these wines as press samples.

TASTING NOTES:
2007 Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc, North Coast
Medium garnet in the glass, this wine has a nose of wet wood, hazelnut skin, black cherry, with a sweet balsamic note to it. In the mouth it is beautifully velvety on the tongue with pungent plum and black cherry flavors that despite deep in tone, have a lightness to them. This wine is medium bodied and elegant and quite tasty. Notes of dark roasted coffee beans enter the finish, which also has a wet wood quality to it. Delicious and only 13.5% alcohol. Score: between 9 and 9.5. Cost: $20. Where to buy?

2004 Lang & Reed "Premiere Etage" Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley
Medium to dark ruby in color this wine has a bright nose of hazelnut skin, black cherry,violets, and a tiny hint of green bell pepper to keep things real and the nose true to this varietal. In the mouth it is gorgeously smooth, like a baby's skin on satin sheets, and lush with flavors of black cherry, dark plum, violets, and lavender. With little or no trace of oak influence to be found, this wines tannins are quite airy and light, and not likely to be noticed by most, who will be too busy loving the gorgeous fruit and lengthy finish. Outstanding. Score: around 9.5. Cost: $37. Where to buy?

2004 Lang & Reed "Right Bank" Bordeaux Blend, Napa Valley
Medium to dark ruby in color with thick chunky sediment that speaks to no fining or filtration, this wine has an incredible nose of black cherry, tobacco, and cedar. In the mouth it is gorgeously light on its feet (think Fred Astaire at his best), with soft velvety tannins and dry, earthy flavors of cherry, tobacco, and wet slate that swirl into a gorgeous, sexy concoction that forces a smile. The long finish has an airy sweetness to it, and the acid balance of the wine makes it very difficult not to follow one mouthful after another. Fan-@#$%ing-tastic. Score: between 9.5 and 10. Cost: $80. Where to buy?

Comments (20)

Dylan wrote:
07.07.09 at 3:40 PM

High school sweethearts turned winemaking family. It's a lovely story. Unfortunately, a rare one, too. Personally, I can't look forward to any such stories developing from my own friends--most of the high school romances fizzled out early into college and even the "we'll-show-you" couples were shown the way out by graduation time. I'm curious if you know the answer, what changed their minds to offer their Bordeaux Blend outside of charity auctions? Thank you for introducing their story, Alder.

Alder wrote:
07.07.09 at 4:56 PM

Dylan,

I'd like to think that the answer to your question was me telling John and Tracey repeatedly that they would be insane not to sell a wine this good to the public, but I'm sure they came to the decision for reasons other than my ravings.

Bill Ward wrote:
07.08.09 at 10:26 AM

You nailed it here, Alder. This is choice stuff.
At the Premiere Napa barrel tasting, the blend of Lang & Reed cab franc and Pahlmeyer merlot was fabulous (I can't remember what score you gave it). I'd dearly love to see folks who really know what they're doing take a stab at a California version of Cheval Blanc; sounds like John's "Right Bank" is an excellent move in that direction.

Allyn wrote:
07.08.09 at 4:08 PM

Dylan, John and Tracey have an excellent example of a long lasting marriage in John's parents Kate and Bob, they have been married at least 60 years. Vintage marriages run in the family, I married my high school sweetheart and we have been married 40 years. I'm their cousin, great wine and even better family what more could you ask for?

Don Clemens wrote:
07.13.09 at 9:14 AM

Alder: I've known John and Tracey since John and I worked together at Vintage Wine Merchants in the late '70's and early '80's. It has been a singular joy to watch them "live the dream". Like you, I am a fan of their vision of Cabernet Franc. It's nice to know that you don't have to confine yourself to the Loire Valley to find great Cabernet Franc!

test clear wrote:
09.16.14 at 8:30 PM

For most recent information you have to visit the web and
on web I found this site as a best site for latest updates.

09.16.14 at 9:49 PM

The who wrote post is called Clarence. My regular job
is a home office maid of honor. Her husband and her residence Kentucky and he or s he doesn't thinking about changing thought.
Kayaking is something I really enjoy . She's been working on her website for some time straight away.
Exactly how here: Mia Parking

09.17.14 at 1:07 AM

?ts such as you read my mind! You appear to know so much appr?ximately thi?, such
as you wrote the ebook in it or ?omething. I beli?ve that you caan do wifh
some percent to pressure the mes?age house ? little
bit, however other than that, that i? fantastic bl?g.
A fantastic read. I'll certaiunly be back.

09.17.14 at 4:27 AM

Howdy this is kind of off off topic but I was wanting to know if
blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code wioth
HTML. I'm starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get guidance from someone
with experience. Anny help woul be greatky appreciated!

09.17.14 at 6:08 AM

My relatives always say that I am wasting my time here
at net, however I know I am getting know-how everyday by
reading thes good content.

09.17.14 at 9:57 AM

Howdy! Do you use Twitter? I'd like to follow you if that would be ok.
I'm definitely enjoying your blog and look
forward to new updates.

09.17.14 at 1:02 PM

Do you mind if I quote a couple of your articles as long
as I provide credit and sources back to your blog? My blog site is in the exact same
niche as yours and my visitors would truly benefit from a lot of the information you provide here.

Please let me know if this alright with you.
Thanks a lot!

09.18.14 at 5:14 AM

What's up, after reading this awesome piece of writing i am as
well cheerful to share my experience here with colleagues.

09.18.14 at 9:00 AM

Hey there, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues.
When I look at your blog site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer,
it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
Other then that, awesome blog!

09.18.14 at 9:55 AM

Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you
writing this post and also the rest of the site is also really good.

09.18.14 at 2:24 PM

Had been actually shopping for just a typical shower enclosures during which I discovered
this fabulous site, did not even know there was such a thing as a 'steam
shower enclosure', incredible, will probably just have to have one

09.18.14 at 9:06 PM

Hi there, I check your new stuff like every week. Your
writing style is witty, keep doing what you're doing!

Matthew wrote:
09.19.14 at 12:29 AM

?oday, I went tto t?e bea?h front with my kids. I found a sea
shll aand gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said "You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear." She put the
shell to he? ear and screamed. There wa? a he?mit cfab inside aand it pinched her ear.
She never wants tto g?o ba?k! LoL I know this is ?ompletely off
topic ?ut I had to tell someone!

Autumn wrote:
09.19.14 at 12:08 PM

It's remarkable in favor of me to have a website, which is helpful
in favor of my experience. thanks admin

09.19.14 at 9:35 PM

I really love your website.. Excellent colors & theme.
Did you create this web site yourself? Please reply back as I'm looking to create my own blog and want to know where you got this
from or exactly what the theme is called. Thanks!

Comment on this entry

(will not be published)
(optional -- Google will not follow)
Yes
 

Type the characters you see in the picture above.

Pre-Order My Book!

small_final_covershot_dropshadow.jpg A wine book like no other. Photographs, essays, and wine recommendations. Learn more.

Follow Me On:

Twitter Facebook Pinterest Instagram Delectable Flipboard

Most Recent Entries

The Taste of Something New: Introducing Solminer Wines Vinography Images: Swift Work Social Media Answers the Question: Where Did Australian Wine Go Wrong Hourglass, Napa Valley: Current and Upcoming Releases Drought Problems? Just Have an Earthquake Vinography Images: Just One Vinography Unboxed: Week of September 1, 2014 Earthquake Rattles Napa Harvest NIMBY Versus Vineyard in Malibu Vinography Images: Precious Droplets

Favorite Posts From the Archives

Masuizumi Junmai Daiginjo, Toyama Prefecture Wine.Com Gives Retailers (and Consumers) the Finger 1961 Hospices de Beaune Emile Chandesais, Burgundy Wine Over Time The Better Half of My Palate 1999 Királyudvar "Lapis" Tokaji Furmint, Hungary What's Allowed in Your Wine and Winemaking Why Community Tasting Notes Sites Will Fail Appreciating Wine in Context The Soul vs. The Market 1989 Fiorano Botte 48 Semillion,Italy

Archives by Month

 

Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.