The allure of Napa is legendary, even clichéd. The wine country lifestyle, or whatever you want to call it, combined with the love of wine has inspired countless people to sell everything they own and head to Napa to try and live their own personal wine dream.
There must be people who simply flounder and fail in these endeavors. Like many of the unfortunate, their stories never surface for most of us. We tend to only hear about those that succeed in turning their dreams into reality. Yet I continue to be astonished at just how many people seem to do just that. As powerful as the pull of Napa may be, perhaps it is often equalled by the passion and drive that generates that attraction in the first place.
Certainly that seems to be the case with Sean Larkin, who by all accounts had a bright future ahead of him as the owner of a union sheet metal fabrication business in New Jersey for 25 years. He wasn’t getting rich, but he was building a business that had legs, so to speak, and seemingly could have just kept on going.
But he started drinking wine, and then collecting it. Especially Bordeaux. And perhaps more importantly, he started to have strong opinions about it. Like many wine lovers who become “obsessed” with their newfound love, Larkin hungrily educated his palate and built up enough knowledge and preference to allow him to become a persistent thorn in the side of the owner of his favorite restaurant where Larkin ended up installing air conditioning ducts in the mid 1990’s.
After hearing Larkin complain about the wine list for what was probably the umpteenth time, the owner snapped, “If you think you can do better, why don’t you just go ahead and do it?”
A little more than a year later, the modest list of 50 American wines that Larkin assembled won a Wine Spectator restaurant award, and Larkin had begun making trips to Napa every chance he could find.
Two years of playing sommelier in his spare time, a few vacations to Napa, and Larkin decided he needed out of the sheet metal business, and into the wine business.
And we know the basic plot for this portion of the story… liquidated everything, jumped into the car, drove across the country, and started looking for a job. Larkin landed a job selling wine for the west coast arm of a distributor he had gotten to know in New Jersey, and before he knew it, he had a lead on half a ton of Cabernet Franc for $1200 that he knew was good fruit (mostly because he was selling a wine that came from those grapes).
With some help from none other than Robert Foley, who Larkin had met during his brief stint as an extracurricular sommelier, Larkin made his first wine in 1999 and hasn’t looked back since.
Larkin now makes about 1800 cases of wine, which he says is just about enough to keep him in rent, groceries, and the costs of flying around the country trying to sell the stuff, and he couldn’t be happier. His main focus continues to be Cabernet Franc, made under the Larkin Wines label, but when his son Jack was born on 2004, the same year he got access to some Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from Pritchard Hill, and decided to make a wine that would bear his son’s name.
Made from grapes grown in the Melanson Vineyard on Pritchard Hill and farmed by John Arns, about 144 cases of this Cabernet are made each year. They age in 50% new French oak and 50% used and neutral oak for about 18 months before release.
Dark garnet in color, this wine has a nose of cassis and black cherry. In the mouth it is smooth and velvety with slightly grapey, cassis flavors wrapped around a core of cherry and chocolate. Light velvety tannins emerge as the wine finishes. This wine conveys a sense of being young, but has the raw materials to likely blossom into something quiet nice over the course of a year or two.
This is a young wine, whose fruit seems well matched with salty, meaty bits if you know what I mean. Perhaps a well marinated skirt steak?
Overall Score: around 9
How Much?: $75
This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.