Domestic Selection: Cabernet Sauvignon, 1989. McDowell

In 1970, Richard and Karen Keehn purchased over 500 acres in Mendocino’s McDowell Valley. Although grapes for wine produc­tion had been cultivated in this val­ley and sold to Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino wine makers without interruption since the 1890s, no­body had ever put a winery there.

The region boasts low fertility, gravely loam soils, ideal for pro­ducing intensely flavored wines. Temperatures here are consistently warmer during the spring frost season and cooler during the sum­mer growing season than most other Mendocino County areas.

In 1978, the Keehns, in a stroke of inspiration, initiated the design process for the only winery in the valley’s history. Construc­tion took place in four phases, be­tween 1979 and 1982. McDowell Valley Vineyards was uniquely created as, and continues to be, California’s only comprehensive solar-energy-integrated winery.

In 1982, in recognition of this valley’s unique viticultural history, climate and soils, the Federal Bu­reau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Fire­arms (BAT F) granted “appellation” status to the McDowell Valley re­gion. An appellation is a special, legally established, viticultural and geographical designation. This winery is one of only two in the U.S. which boast their own pri­vate appellations.

Cabernet Sauvignon grapes provide the main base for this wine. This grape, originally from Bor­deaux, France, is responsible for many of the world’s finest red wines. It gives a depth of flavor al­most unrivaled, coupled with un­excelled ageing potential. To this the Keehn’s excellent winemaker, John Buechenstein (with them now since 1985), adds Cabernet Franc (another Bordeaux expatri­ate), which contributes an exciting wild cherry note, as well as a drop of Merlot, for its velvety smoothness.

This classic Bordeaux-style blend has an invitingly dark black currant jam color, with a nose that follows suit; intense, rich berry­like aromas. The wine is quite mouth-filling, mellow, with lots of fruit and berry flavors, some oaki­ness and very good acidity in bal­ance with the rest. Mild tannins are evident in the finish while the fruit flavors linger on. Serve at room temperature with standing rib roast or roast leg of lamb.

Soft-ripened cheeses like Brie and Saint Andre on crusty sour dough French bread would go nicely, too.

Cellaring Notes: Drinks nicely now, yet will complex through 1996.

Reviewed by Larry Tepper

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