Friday, 20 February 2015

Wine for a cause

To be honest, I’m not a fan of the big heavy Californian wines but I decided to attend the recent Staglin tasting organised by ASC in the hope that it might change my mind.

Shari and Garen Staglin bought the Rutherford Bench estate in 1985 to realise their dream of making wine. They have since been joined by their children, Shannon, now the President, and Brandon, Director of Marketing and Communications.

Although the Staglin label is only about 30 years old, the estate itself has a rich viticultural heritage. Vines were first planted there in 1868. The property changed hands several times before the Staglins acquired it. Because of this, Shari and Garen see themselves as custodians of the land rather than owners. They are committed to preserve it for future generations of custodians by practising organic farming and, among other things, installing solar fields to reduce carbon footprint.

With only 51 acres (about 20 ha) of vines, Shari, who studied viticulture and enology after purchasing the vineyard, is devoted to producing only high quality wine. The family enlisted the help of Michel Rolland as consultant and followed his advice to practise green pruning in the vineyard and hand-sorting the berries in the winery. The location of the vineyard, at the base of the western slope of Mt St John, is also an essential element in the quality of the wine. The vines are shaded from the scorching sun in the afternoon, allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and retain their acidity.

The Staglins were also advised to develop two labels. The flagship Staglin Family Vineyard label comprises a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Bordeaux blend INEO and a Sangiovese to acknowledge Garen’s Italian heritage. The style is restrained yet still retains the energy of Napa. The second label, Salus, with only a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Sauvignon, has a more typical American style—bigger and more upfront.

Salus also has a mission. Shari and Garen are active supporters of mental health research because Brandon was diagnosed with schizophrenia (he has since recovered). One of the activities is the Music Festival for Brain Health, which takes place on the estate to raise funds for research and treatment programmes. All proceeds from the sale of Salus go to underwrite this festival. To date, the event has raised US$210 million for the cause. Definitely a meaningful project.

Staglin wines have a finesse that most Napa wines lack, especially the 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. It is rich but also elegant, with a fine structure. Although I have to admit that Napa wines are still not on the top of my drink list, hey, we all have different palates and it’s good that the whole world doesn’t all drink the same wine!

For those who like Napa wines, both Staglin and Salus are available from ASC. You know you’ll be drinking for a good cause.

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