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Comeback Cab

A glass from the past at Laurel Glen Vineyard


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Whatever happened to Laurel Glen? There's an older generation of wine lovers who still have Laurel Glen Cabernet from the 1980s stashed in their cellars, winery owner Bettina Sichel tells me, but the younger generation has never heard of the winery. When I first looked up Laurel Glen, it sounded like an echo of past cult-Cab glory. But the winery—and, importantly, the Sonoma Mountain vineyard—never did drop off the map.

Today, Laurel Glen is easier to find than ever—even if the tasting room is tucked away on a quiet side street in Glen Ellen. Sichel explains that she took over from winery founder Patrick Campbell in 2011, with a group family friends and investors.

The group brought in current winemaker Randall Watkins and David Ramey as consultant. Watkins grew up in nearby Bennett Valley, where his father made two barrels of wine a year, according to his friend Patrick Campbell's detailed handwritten instructions for "white vino" and "red vino." At 11, he first walked the 14-acre Laurel Glen vineyard, which is uniquely planted to its own "Laurel Glen" clone of Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2015 Crazy Old Vine Rosé ($30) is the closest to a white wine currently on offer. Half of this dry rosé comes from one remaining row of the original mix of vines planted in the 1880s. The winery's least expensive, get-to-know-us Cab, the juicy, nicely integrated 2013 Counterpoint Cabernet Sauvignon ($40), includes fruit from neighboring properties.

While Laurel Glen is no hotbed of oak experimentation, Watkins laments, he's not at all inclined to change the practice of barreling the wine down in mostly one brand of cooperage, Taransaud, and only about 50 percent new. The 2012 Laurel Glen Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($75) is certainly not dominated by oak, showing a light toast of graham cracker at most, over a richly floral, chocolate cordial and plum aroma. Ready to drink, with classic cassis-flavored fruit, this silky yet textured Cabernet has no need of the chunky, awkward tannins that make many younger Cabs so quickly tiresome.

For perspective, Laurel Glen offers one library vintage with each regular tasting flight. Though the 2009 Laurel Glen Vineyard Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($85) was made in a different facility by a different winemaker, its kinship with the 2012 is readily apparent: a little more subdued, perhaps, with an impression of dusty gravel settling over a brooding plum aroma, this is just as juicy on the palate, and makes clear to me why people are getting reacquainted with this special old vineyard.

Laurel Glen Vineyard, 969 Carquinez Ave., Glen Ellen. Daily, 11am–5pm. Tasting fee, $20. 707.933.9877.


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