After some time living in Napa Valley, you learn to accept the fact that almost everyone in the valley makes a Cabernet blend. The trick, in my opinion, is finding the best one (quality wise) that's worth the precious dimes you spend all week accumulating. My personal favorite, thus far, is the Napa Valley 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by Vellum Wine Craft.
This 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, and 6% Petit Verdot blend is true to its Napa roots, but it shows some unique qualities that I have said "out rank Opus One for sure." In a year to year comparison (of the 2007 vintage), the Opus One could not touch the quality and style of Vellum. (For those who do not purchase high priced wines, Opus One is a unique brand started by Robert Mondavi and Baroness Philippine de Rothschild in the Napa Valley. It's usually marketed at about $140.00 per bottle, but of course this price fluctuates depending on the vintage year, year of purchase, etc. Opus One usually receives rave reviews by wine experts.) Nonetheless, Vellum is essentially one of the few Cabs that I can truly say, "I enjoy."
Personally, Vellum is also very near and dear to my heart, as I have had the pleasure of meeting and befriending the co-founders, Karl Lehmann (Winemaker) and Jeff Mathy (Proprietor), of this unique production. This is why I also have the opportunity to share with you some of the winemaker's personal feelings with wine:
What inspired you to become a winemaker?
When I was younger I never thought about being a winemaker. Being an outsider in this business, I never had the opportunity or connection to be involved with wine. My parents were my inspiration in what I wanted to do. They are involved in the sciences and also very good cooks. So, they cultivated in me my instincts for the composition of things for as long as I could remember. Wine was the final step for me.
What is your favorite part about being a winemaker?
Wine can always be improved upon. It's never perfect, that is its mystery and power. I like to think of myself as part of the pursuit of its perfection. So, my favorite part of winemaking has been digging out full tanks of grapes. That is when I am reminded of what this craft is all about.
Tell me about Vellum. How did you choose the name?
The name Vellum was chosen for me by co-founder, Jeff Mathy. He understood my love of ancient literature and the bond wine shared with the people who wrote it. Vellum was the transference of that knowledge. It stands the test of time so I wanted to help create wine that would do the same.
How would you describe a glass of Vellum?
Aromas of cassis, bramble, espresso grounds, and graphite evolve slowly out of Vellum with a heady impact. The palate ties in with the nose and integrates well. The wine is seamless tip to tail. It is powerful and light at the same time with tightly wound but forgiving tannins that make for a very fine fabric. The acid frames the wine neatly and lends itself to a very long finish.
What is the perfect meal with a bottle of Vellum?
I have always appreciated many flavours that Vellum complements and I am be no means done experimenting. I have recently discovered matings with root vegetables, various fungi and oily herbs, and it does not shy away from game. My perfect meal, I think so far, has been grilled venison.
What I love about Vellum is that is captures the essence of Napa - a fine Cabernet blend that accurately represents the style of this region while imposing some unique features otherwise not seen in other well-recognized brands. Additionally, I'm a bit biased as Karl is from Pennsylvania (so I have to put a fine shout out for the easterners). It also represents the pursuit of business from an outsider, in an industry concentrated with wines for every consumer. But additionally, it is the price. Vellum, as special as it is, comes at a price around $60.00 per bottle. Now, I can already seeing my dad laughing in his chair saying he can buy a gallon of wine for $10.00, but remember what is we are buying here. A Napa Valley Cab; one that can kick it with the big dogs. We're not talking about some little dog sitting on the porch. Regardless, if you want to compare - what is the better deal? $140.00 for a brand or $60.00 for the real thing? (A thrifty wine buy to add to the "special collection," if I may say so myself.)
*Disclosure* Not to kick myself in the teeth, Opus One is an interesting experience if you ever have the chance to visit. The architecture is quite unique, and the winery is marvelous. They also home some very fancy, plush couches that I found incredibly comfortable!*
Karl and Jeff also keep a very interesting blog: http://blog.vellumwines.com/. This comes highly recommended. Please note, that Vellum is introducing their first white wine in the 2010 vintage.
I've rated the 2007 Vellum twice - once in 2009 (during the summer months) and another time in July 2010. I must say that in 2010, I enjoyed the integration and aging of the wine much more than when I tasted it in 2009. "Johnny Depp", ever the man's man, said he enjoyed the "rougher" edge of the 2007 Cab when we tasted it in 2009. As the wine has aged slightly, the tannins have definitely smoothed out, the alcohol perception has slightly decreased, and the fruit has become quite pronounced... which is probably why I prefer it more now. However, after tasting Karl's 2008, I think we can all agree that the best is yet to come. I highly recommend it, but please note, these tasting notes are on the 2007 vintage. Cheers!
The D-2010 WineDex! (I need to copyright this...)
2007 Cabernet Sauvignon by Vellum Wine Craft
Appearance (10 points possible): deep garnet red color, with good color depth, non-filtered - 10 points
Aroma/Bouquet (20 points possible): black fruit, dark chocolate, herbal, with hints of tobacco, currants (cassis), berried jams, toasted oak, and spice; alcohol slightly dominates after sniffing for awhile - 18 points
Taste (10 points possible): medium bodied entry with smooth, round tannins in the mid-palate. alcohol hits you in the finish (slightly), but the finish lingers for a long time. flavors of red fruit, slight oak, and chocolate tingle the taste buds - 9 points
Balance (5 points possible): incredibly integrated from one section of the palate to the next. the only "unbalanced feature," for me, will always be the recognition of the hotness in the finish. - 4 points
Finish (5 points possible): finish lingers for a long time, and is quite solid, with some reference to the alcohol. hints of fruit and slight oak. - 4 points
Add 50 points for attempt, packaging, closure, etc.
Total Points: 95 points for the 2007 --> can't wait to review the '08!
Overall Thought: The packaging of Vellum is quite appealing, and again, a fantastic bargain for the quality of the wine from the Napa Valley region. I must say that I prefer the 2008 vintage more so than the 2007, but again, the 2007 is well done. What differentiates the 2007 and 2008 is the aroma and the finish. In the 2008, the aroma is bountiful - more dark fruit, spice, herbs, that perfect marriage of oak and fruit, a hint of blueberries and espresso beans. The finish dominates in such a positive way in the 2008, which is what makes it superior to its 2007 counterpart. As I've heard some people describe a finish, "It dances in your throat for quite some time." Take it as you will!
Food Pairings: We've paired Vellum with several dishes, including pasta (a meat lasagna) and steak. But we've also found it pleasant with hamburgers and hot dogs. Who knew you could sophisticate burgers and dogs on the grill? ;)
Cost: $56.00Splurge Factor (out of 4): 3 - but again, consider what is up against! However, a fine amount of money well worth the purchase!
Where to buy: Jeff works very hard to distribute Vellum across the U.S. For more information, please visit the website at: http://www.vellumwines.com/index.html. You can also make online purchases.