To the wine connoisseur, Oakville is synonymous with the magnificence and the majesty of California Cabernet Sauvignon. But for those of us who do not spend our waking hours tasting wine and researching viticulture philosophies, Oakville is just another region in the Napa Valley. To the untrained eye, Oakville is a sleepy town on Highway 29, but it has become California’s epicenter for Cabernet production.
H. W. Crabb first broke ground in Oakville in the middle of the nineteenth century. His To Kalon Vineyard marked the launching point of a storied winemaking history in Oakville, involving battles with Phylloxera and Prohibition; and its ultimate rise to excellence.
Phylloxera (pronounced: Phil – ox – erra) is an aphid like insect that lives its parasitic lifecycle on the rootstocks of grape vines. This menace brought many vineyards to their knees, resulting in the largest wholesale devastation of vineyards in California’s history. Crabb did not succumb to the perilous aphid; instead, he pioneered the implementation of Phylloxera resistant rootstocks. This saved To Kalon Vineyard, and laid the foundations for all Napa Valley Vineyards that followed.
These Oakville Vineyards, whose rise to prominence began in the 1950’s, utilized perfect Cabernet growing conditions to revolutionize California Wine. Warm, sunny days are the primary aspect of the Oakville microclimate that lends itself to Cabernet production. To the south of Oakville are the Yountville Mounts, which block much of the fog that creeps through the valley from the San Pablo Bay. This allows the Cabernet grapes to bask in the sun’s glory, giving rise to fruit forward, complex and balanced Cabs.
Some of the best Cabs in the world come from this historic region. And the crème de la crème of Oakville is Robert Mondavi’s Opus One. Anyone who has tasted this opulent Bordeaux blend can attest to its brilliance.
Even though Oakville enjoys an ideal climate, the soil of this region lays the foundation for premium quality Bordeaux blends and varietals. The home to the best vineyards and wineries in Oakville is affectionately known as the Oakville Bench. This name originated from the landscape of the area; located above the valley floor, but at the base of the Mayacamas Mountains. Ever since the Sonoma Volcanics blanketed Napa County with ash millions of years ago, nutrient rich sediment has been washing down from the mountains, covering the Oakville Bench. This, along with the sandy, rocky soil which naturally exists in Oakville allows for elaborate, penetrating root systems and healthy vines. These vines in turn produce grapes with unmatched flavor and intensity.
It then is then in the vintner’s hands to turn these quality building blocks into opulent world class wines. Because of their world wide recognition, Oakville wineries can attract some of the best winemakers in the world. This distinguished list includes Heidi Barrett; one of the best, if not the best female vintner in the world. Her expertise is used by Paradigm Winery to produce wines that have gained a reputation for excellence among connoisseurs.
The definition of a Paradigm is an example that serves as a pattern or model. This exemplifies the wines that Barrett and Paradigm produce. Their Estate Bottled Cabernet Sauvignon embodies the true glory of Oakville. If you get your hands on a bottle from this up and coming winery, make room in your cellar.
Some of the best wine collections in the world boast a Cabernet Sauvignon from Screaming Eagle. Located in the hills above the Oakville Bench, Screaming Eagle is the epitome of a cult winery. In fact, their 1997 Cab scored a perfect 100 from Robert Parker of Wine Enthusiast. Many wineries lay claim to perfection, but Screaming Eagle walks the walk. If you want to enjoy a wine from Screaming Eagle, get ready to empty the kid’s college fund. I have never seen any of their Cabs sold for less than one thousand dollars, and some fetch a price upwards of five thousand dollars per bottle; ouch.
Unfortunately, no one can taste Screaming Eagle wines without purchasing them. They do not have a tasting room that is open to the pubic. But many other Oakville Wineries do have tasting tours, and you could spend your entire trip to the Napa Valley in Oakville alone.
There are numerous small wineries in Oakville that have earned distinction. One of these wineries is Dolce, whose slogan is “Liquid Gold from Napa Valley.” Their flagship wine ranked 20th in Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 100 wines of 2003”. Visiting their beautiful winery is a pleasure that everyone should enjoy. wine tours from portland oregon