You know the names. Maybe you’ve even gotten your hands on a case or two or managed to get a sip here or there at a wine tasting, but it is rare for wine lovers to have had their fill of the powerful, predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines that have elevated California’s global standing in recent decades.
Beginning with the 1976 Judgement of Paris, a blindly judged wine competition in France that awarded two California producers with its winning titles, California wines have built their legacy and position among the best wines in the world. The history of Napa’s cult wine crew began around the same time as Screaming Eagle’s founder Jean Phillips released their 1992 vintage, to extraordinary critical acclaim. In no time at all, small production Cabernet Sauvignon grown often on hillside sites of Napa grew to high demand, and they developed price tags to match. With outstanding ratings, world-wide notoriety, and unparalleled quality, gaining access to these fiercely sought after wines was a dream for most. Today, a chance to taste an Opus One, Colgin, Bryant, Scarecrow, Harlan or an Araujo, to only name a few, is always a treat. These are often the wines that spark the “wine bug” that inspires the evolution of the average wine consumer from casual drinker to full-on fanatic. It is the ripeness of the striking California fruit that maintains acidity, combined with a sincere depth of flavors that evolve in the glass with each taste, plus an ability to age in your cellar for many years that differentiates our favorite cult wines from more ubiquitous bottlings you can find at your local grocer or wine shop.
In our deeper discovery of the California cult wine producers, we often unearth little hidden details about the overly ambitious winemakers themselves, the secret symbols embedded in their labeling and the inventive and unconventional winemaking processes that enthrall us further. Hundred Acre vintner and visionary who began his wine career with no formal viticultural training, Jason Woodbridge, harvests grape to grape rather than by cluster. This is just in part how he produces wines that Robert Parker describes as having “opulent, creamy textures” with “extraordinarily sweet, noble tannins” and anyone who has tasted these wines cannot even begin to argue Parker’s sentiment. Woodbridge is as eccentric as he is ingenious. There is no denying that his bold personality impacts the wines he makes as well as the notoriety they receive. And the name Hundred Acre is inspired by Woodbridge’s association of his first vineyard with the stories of Winnie-the-Pooh, speaking to the winemaker’s personal whimsy and flair for flamboyance. Similarly, Jean Phillips, though never confirming the link between her wines to the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division, which took part in the D-Day landings, called the “Screaming Eagles” only says the name is one that has meant a great deal to her since she was a young girl. Although, there is no denying that the risks and bravery of those WWII paratroopers imitate the fearless, pioneering spirit Phillips engineered for her cult winemaker confrère.
Today, most small Napa producers shun the word “cult” when speaking of their wines, although it is hard to otherwise describe the way in which these bottles are worshipped among California wine oenophiles. Many of these wineries would have you wait years for your first shipment, and who has time for that? Producer of Rhône style California blends, Sine Qua Non, currently has a 10-12 year wait. Schrader Cellars, sourcing grapes from the historic To-Kalon vineyard in Napa, has as many as 8,000 eager fans awaiting their chance to purchase their wines. And yet, Harlan Estate Director, Don Weaver, says “I wish more people could taste and see for themselves,” when discussing his wine’s harmony of fruit, power, and finesse. This is hardly the elitist attitude many uninformed wine drinkers assume of these Napa moguls and expresses more of the passion for these limited production wines than the exclusivity they carry.
You can try your luck purchasing some of these wines on your own online, but it can be a gamble when you consider the lack of care these bottles may have endured during their travels when the source is unknown, especially if the wines have been aging in bottle for several years. At Vinum55, we have built countless relationships with local distributors who have given us access to some of the cult Napa selections for which you might be on the hunt. Through these distributors, you can trust they are providing us with wines that have been well cared for since their release. Our wine trained professionals on our Vinum team, as well as those we know well throughout the Arizona wine community, can source so many gems you might not be able to locate on your own. And if we are unable to source through our own channels, we can recommend the most reputable path for obtaining the wines you seek. We are eager to access the best wines for our members and it is our highest goal to provide you with access to the inimitable wines of California and anything else that fulfills your wine obsessions.