When you think Monterey, what varietals do you think of? I’m going to guess the brain heads straight to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Indeed, the overall cool climate of the larger Monterey AVA is known for its maritime influence, as it’s nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Monterey Bay — ideal conditions for the picky Pinot Noir and for crafting Chardonnay with crisp acidity. But when Monterey was first embarked upon as a winemaking region, the first vineyards planted were to, none other than the king of grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Of course what we know now about soil composition and climate has greatly changed. Our enhanced understanding has allowed grape growers to plant grapes where they’ll thrive best. The Hames Valley, where Ranch 32 grows their Cabernet is one of the warmer portions of Monterey. Located at the foot of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the valley is sheltered from the afternoon winds and cooling temperatures that otherwise stream through the regions. And it is because of this warmth, along with the shaly loam soils, that Cabernet reigns supreme in the Hames Valley.
I wouldn’t say I’m into the rosé craze, but I will admit that more winemakers are crafting beautiful rosés, paying more attention to the specificity of flavors and textures innate in the grape’s variety. I’d say I’ve had the worst luck with Pinot Noir rosé’s — they seem to be over-extracted, too fruit forward, too one-dimensional, and, I hate to say it, too pink. But again, I’ve been noticing a difference over the past few years, and I can tell you for certain that Clos du Val has it right. Subtle aromas, hints of texture, and a sunset-orange hue: everything I wasn’t expecting from a rosé of Pinot Noir, but everything I love when sipping a rosé any day.
Clos du Val built their foundation like many Napa wineries did in the 1970s, with the great, noble Cabernet Sauvignon grape. According to the winery, the “crown jewel” of their estate program is the Hirondelle Vineyard located in the Stags Leap District. The vineyard spans 100 acres and is planted to nine different Cabernet Sauvignon Clones.
Stag’s Leap’s place along the valley floor gets love from the sun and cooling breezes from the San Pablo Bay, which means grapes plush tannins but also a vibrant acidity. This is probably why — as you’ll see in my notes — Clos du Val is able to craft an age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon that is also completely approachable now.
There are so many different styles of Chardonnay — from the crisp and refreshing, a result from 100% stainless steel fermentation and aging, to the full-out butter-bombs that occur from an abundant use of fresh oak and 100% malolactic fermentation. And then everything in between. How a Chardonnay tastes and feels is almost exclusively determined by the winemaker’s chosen process. Which Chardonnay you enjoy, well that is ultimately up to your personal palate. What I love about this Clos du Val Chardonnay is that it’s for the folks who are going to Dante’s fourth circle — the folks who can’t make up their minds. Soft palate, vibrant acidity, and depending on the temperature as milky (or not!) as you like.
Clos du Val is a name that I’d heard of but had yet to experience until just recently. The winery has been around since the 1970s Napa Valley boom and it seems that they’ve not just lasted through the years, but have developed and refined both their vineyards and their winemaking, becoming the triumph they are today. Once a Cab-dominant wine program, Clos du Val now boasts a full portfolio showcasing all the varietals the region does well. In the past I’ve been hesitant about Carneros Pinot Noirs — and, yes, I know it’s something the sub-AVA is known for. It’s just within these past two or three years that I’ve seen an increase in a more “hands-off” approach span across both grape growers and winemakers in this area, and I have to say that the results have been phenomenal (and delicious). Case and point is this estate Pinot Noir from Clos du Val.