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So why is the 2012 Ladera Cabernet—made from almost entirely from Howell Mountain fruit, from an incredible vintage—sitting pretty at $34.99? I honestly can't tell you. Maybe it's because no one knows how good the Ladera holdings in Howell Mountain are. Or maybe it's the pride that winemaker Jade Barrett takes in making a serious wine for a reasonable price. Or maybe it's because Ladera is an overlooked gem in a sea of Napa alternatives. For whatever the reason, I'm not going to complain. We tasted the 2012 vintage at our staff training yesterday and I was just floored by the quality of this wine. Dark, fleshy fruit cloaked in fine tannins, bits of earth, and in total balance, with enough gusto to go the long haul in your cellar. It's a whole lotta wine for $34.99, and it's made primarily from Howell Mountain grapes, harvested during a great vintage. 

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Thursday
May242007

Pure Wine: Varner

The whole natural wine movement is pretty clearly established in France, but what about in the U.S.? It’s not a unified movement like it is overseas, but there are definitely people doing the right thing. Bob and Jim Varner planted their vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the ’80s. They’d heard that vines planted on their own rootstock produce better wines, so that’s what they did. In the late 19th century an epidemic spread throughout the vineyards of Europe; a root parasite called phylloxera decimated the vineyards of France and then made its way throughout the rest of the continent. A solution to the problem was found in the roots of native American grape vines. When the classic European wine varieties were grafted on American rootstock, they were able to resist phylloxera. The epidemic was cured, but many people claim that the quality of the wine was affected. Two of the Varner’s vineyards have been producing Chardonnay from vines growing on their own roots for 23 years. These vines are still healthy and produce wines that are distinctive and speak of the vineyards where they grow. Farming is non-interventionist; the Varners let the microbial life of the soil do its own thing. Wine making is simple and relatively hands off. Fermentation is done by wild yeast, sulfur is only added at bottling. The resulting wines are delicious and distinctive, crisp and lively expressions of Chardonnay with healthy acidity and individual character. The 2005 Varner Ampitheater Block Chardonnay ($27.99) is crisp and citrusy, while the 2005 Varner Home Block Chardonnay ($29.99) is pleasantly nutty with a touch of earthiness. The vineyards are adjacent, but they each have a unique flavor—and that is the goal of natural winemaking. —Paul Courtright

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