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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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Winemaker Interview: Philippe Dambrine

Describe your winemaking philosophy?

Modern-Classic. A combination of technology, cultural roots and strong feeling.

What wines or winemakers helped influence your philosophy?

Emile Peynaud is my choice! I had the great opportunity to meet and talk with him for a full afternoon back in 1985. I asked him many questions about his own philosophy and he very kindly answered all of them. This was a new start for me, of which I still feel the boost.

How involved in grape-growing are you? Is there a particular vineyard site that wows you year after year?

Running the vineyard is the key. If you don’t understand the vines you won’t be able to make wine. There is always an amazing spot in the vineyard. Whatever the season, when you walk in it, you know that everything is going well.

How do you think your palate has evolved over the years? How do you think that’s influenced your wines?

My palate is much more selective than it used to be. This may have influenced my way of working. I hope for better results.

What kinds of food do you like to pair your wines with?

I like to play with the temperature of the wine. I can do a young second wine at low temperature with all kind of grilled fishes. Otherwise I drink top wines with my main course. I don’t spend much time with cheese and only with white wines … I love chocolate with old reds!

Any changes planned for coming vintages?

I would love to tell you that we found a way to speed up the aging of our vines.

Is there a style of wine you think appeals to critics that might not represent your favorite style? How do you deal with it?

There is a style of wine that seems to appeal to all kind of critics. I call it the “Spherical Wine Syndrome.” It is like having a big bowl in the mouth. It’s very impressive at first, but the second shot is pretty hard to swallow. Most of the critics are just tasting and spitting when they judge a wine. They obviously give the highest rating to this style of wine. Sometimes I dream to force one of them to finish his glass…

What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine?

It’s like leaving home for a holiday. You have to change your habits and be more relaxed. That’s what I feel when I taste wines I don’t make.

Do you collect wine? What’s in your cellar?

Sorry but I’m a very poor wine collector. Being in the wine business give me so many opportunities to enjoy great wines from all over the world that I always forget to put wines away.

What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing the wine industry today?

Education is the biggest challenge on our part. We are small individual growers who are facing a world wide market. It’s quite hard to explain our philosophy to consumers that have been recently introduced to wine drinking.


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