Grapelive Special Report: Fairchild 2007 Releases Preview Tasting at 750 Wines, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
By Kerry Winslow
April 19, 2010-Napa Valley
The Fairchild Estate is releasing their tiny production Cabernets from the 2007 vintage, two wines, one from Lawrence Fairchild’s hillside vineyard and home property, and the other from the famed Beckstoffer sites, mainly the George III Vineyard and some of the prized To Kalon Vineyard, both from selected blocks. Fairchild continues with Paul Hobbs as winemaker and consultant and again has made stunning and layered wines with the outstanding grape sources available to him. The is no question these wines are some of the most interesting, rich and compelling Cabernets I’ve come across, and I was massively impressed with this estate’s 2006 offerings, of which I wrote about a few months back, though the 2007’s look to be more complex and slightly deeper overall. It was a great pleasure to meet Lawrence Fairchild and get to know him and his vision, to understand what he was after in his wines and how he got started. I find it intriguing where people come from, how they became passionate about wine, and to get inside their heads a bit, and I must say Fairchild is as impressive as his wines, while being easy going, humble and engaging. He also is almost a one man show when it comes to his label, except that he gets great people to do what he can’t do, Paul Hobbs to make the wine and Jim Barbour to tend to the vines show his total commitment to making the best wine possible. Though, every detail is managed by Lawrence, and he oversees everything with great pleasure and intensity, he is the kind of guy that can read the data, understand the science, but also can feel the nature of the vineyard and enjoy it all on every level.
Fairchild says his main interest is being close to his vineyard and understanding the vines, he comes from a farm in Nebraska and grew up reading the crops and knowing what would come at harvest time. This makes him very aware and sensitive to the needs of the vines, so he has one of the best vineyard managers in Napa on call to make sure his vines give the best grapes possible, though this level of care doesn’t come cheap and Fairchild spares no expense to get the best out of his vines, even though they yield only about a ton and a quarter an acre of fruit, that is a tiny amount per plant, but it means total quality. I must say, for what those four barrels cost, you have to admire the passion and effort that he puts in, and the wines show it. Paul Hobbs, one of the premier winemakers and consultants, makes wines that show great richness and depth, but without severe tannins or overripe flavors, all of which led Fairchild to search Hobbs out in the first place, and reflect the style of wine he wanted. Lawrence spent time in the late eighties taking wine classes and tasting seminars in San Francisco learning about and trying Bordeaux and Burgundy wines and got hooked on them, fast becoming more and more interested in wine and vineyards.
He says his first big “Ah Ha” wine moment came when trying a 1990 Premier Cru Red Burgundy that was one of the wines that really put the bug in and pushed him to explore wine more completely. Lawrence also said at the time he had fun buying Chateau Palmer and other quality Bordeaux that at the time were very affordable and gave him a chance to develop his palate. When asked about his early experiences with California wines, he very interestingly said that he was into Zinfandel and mentioned Biale, and then later Outpost as wines he really enjoyed. He credits this time of his life to wanting to make elegant wines that show balance and never too much sugary sweetness or oakiness, as he had long admired the great Chateaux of Bordeaux. With Hobbs, Fairchild has succeeded and his wines are very true to his vision and he can be proud, as they are very much like the best vintage Bordeaux in quality and texture, even if they will not be mistaken for the French wines, they certainly have to class to compete against the world’s best.
Fairchild says he devotes about 30 to 40 percent of his time to his estate, where he lives and the vineyard that makes the estate Sigaro Cabernet Sauvignon, and the rest of his time goes into his consulting and start up business, he went from a farm boy from Nebraska to an investment banker in San Francisco, where he ended up successfully helping companies develop and he has made a name for himself as a savvy investor. His current project is with a small company that is working with the University of Maryland, building a hub for information on the research and treatment of H.I.V globally, looking to create a worldwide database so that doctors and scientists can get the latest results and patient reactions within minutes. They want this global hub to be easily accessed and even easier to upload information to, in fact they are trying to make it so doctors even in remote villages in Africa can do so by using their cellular phones, as there is not much in the way of landlines or broadband in these poorer areas. This seems like an amazing project and one that can make a huge difference in the lives of millions of people, and I am hoping he sees this become as successful as I feel he has achieved in his wines. Without a doubt Lawrence Fairchild is a remarkable guy, and has impressed me with his dedication and pursuit of quality in his life, you just have to admire the grit and energy he puts into everything. He also proves you can be a great success and still be real nice guy and have humility in your relations with people, maybe that is the quality I liked most after meeting him, well then, the wines were pretty darn good too.
The 2007 Fairchild Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, a cuvee of 88% Beckstoffer George III and 12% Beckstoffer To Kalon, is almost a complete change from the 2006 Napa, as that wine had much more To Kalon and some Star Lane, but may just be all that much better for the switch to mostly George III, one of the most famous Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the valley. The wine certainly has more power and structure than the 2006 and will age like a champ, it shows intense fruit that is balanced by ripe, but firm tannins and while it will develop many more interesting layers given time, it all ready has complexity and depth that few 2007 show yet. I still think it would be best to put a few bottles away from 5 to 10 years; the wine would be great with food right now, tonight even. Everything is there to be a true classic, and the proof is in the details, a great vineyard, small production and a great winemaker, you can bank on this wine. The nose is showing hints of floral, mineral, smoke, red and black fruit, while the palate is alive with classic Napa Cab flavors, blackberry, blueberry, currant, crème de cassis, menthol and fresh tobacco leaf and cedar. Nothing is out of place here, the mouth-feel is full and lush, but still very dry and gripping, plus the flavors feel fresh and lifted with some gentle acidity. This serious wine will pump out layers of greatness for decades, of that I am confident, very much like fine Bordeaux, though more true to its own terroir.
Fairchild’s Signature wine is the estate Cab, the 2007 Fairchild Cabernet Sauvignon “Sigaro” Napa Valley. This amazing wine is all ready very compelling with a hedonistic and fragrant bouquet of perfume, violets, lilacs and other wildflowers on the nose with touches of cedar spice, black fruits and vanilla. All this before you even taste the wine itself, which is a good sign for things to come, and good things do come on the palate, in force too. The mouth is filled with black currants, mountain berries, cherry liqueur, blueberries and crème de cassis, while in the background there is plum, melted licorice, a sage like spice and cigar box. A nice elegant cherry and cedar element come out too after some air, as does some mocha, almost chocolate like notes add complexity. All the layers unfold beautifully and as all the wines I’ve tried from this estate everything is well balanced with a very defined focus, while the tannins are well integrated and ripe, giving solid structure with any harshness. This wine is a gem, and pretty close to a masterpiece, I look forward to seeing this wine evolve and trying the next few vintages, as I suspect this tiny vineyard is going to keep producing better and better grapes over the years as it gets age. This vineyard located on the Eastern side of the Napa Valley is close to Lake Hennessy and near Howell Mountain up Conn Valley Road in an area that has good exposure and rocky soils, all of which Cabernet loves. The Sigaro also gets a small touch of Petit Verdot, something like 3% and while that is not much really, it does add a bit of color and gives a little something extra to the wine according to Hobbs and Fairchild, and I did notice the Sigaro looked a shade darker than the Napa Valley, and since they tasted the barrels to make the wine they must have thought it important to splash the Petit Verdot in the blend. This wine is so far my favorite 2007 Cabernet and is a fantastic Cabernet that will both age decades, and drink great whenever you decide to open a bottle, a hallmark of a great wine in my book, and this is the real deal.
*As these wonderful wines are extremely limited, both of which production was a mere 100 cases, or four barrels, I say thanks to Lawrence Fairchild for pouring them for me and a huge thank you to 750 Wines in St. Helena for continuing to invite me to taste such one of kind wines and introducing me to new wineries and great people that have a real passion for what they are doing. I feel very honored and hope my humble feedback helps them get insight into how these wines will be received when then get out on the market. David and Monica Stevens at 750 Wines are paving the way for a new age era wine merchant model and I think they are doing a terrific job and provide sublime service. If you are a wine lover and or collector you need to check them out when you are in Napa, you’ll be rewarded no doubt.
750 Wines (Wine Merchants)
Fairchild Estate (Winery)