- Rating: 97 out of 100
- Tasting Fee: $50 or Free with Purchases
- Accepts Reservations: Yes
- Reservation Required: true
Pope Valley, CA 94567
Not all of the best places in Napa are the highly rated (e.g. Lokoya), produced by someone famous (e.g. Michel Rolland) or have a well-established pedigree (e.g. Opus One). Some are family businesses that truly enjoy making good wine and sharing it with others. Add unassuming, hard-to-find, and approachable to that mix, and you have Clark-Claudon. I first had a bottle of Clark-Claudon Cabernet Sauvignon after seeing it ranked fairly high on Vivino. As soon as I poured myself a glass, I was hooked. Deep inky color, a very fresh nose of blue/black fruit, and crushed rocks in the palate profile - it was one of my first Cabernets where the fruit and secondary/tertiary flavor characteristics truly harmonized for me. So I looked them up on the internet, sent an email requesting a tasting and set off on my journey to pay homage.
First off, I want to say that Laurie Claudon may be one of the nicest, most generous people in the Wine Industry. During the course of our tasting, we spilled water and broke a glass, yet she was gracious through it all. And the passion she showed for their wine was just truly inspiring. There are two places that you can schedule the tasting: 1) at Alpha Omega as Clark Claudon borrows AO’s facilities for their wine production process; or 2) at their vineyard just behind Howell Mountain in the Pope Valley. While the Alpha Omega campus is beautiful, Laurie recommends conducting the wine tasting at their vineyard and I wholeheartedly agree with that recommendation. I will warn you - it’s a trek to get up there (25min from the Route 29), so try to schedule some other wine tastings up there as well or make it your first or last tasting of the day for travel time purposes.
Their tasting room on Howell Mountain is actually an small house that has been converted into a mini-office. Your host (Laurie or her husband) will greet you with their Sauvignon Blanc and a as cheese/meat plate to enjoy with their red wines during the tasting. If you ask nicely, you can even walk up into the vineyards with some wine and get a beautiful look at the rolling hills that produce these incredible wines. Speaking of which, the tasting lineup looks like the following. NOTE: When buying wines from Clark-Claudon, I highly recommend becoming a First-Flight member as you save 40% off the wine without necessarily needing an allocation. The prices below reflect the “First-Flight” membership price.
- 2017 Wild Iris (Sauvignon Blanc) ($34.58)
- Another wonderful Sauvignon Blanc – I really like how this one turned out due to the Howell Mountain AVA terroir. Fragrant, light bodied but good mouthfeel, a nice touch of minerality, and good fruit development that makes it to melon in terms of ripeness. At the First-Flight price, this wine is a steal.
- 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($89.78)
- 14.2% ABV, 2 years in 65% new French Oak. It’s a coincidence that the 20th Anniversary Estate Cabernet is one of the best Napa vintages in recent memory. But it’s not a coincidence that this bottle turned out well – the winemakers did a great job of harnessing and expressing the cacao and cigar box of the terroir, while balancing it with red/black fruit and maintaining the acidity structure. One of the few 2013s you can drink now if you wanted, but I can feel the forest floor flavor will make an appearance in the future, adding to the complexity.
- 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($89.78)
- 14.9% ABV, 2 years in 65% new French Oak. It’s funny - what’s true of the valley floor is not nessarily true of the mountain AVAs. That’s why they are their own AVAs! Although 2013 was known as a tremendous vintage in Napa with great ripe fruit and 2012 less so, for Clark-Claudon, their 2012 Cab is actually higher in alcohol (so the fruit was more ripe) than the 2013! And you can feel that in this wine. Instead of cigar box, this has more tobacco leaf and other lighter tertiary flavors to go along with its core of black fruit. Again, complex yet balanced.
- 2013 Eternity (Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) ($133)
- 15% ABV, 2 years in 70% new French Oak. Take everything about the 2013 Estate Cab, add a bit more fruit development (cassis and fruitcake), more tertiary complexity (think cedar as well), a bigger/smoother body, and you get this wine. Simply wonderful, but not quite ready to drink just yet because of the tannin structure. Instead, wait a few years on this wine and pop open the 2011 instead as its in the perfect drinking window.
- 2011 Eternity (Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon) ($133)
- There is a levity to this wine and a total integration / smoothing of the tannins that make it utterly irresistible right now. 2011 was a down year for the majority of Napa to be sure, but all of the great wineries were still able to produce great wines that year and this is a great example. Again, what’s true of the valley floor may not be true of the Mountain AVAs! Ready to drink now, it’s hard to keep your hands off it.
In summary, the Estate Cabernets are exactly as I remember them with the 2013 having a bit more strength and tannin. The Eternities add layers of richness and depth to the attractive parts of the Estate Cabernet. Many of the people who visited with me also chose the 2011 Eternity over the 2013 despite knowing the 2013 had a higher score and possible potential. But when you drink something great, you want more of that greatness tomorrow, not 5-10 years from now. That immediate gratification mentality may be indicative of my generation’s wine drinker, but I don’t think its wrong (see: Heidi Barrett’s style, Barolo production changes, etc.)
The theme of Clark Claudon’s wines seems to be bringing out what the mountain fruit wants, rather than fitting it into the Napa Valley Wine Drinker’s box. If you like big rich Cabernets that still feel fresh and reflect their terroir, then go buy this wine since there isn’t very much produced. And make a visit to the winery if you can - this is a wonderful family running a small, but quality operation who enjoy having people over to share that joy with!
Rating: 97 out of 100