With the debut release of “Lineage,” the Steven Kent Winery has brought to fruition a one hundred and sixty year old mission – to produce a “Bordeaux-style” red from Livermore Valley that ranks among the New World’s greatest, most collectable wines.
In the 1880s, pioneering winegrowers began to discover the potential of the Livermore Valley region. Then, as today, LV’s climate and soils closely resemble those of Bordeaux’s famed left bank of the Gironde. The region has an east-west orientation, making it unique among northern California winegrowing districts. This allows the coastal fog and marine breezes to come in from nearby San Francisco Bay and cool the Valley, resulting in warm days and cool nights. Early vintners also recognized in LV’s gravelly soil types the good drainage and heat storage factors necessary for growing top quality vines.
This Bordeaux “relationship” was put into practice when pioneering Livermore winegrower Charles Wetmore visited Bordeaux and brought back cuttings from the Haut Médoc’s noble first growth, Chateau Margaux – to propagate his own and neighboring LV vineyards. Small wonder then, that at the 1889 Paris Exposition (to this day, still the most important, grandest World Fair of them all), two of three Gold Medal-awarded wines from America went to Livermore Valley properties, including Wetmore’s.
By 1889, Livermore Valley was already far ahead of its Napa Valley neighbor in specializing in the Bordeaux varietals. In the official California State grape census of that year, 25 different growers in LV reported 402 bearing acres of the five classic Bordeaux varietals; against only 12 growers in Napa, most of whom listed “Cabernet” as a secondary varietal on their properties, behind Zinfandel. The LV winegrowers’ reports are much more detailed, as well – recording to the one-half acre level their estate’s varietal make-ups between Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec. Clearly, crafting New World “clarets” was on LV’s agenda from the outset. Decades later, science caught up and reaffirmed what the local winegrowers already knew – a 1950’s report from famed U.C. Davis professor A. J. Winkler specifically identified the climate and soils of the Livermore Valley region as optimally suited to growing the Bordeaux varietals.
Tucked away on the corner of Reuss and Tesla Roads in the upper Livermore Valley is a 64-acre site, situated on a sloped, alluvial bench with well-draining, “outwash” shaly loam soils from the surrounding hillsides. The Ghielmetti family chose this spot, intending from Day One to establish LV’s “premier cru” Bordeaux property. Planted over the course of two years in 2001-2002 by well-known Napa consultants Jim Regusci and Cary Gott, the vineyard is home to 10 different grape varieties organized into 19 separate blocks.
Ghielmetti Vineyard is roughly rectangular in shape but tends to flow downward from all sides toward an arroyo that runs through the estate from north to south. The vineyard is topographically varied, ranging in elevation from 500 to almost 1000 feet above sea level. Within the site itself are a number of undulating blocks that provide different exposures to sun and wind. The vineyard was laid out specifically to take advantage of these changes in elevation and the six different soil types comprising the site, with varieties and rootstocks carefully selected to match the micro terroir.
Ghielmetti Vineyard became the predominant fruit source for The Steven Kent Winery in 2005. It is planted to all five Bordeaux varieties (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Malbec) with five different clones of Cabernet Sauvignon (4, 6, 30, 191, and 337).
Encouraged by the acclaim and popularity of his limited-release, individual-clone “Premier Cabernet Collection” wines, Steven Kent Mirassou was ready to move forward with a long-held-personal mission: the creation of a single “Bordeaux-style” wine from the Livermore Valley that would be destined to take its place among the world’s great reds. The 2007 debut vintage of “Lineage” was that wine – just five barrels blended from the Ghielmetti Vineyard’s best “Bordeaux” blocks. Specifically…
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 30: Dark cherry and cassis flavors, fine-grained tannins and acidity. Less opulent but more ageworthy than Clone 4.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 191: Cassis, coffee, and mocha flavors, angular, tannic structure and lengthy, persistent finish.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 4: Powerhouse rich, viscous flavors of dark fruit and chocolate with broad tannins.
Cabernet Franc: Not as “big” as CS but with more finesse and an aromatic palate of sandalwood and chocolate. Acidity is the watchword of this variety. Its acid-based red fruit flavors marry well with the darker more tannic Cabernet Sauvignon to enliven and length Lineage’s finish.
Petit Verdot: Contributes tannin, color, and grapey aromas and flavors of violet and black fruit. This variety helps to build density in the mid-palate of the wine.
Malbec: Adds fruit and tannin; quite different from Cabernet in its sauvage mix of dried berry and raspberry fruit notes. It signature aromatic note is obvious when the wine is young. As Lineage ages, the Malbec takes on a dried-fruit edge and nice acidity.
Merlot: Noble variety of Bordeaux’s Right Bank; as counterpoint to CS’s austere structure, Merlot is fleshy and opulent; ripe red/dark cherry flavor, a touch of herbal complexity which adds to Lineage’s rich mid-palate.
The inaugural release of Lineage marked an exciting new chapter in the long winegrowing history of the Livermore Valley appellation. But for Steven Kent Mirassou, it is not an achievement on which to rest but an ongoing, very personal journey: “A wine’s beauty is a complicated thing as what is beautiful about it differs from taster to taster: a great intensity of flavor, the way the wine pairs with food, the sense-memory it brings up unbidden like Proust’s Madeleine, the way wine helps one to overcome the travails of the day, to put a little shine on everything and everyone you see… All of these things beautiful wines do”.
“It’s in the lifting us out of the ordinary that great wines work their magic. They cause a momentary sense of otherness, a slight pause, a sense of completeness and wonder. The best wines are those that cause you to look at things again. It is too easy to say that my family has been making wine for 157 years and that I am the sixth generation of America’s oldest winemaking family. That’s just history. Much more important and interesting for me is how that experience translates into making ever better wines. Or, in this instance, a memorable, single, great statement wine.”
Lineage is the result of truly great vineyard site and one winemaker’s journey to craft Cabernet-based wines of the highest order. It is born of the need to have the effort mean something; for the wine to be a symbol of the passion to create something of great quality, an emblem of one family’s generations-long commitment to the grape.
“Steven Kent is producing today’s greatest Livermore Cabernets, wines that hearken back to the valley’s roots as one of California’s best wine regions.” – Wine Enthusiast Magazine