Cultish developments in California

Labels of five Bond wines - Pluribus, Quella, St Eden, Melbury, Vecina

In view of the topic of today's tasting article, we thought it would be fun for this week's Throwback Thursday to revive one of our earliest articles about California, written more than 18 years ago.

18 February 2021 A real blast from the past below, about plans for what was to become Harlan's very successful Bond range of cult Cabernets from a number of different Napa Valley sites.

24 October 2002 Bryant Family Cabernet, one of the most opulent but arguably least subtle of the California cult Cabs, will no longer be made by queen of Californian consultant winemakers Helen Turley. Don Bryant will in future be depending on Philippe Melka, assisted by – who else? – Michel Rolland of Pomerol to garner those high scores.

Rolland is also a fixture at Harlan Estate, another Napa auction star. Look out for future releases from a series of vineyards Bill Harlan has under exclusive contract in various locations around Napa Valley. The aim is to capitalise on their own unique features, but not necessarily their addresses. At least when I discussed this with the team earlier this year from my strange perspective of being a) European and b) obsessed by wine geography, Harlan and his team seemed to shy away from developing consumer awareness of the influence of specified places on the wines. The intention seems to be to develop sub-brands owned by Harlan. I can quite understand this from a commercial point of view, but find myself constantly frustrated by Napa Valley vintner insistence on the Valley's marvellous mix of different environments while being unwilling to educate the consumer about their direct influence on what's in the bottle. It can be all too difficult to find any location more specific than 'Napa Valley' on the great majority of labels on wines grown there. [2021 update: I'm pleased to see that the Bond website, from which the labels above were taken, has a map and details of the locations of the Bond vineyards – JR.]

Most Californian wine drinkers and wine consumers probably won't even understand my point, but that's the beauty of having your own website – you can ride your own hobby horses as often as you like.

Meanwhile, presumably every Californian wine producer is sniffing round his cellar nervously in the wake of Wine Spectator's 'shock' revelation that Beaulieu Vineyards wines have consistently elevated levels of TCA. Bordeaux analyst Pascal Chatonnet of Lab Excell specialises in sorting such problems out (he has worked closely with Vega Sicilia, for example). Pascal Chatonnet's email address, by the way, for those of a nervous disposition, is lab_excell@compuserve.com, a technical service established from a base in Bordeaux with – guess who? – Michel Rolland.

Pascal Chatonnet, Lab Excell, Parc Innolin, 10 rue du Golf, 33700 Merignac, France
tel: +33 5 57 92 02 10, fax: +33 5 57 92 02 15