The 2003 growing season started out cold but a warm spell in late March encouraged normal budbreak and flowering in the Cabernet vineyards. Generally cool temperatures continued through most of the summer, resulting in well-developed flavors in the fruit. Temperatures warmed at harvest in Napa Valley, allowing the grapes to achieve full physiological maturity. The weather was dry and generally cooler until September when warmer temperatures helped the Cabernet vineyards along in their development, allowing full ripening. The quality was promising at harvest and Ed was optimistic that the vintage would be very good to excellent.
Chabot Vineyard lies east of the Silverado Trail, just north of the road that leads up Howell Mountain to Bancroft Ranch and Steinhauer Ranch. The chunks of shiny obsidian heavily strewn through its soil reflect the locale, known as “Glass Mountain.” An underlying layer of pumice and bedrock ensures excellent drainage. The inky, highly structured, deeply flavored Cabernet from this vineyard was the first that Beringer Vineyards Winemaster Ed Sbragia elected to bottle as a Private Reserve, in 1977, and he has continued to bottle a small amount each year since as a singlevineyard Cabernet. The 2003 Chabot Cabernet has the vineyard’s distinctive flavors, layering black currant with hints of mint, cedar and cocoa in a plush mouth.
With Cabernet of this quality, Ed and Laurie take a minimalist approach to winemaking. They use gentle pump-over techniques during fermentation for optimal extraction and then age the wines in hand-selected, customtoasted barrels of new French Nevers oak from coopers with whom Ed has long-established relationships. “I buy barrels from several coopers for these wines,” he explains. “Oak can be as individual as grapes, and different coopers bring out different nuances just as winemakers do. Some barrels are spicier, some have more caramel and vanilla notes.” The wines are put through 100-percent malolactic fermentation for added complexity and softness, and then aged for nearly two years before bottling.