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
Marston Vineyard perches on the slopes of Spring Mountain to the west of St. Helena, just a few miles uphill from the site of the Beringer brothers’ original St. Helena Home vineyard. The restrictive soil, mostly stony loam, produces grapes with highly developed fruit flavors. Within the vineyard, the terrain rises from 1,900 to 2,000 feet, varying between steep, terraced slopes to gently rolling land. The 2003 Marston Cabernet has perfumed scents of violets and brambly wild berries, with lots of spice and a touch of Spring Mountain “dust,” giving it a distinctive earthy, mineral quality. Its firm tannins support concentrated red and black fruit flavors into a long finish.
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 handselected, custom-toasted 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.