The 1998 growing season started late as a result of cool, wet weather in the spring, and was prolonged when the cool weather continued into the summer. Ed, winemaker Laurie Hook and vineyard manager Bob Steinhauer mustered all of their patience to wait for the maturity of flavors and tannins they were seeking and made the decisions when to pick the grapes, vineyard-by-vineyard, block-by-block, often picking areas of a vineyard four or five different times as the clusters completed their development. In some cases, specifically in Beringer’s Howell Mountain vineyards, inconsistent ripeness occurred and Bob’s team had to be especially selective. Harvest of reserve quality Cabernet Sauvignon grapes was between October 23 and November 9th.
With Cabernet of this quality, previous Winemaker Ed takes a minimalist approach to winemaking. He uses gentle pump-over techniques during fermentation for optimal extraction and then ages the wines in hand-selected, custom-toasted barrels of new French Nevers oak from coopers with whom he has long-established relationships. “I buy barrels from several coopers for these wines,” Ed 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.” He puts the wines through 100-percent malolactic fermentation for added complexity and softness, and ages them for nearly two years before bottling.