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Wine to me is passion. It's family and friends. It's warmth of heart and generosity of spirit. Wine is art. It's culture. It's the essence of civilization and the art of living. - Robert Mondavi

Bell Cellars - Secrets of the Cab Clones

Tuesday, March 13, 2012
I first came across Bell Cellars while on an early morning run in Yountville, Napa with my husband, Garrett. We love taking advantage of the flat, beautiful trail that runs alongside St. Helena Highway 29 . When we’re feeling curious, we’ll ventureoff the path which inevitably leads us to hidden wineries which never cease to surprise and delight me! We had to pause and take a peek when we discovered Bell - the exquisite pale stone winery, just south of downtown Yountville. The outside of the winery is beautifully erected to look like an Italian villa - the patio boasts a wood fired pizza oven, two bocce ball courts and outdoor patio seating that’s perfect for leisurely enjoying a picnic, a sunset with friends or a romantic glass of Bell’s sparkling wine. As we were investigating the premises, we came across Johanne Lefebre, Bell’s retail sales and hospitality manager, picking red roses to set out in the winery for the day. It was such a quaint, pleasant and intimate run-in, that we vowed come back to taste the wine! We returned to Bell a few months later, but we were using the gorgeous winery and surrounding vineyards for our engagement photo shoot with incredible photographer, Andre Niesing, and didn’t have time for a formal tour and tasting of the property.

Six months after our wedding, Garrett and I finally scheduled a private tour and tasting for 11:30 am and were pleased to find the inside of the winery is as well-designed and beautiful as the exterior. Inside the tasting room, soothing music filled the air and we were delighted to be welcomed by Johanne by name. We were basically the only folks in the winery - one of the perks of finding hidden treasures like this and the Reserve Room was set beautifully for our tasting. Johanne tailored a great private tour of the winery and tasting to us based on our schedule after welcoming us with a taste of unfiltered 2011 Sauvignon Blanc straight out of the tank, which already showed crisp green apple and citrus and a nice minerality on the palate. This tasting of Sauvignon Blanc was a great way to start the day as it cleansed our palate for the big red wines to come and also nodded at winemaker Anthony Bell’s Roots in South Africa.

After growing up in South Africa, Bell spent his teenage years working in Spain, France, and South Africa. In the US, Bell got his Masters degree in enology at U.C. Davis, and had a 15-year tenure at BV, became the general manager and raised the bar on BV's grape quality by conducting groundbreaking research into the differences and impact of clonal variations on Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s the Cab clonal research that makes Bell wines so special - they use only Clone 4, 6, 7 and 337. We looked at photos of each clone and I was shocked to find that Clone 6 has about a third of the berries that you’d see on a typical cluster of grapes making it appear almost sickly it’s so sparse. But therein lies the secret to the intense highly concentrated wines that Bell produces from 100% Clone 6, and the only winery in Napa that makes wine exclusively from this clone. The small amount of grapes on the cluster allows more nutrients to go into each grape, so while this produces a smaller yield, it produces much more intensely concentrated wines.

Bell Cellars grows Cabernet and Merlot on its estate winery in Yountville where its famous Cabs are produced and outsources the rest of its fruit from around the Napa and Sonoma Valley, getting the Clone 6 grape from just one vineyard that currently grows it - Baritelle, near the Mayacama Mountains. Bell used to source the Clone 6 from Beckstoffer Vineyards, but they no longer grow the clone. After our clone lesson, Johanne led us through a vertical tasting of a 2005 and 2010 Clone 6 Cabernet, and the difference was astounding. This is attributed mainly to the different soil and microclimate that each vineyard come from and creates two noticeably different wines.

We concluded our visit with a great tasting in the rarefied Reserve Room and if it hadn’t been my first stop of the day, I might have sat there all day. Tasting notes from my favorite Bell wines listed below. In summary, Yountville is one of the most famous towns in Napa with equally famous wineries. It can be daunting to decide where to taste. Visit Bell if you really enjoy any of the below in a winery visit - you won't be disappointed.

  • Small, intimate tour and tasting as opposed to large, crowded tasting room
  • Enjoying a picnic outside on the veranda
  • Playing bocce ball with a glass of vino and a slice of pizza in hand
  • Leisurely tasting in a luxurious Reserve Room of luscious Bourdeaux-style red wines
  • Tasting out of a tank - yes, a tank, not a barrel.
  • Friendly staff that will tailor your visit to your preferences
  • Have a group and want to plan a special tailored event at the winery

2005 Cabernet Clone 6 - Beckstoffer Vineyards
This unique wine has a nose full of sun-ripened tomato, red bell pepper and fr
esh cut herbs. On the palate, it shows dark concentrated flavors of black cherry, mulberry, current with undertones of chocolate, coffee, and pepper. This classic Bordeaux style wine has hints of damp earth and mushroom with supple tannins and a lengthy finish that reminds you of a walk in Autumn dusk.

2010 Cabernet Clone 6 - Baritelle VineyardsThis wine, though young, already displays tannins that are smooth and supple. On the nose, aromas of cassis and blueberry abound. On the palate, a burst of blackberry, dark cherry, mocha and vanilla combine to make a silky, polished wine with Cedar notes and concentrated flavors. This wine tastes like a fresh baked blackberry pie fresh out of the oven ready to be served with vanilla ice cream on a summer day.

2010 George Latour Claret
The Claret has multiple layers of fruit derived from the five grapes used in the b
lend. The wine shows blackberry flavors of the Merlot, floral notes from the Syrah and a rich, cocoa finish from the Cabernet Sauvignon. The addition of the Syrah to this wine makes this wine approachable at an earlier age, while still having enough layered tannins to allow it to age for several years.

2008 Canterbury Syrah
This deep purple-ruby wine has the spicy fruit aromas expected in a syrah with a rich and elegant mouth feel. The vanilla from the oak is balanced with the big red fruit flavor to yield an appealing wine that is bright and complex and can be enjoyed now with food or aged for many years.

2007 Masa Ranch Petite Syrah
This deep purple wine is rich with black currants, spiced plums, and black pepp
er. It is a jammy wine with complex secondary flavors of herbs, toasted almond and and leather with enough supple tannin to allow it to age beautifully for years. This would be a deicious wine paired with winter stews, lamb and game.

Ruby Port
This port was served with the perfect pairing - a piec of dark dove chocolate. It’s actually produced from some of the classic Portuguese varieties from Lodi, CA and aged in small oak barrels for approximately 40 months. Deep ruby in color with rich fruit aromas, this wine has a rich, luscious mouth feel and soft, elegant tannins. The fruit concentration balances well with the alcohol and grape acidity to yield an appealing, elegant wine, bright on the palate, with great depth and concentration.


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