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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

Affordable Cult Wine? Consider Cultivar.

Sunday, May 20, 2012
Cul.ti.var [noun]. a variety of plant that is selected for specific desirable characteristics.  

You’re out to dinner and perusing the “wines by the glass” list.  You spot a familiar wine label from Napa Valley on the list, and are just about to order it when...you realize the $18 pricetag is for a 2 oz “taste” - which means ordering a glass of the good stuff will end up costing more than you’d typically spend on a nice bottle of wine for your cellar.  Napa Valley has become internationally famous for its Cabernets and with fame and scarcity come sky-high prices, which you’re probably all too familiar with if you’ve ever had an experience similar to the one above.

Enter the founders of Cultivar, Jody Harris and Dan O’Brian, whose mission was to create an accessible food friendly Cabernet from the Napa Valley.  The mission began when grape grower and third generation San Franciscan, Jody Harris, struck up a conversation with Dan O’Brien, Wine Director at Cavallo Point.  The two were engaging in conversation about Jody’s new line of estate wines, Caspar Estate, when Dan mentioned that what restaurants were really looking for was an affordable Napa Cab. Jody sensed Dan was on to something and the two of them called on their combined contacts and resources in the wine industry to see if there was a way to make this happen.  Cultivar was born when Jody and Dan realized that many of the top tier Cult Wineries only use the very best of their crops for each vintage - and sell the rest (under NDA).  To make an analogy, it’d be akin to hiring a candidate who graduated from Harvard with a 4.0 average as opposed to a 3.0 average...both students are still creme de la creme when it comes to brains and top tier education. While it could be argued that the "A" students might perform slightly better, most people wouldn’t even know the difference if grades weren’t disclosed.

The men behind Cultivar took this approach - they source the best 3.0 grapes from the “Ivy League” vineyards belonging to cult wineries which allows them to control costs and blend a wine tailored specifically for the dinner table that is just spectacular. Fresh and forward with minimal manipulation and plenty of warm fruit and acidity, Cultivar wines have been discovered by some of Napa and San Francisco’s most famous sommeliers (think Raj Purr of Michael Mina) and are being poured at some of the best neighborhood restaurants, small hotels and boutique retailers around the country.  Cultivar was officially founded in 2011, and in its first official year of business has produced 5,000 cases of wine and is available in 8 states and top tier cities including: New York, Texas, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles.

Visiting the Cultivar “headquarters” up at the top of Whitehall Lane, and tasting with Jody and Dan is a peak experience in itself.  With birds singing, and the scent of lemon blossoms filling the air, we tasted Caspar and Cultivar wines, and their line of organic honey and olive oil alfresco, overlooking a panoramic view of the valley and a crystal clear infinity pool.  The tasting experience is beautiful but laid back - and takes place in the home inherited by Jody from his grandfather, Caspar Escher, the namesake of the Caspar label Jody founded in 2010.  Cultivar does no advertising nor does it have an official tasting room, but the founders are amenable to in-person visits, and can host private events and weddings in this picturesque place.  For more information on how to visit or purchase Cultivar, email cardinale.gianna@gmail.com.

My favorites from Cultivar and Caspar below:

2010 Cabernet
This balanced blend has 5% Merlot added to the Cabernet blend and is 80% aged in steel barrels, 20% oak aged giving it just subtle hints of vanilla and spices.  Big and fruit-forward with plum, cherry, cassis, and raspberry liquor notes with brambly, dusty aromas.

2009 Red Label Cabernet Franc
Produced from 6 site specific lots, this wine displays classic Cab Franc garden notes of ripe tomato, bay leaf, and red berries.  It’s lean with mild tannins and hints of smoky leather.

2009 Cabernet
Big, ripe blackberries and cassis with notes of espresso, dark chocolate and black licorice.  A highly extracted wine with spicy sweet notes from oak, beautiful structure and long silky finish.

2010 Sauvignon Blanc
With a small percentage of Tokai and Muscat added to the blend, this SB has beautiful racy acidity complimented by white floral notes, rich tropical fruits, honey and smoky minerality.

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