Monday, December 27, 2010

2007 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Another terrible iPhone photo, this time of Bacchus Vineyard

I recently had the chance to try the 2007 Abeja Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.

This is a wine that is not produced in every vintage; winemaker John Abbott reserves the label for special bottlings in what he considers to be extraordinary vintages. It is therefore of no surprise that this, the third Abeja Reserve, came from the phenomenal 2007 vintage (previous vintages of this wine were from the hallmark 2002 and 2005 vintages). I'll quote Paul Gregutt about the fruit sourcing: "...sourced principally from the same old vine Bacchus and Weinbau blocks, this also includes a significant portion of grapes (20%) from the estate’s Heather Hill vineyard."

Bacchus and Weinbau vineyards are part of the Sagemoor Farms family of vineyards, comprised of Bacchus, Weinbau, Sagemoor, and Dionysus vineyards. This group of vineyards is one of the most critical building blocks for many premium Washington wineries, including Delille, Januik, and Corliss, just to name a few. Some of the vines (including much of the Cabernet in the Abeja Reserve) date back to 1972, which is just about as old-vine as you can get in Washington. I had the privilege of visiting the vineyard earlier this year, and it was beautiful, immaculately tended, and right next to the Columbia River- a key element, since it leads to cooling breezes coming off of the water and mitigating some of the Eastern Washington heat.

So how was the wine? Certainly concentrated; it was dense and chewy, with obvious oak influences- coffee, mocha, and toasty wood were evident throughout. The fruit was dark and intense, filled with classic Cabernet black currant and very ripe plum.

I think that this is a wine that will satisfy many, many consumers. It is the epitome of what one might expect out of a New-World Reserve Cabernet. Did I like it? Sort of. I certainly enjoyed having the opportunity to try it. However, I wished at the time that it had been showing more acidity. It felt in the mouth much like an Oakville Cabernet might; very big and mouth-filling, but without the high acidity that I have come to expect in the best Washington State wines. Perhaps I was just not in the mood for a wine of this style; that has certainly been true for me on many occasions, and I have come back to the same wines and found them to be much more enjoyable than I thought on first taste.

Don't get me wrong: I think that Abeja's Reserve Cabernet is a well-made wine. I think that in the style it is made in you can spend three or four times the amount of money for a similar experience. But lately I've been looking for wines that offer a little bit more than rich, plump fruit and big flavor. Maybe it'll change in the bottle; I don't claim to know. If you're looking for Napa in Washington, drink this wine; you'll love it. But it wasn't for me right then.

But then, that's what makes wine so special, isn't it? Different times, different people, different bottles, different experiences. I hope I try this wine again three years from now and it blows my mind.


  1. Speaking of Sagemoor, what’s your take on agro-industrial wine production in WA? Many, many WA wineries dip from the same vineyard wells, even cream of the crop wineries as you point out.

  2. Good question, Scott.

    Frankly, I think that agro-industrial wine production IS Washington wine in many ways. It accounts for what percentage of wine production in the state? I don't have the numbers, but they've got to be huge. If you took the Milbrandts, Sagemoor, and the Ste Michelle Wine Estates estate vineyards out of Eastern Washington completely, there'd be a lot more apple orchards and wheat farms, I can tell you that much.

    Whether they're a boon or a bane to the micro-production industry is a harder question to answer. I'm an eat-local, drink-local consumer who tries to be as organic as possible, but capitalism is what it is. Without big money behind Washington wine I think there'd be far fewer craft producers doing what they do.

    As far as a lot of producers sourcing from the same vineyard sites, that's undeniable. There are a ton of producers sourcing from a few sites. For me this adds a lot of interesting aspects of the industry to talk about. You can discuss how one producer treats a site's fruit as compared to another producer, and what difference that makes in style. You can discuss the inherent qualities of a certain site, and how they come out in many different producer's wines.

    And really, the negociant (to use that term improperly) system in Washington probably helps to develop vineyards in the best possible sites for the best possible grapes. After all, if everything were done with estate fruit then there would be a few producers who make wines from the best sites, and everyone else would have to work with inferior vineyards. At the same time, the owners of those sites might or might not be treating their high-quality vineyards in the best possible way, and therefore might be getting inferior fruit, and the site would be wasted.

    Look for instance at Bordeaux: Pibran and Pedesclaux are right next to Mouton and d'Armailhac, but I don't think anyone would say that they are making wines of a similar quality. If, on the other hand, those vineyards were to be run by farmers instead of Chateaux, then they would be able to sell their fruit to winemakers who they thought would make the best possible wine- and conversely, there would be an economic incentive to run the vineyards wisely, since otherwise smart winemakers would buy from a nearby vineyard with higher standards of quality.

    I dunno; maybe I'm way off the mark here. Just some rambly, half-coherant thoughts on the subject.

  3. Justin – For some reason I cannot get this to post. Not sure if I’m doing something wrong or what.

    Actually I’m not sure what I think about the agro-industry in general, and particularly for growing corn or soybeans and such. I grew up on a non-industrial scale farm in Kansas and the whole region was family farming. Of course corn and soybeans are commodities and have been commodities for generations in this country and abroad. Should grapes for (fine) wine be farmed in a similar way? Sure, we don’t care if Franzia or Gallo, or even Ch. Ste. Michele has a 5,000 acre vineyard of chardonnay for example, but those aren’t the kinds of wines you cover in your blog. The battle cry of essentially every winemaker and winery is “wine is made in the vineyard”, but if the good majority are coming from the same few vineyards…you can see where I’m going with that line of thought. I’m not a proponent of that battle cry because I know there are many decisions made and philosophies implemented in the vineyard and winery that influence the resulting wine. And of course there’s the vineyard site itself and the weather. I guess my point is for wine there’s nothing that has the potential of being more special than a plot of land with a vineyard being farmed by the person making the wine. And it’s deeper than simply being special; it’s the chance of being identifiable and particular. Ok, it sounds a bit romantic but isn’t that one of the things we look for in wine?

  4. Hey Scott,

    I'm not sure what I think about the wine agro-industry. I can tell you that I'm not fond of industrial corn and soy; it's leading to an absurd reliance on petroleum-based nitrogen fertilizers and an unsustainable subsidy relationship between the government and growers. Or so this liberal Seattleite says.

    That being said, I'm not sure what to think about industrial wine grape growing. Something like the Sagemoor group providing 88% of the grapes for an $80 bottle of Abeja Reserve when they're an 800+ acre interest does turn the stomach a little bit. At the same time, if John Abbot likes the grapes then who are we to judge him for his sourcing? We should instead judge the product he produces, which is certainly (in my not-so-humble opinion) of quality, even if it isn't what I'd spend my $80 on.

    I think what's important is that, while the Sagemoors and the Milbrandts of the WA wine world do exist, there are many small estate vineyards who produce wines of their own place and typicity. In this time and place, there's room enough for everyone.

    By the way, mind if I quote you (from a previous thread) about the 2010 vintage? I'm doing something of a round-up of growers and vintners feelings (in a half-coherant way, like everything else on this site). Nothing weird, I assure you, just a straight quote.

  5. Justin – Saying that I don’t know what to think about industrial scale corn and soybean farming is not a statement of agreement, it’s a statement about the complex reasons that lead to it and the question of how to fix the associated problems. The implications of cheap and abundant food in this country are so varied and wide that it makes the head swim, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look for a better way.

    Now about wine. I agree with you that there’s enough room for everyone and everyone should do what they want. And I am not judging John Abbot, but I believe that there’s a whole lot more to a fine wine than just tasting good or this attribute of quality. Here’s a quote from Matt Kramer’s new book Matt Kramer on Wine that I ran across on Vinography blog: (

    "What Makes Wine a Landmark," Kramer asks, "Isn't taste what fine wine is all about? Nope. You'd think it would be, but it's not so. Let me push this further: the purpose of fine wine is not to give pleasure, but to give insight. . . . The greatest wines literally mark the land for us. They tell us something about the earth that we could not otherwise know. This is their pleasure, an insight so intrinsic that it endures and repeats itself over generations. Everything else is just, well, taste."

    I have believed what Kramer is proposing here for a long time. That “insight” comes from both typicity and specificity, defining characteristics that make it like no other and no others like it. I got his book for Christmas, but have not started reading it yet. I am interested in seeing what he says about the human factor because for me it’s a combination of people, place and time that give us Kramer’s “insight”.

    Yes you can quote me on the ’10 vintage. Will I become rich and famous?