Micro-Lot Cabernet from Napa’s Rockiest Site
by Deborah Parker Wong
Cobbles reminiscent of the kind you find in the Southern Rhône aren’t the first thing you typically encounter in a Napa Valley vineyard. At Game Farm vineyard, owned and managed by Alex Vyborny and son Ben, it’s what differentiates their site from many others in Oakville. That cobbled terroir drew Goosecross Cellars winemaker Bill Nancarrow who sources fruit for the independent C. Elizabeth brand to the site like a bee to honey. (See the story on Goosecross Cellars in the Feb/March 2015 issue of The SOMM Journal. -Ed.)
Nancarrow first discovered the Rock Pit Cabernet Sauvignon parcel, a micro lot within the 40-acre Game Farm vineyard that lies directly below the Rector Creek Dam, when he was making wine at neighboring Duckhorn. “The vineyard has two different soil types,” said Nancarrow. “It’s a mix of wash composed of large stones and ferrous volcanic soils with a high iron content.” The vineyard takes its name from the State Bird Farm that once occupied the site and where thousands of pheasants, quail and partridges were raised annually and then “planted” throughout California.
The unique terroir of the Rock Pit is the result of both natural and manmade forces. The alluvial wash that was thrown down by Rector Creek over time as it flowed down the Vaca mountains and across the valley floor was revealed when top soil was scrapped from the site to construct the Rector Dam. Rector Creek was dammed in 1946 to provide a water source for the Napa State Hospital and the Veterans Home.
Rock Pit, also called the Lower Boulder Field, is the rockiest micro lot within the Vyborny’s Game Farm vineyard. It’s planted to Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 7 with vines that are now 20 to 25 years old. Nancarrow began making C. Elizabeth for husband and wife vintners Christi Coors Ficeli and Dave Ficeli in 2014, and 200 cases have now been released directly from the winery through allocation at www.celizabeth.com.
For the C. Elizabeth “Game Farm” Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($125), Nancarrow selected water-bent barrels from two different American oak coopers and used 55 percent new oak. The bottling is a barrel selection and the finished wine shows dusty red and black currant, dark cherry, roasted walnuts, bittersweet cocoa and cinnamon with a black-fruited mid-palate and salty, black licorice finish.
“Wines from this site typically show more floral aromatics and have dense, creamy tannins that are attributed to the ferrous soils,” says Nancarrow.
C. Elizabeth is a deeply personal labor-of-love collaboration for Christi and Dave. It’s a project that the wine industry veterans have dreamt about for more than a decade and one that came to fruition when they signed on Bill Nancarrow to produce the wine. “We’ve nurtured this project for many years and to see our first release being enjoyed by family and friends is so rewarding,” said Coors Ficeli.
With 2015, 2016 and 2017 C. Elizabeth Cabs in barrel there’s more Rock Pit in the pipe line. According to Nancarrow, “2015 was a vintage for reds and the site showed its classical side with tobacco and more grip.” While it slumbers in the cellar, the 2016 is close behind with tangy, plumy fruit and a whiff of oregano. “This site responds very well to American oak; it frames but doesn’t mask the character of the vintage.”