United States > California > Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

Bonterra Cabernet Sauvignon

Country: United States
Region: California (Mendocino and Lake Counties)
Producer: Bonterra
Grape variety: 81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 3% Carignane
Vintage: 2009
Found at: Costco, Co-op Wines and Spirits, Real Canadian Liquorstore, Willow Park Wines and Spirits  (or see Liquor Connect and enter your postal code)
Price: $16.49 – $21.09

About the region: We’re back in California. Last time we enjoyed what’s considered California’s “own” grape variety, Zinfandel. However, the grape variety that put California on the map and that forms the basis for some of California’s most famous (and expensive) wines is the Cabernet Sauvignon: it was the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon that beat all of the French wines at the Judgment of Paris in 1976, building credibility for California’s red wines.

California is far from a homogeneous wine growing region: climate and soils vary greatly across the state. Close to the coast, the weather can be too cool to grow grapes while inland the weather can be unsuitable for grape growing due to the heat. In between lie many different micro-climates, each different and each better suited for certain grape varieties than for others.

The general rule that applies here, as well as for wine growing regions elsewhere in the world, is that the more specific the indication of the wine’s origin, the higher the presumed quality of the wine. For example, the “Napa Valley” indication on a wine label denotes a much more specific (and prestigious) designation of origin than the more generic “California”. In turn, the “Rutherford” indication denotes an even more specific designation of origin, which indicates that the wine comes from one of Napa Valley’s most famous sub-regions. There are exceptions to this rule (e.g., Penfold’s Grange), but as a general rule of thumb it can prove to be quite helpful.

This particular Cabernet Sauvignon hails mostly from Mendocino County, which is the north-eastern most region in California’s wine country. It can be divided into two parts: the areas East and West of the coastal mountain range, whereby the West is quite cool due to the influence of the Pacific Ocean, while the East is shielded from the ocean’s influence by the mountain range and as such is much warmer. The fruit for this wine is clearly sourced from the Eastern part of Mendocino county, since Cabernet Sauvignon needs warm conditions to ripen.

About the wine: Bonterra is best known for its organic vineyard practices. This entails that they avoid the use of synthetic pesticides in their vineyards, which are under constant attack of many different pests and diseases. Instead, they rely on integrated pest management strategies to stave off these attacks. These strategies include attracting bluebirds and swallows which consume unwanted insects, free-roaming chickens which thrive on cutworms and insect pests, and keeping a colony of honeybees which pollinates flowers in the vineyard and helps attract beneficial insects.

To clarify, organic vineyard practices does not mean that no additives are used in the winery. Sulfites in particular are still used at organic wineries to preserve the wine’s freshness and to prevent it from oxidizing and turning into vinegar prematurely. Most organic producers will try to minimize their use of sulphites, but this can be said for most high-quality wine producers.

Do organically grown grapes produce better wine? Opinions are divided. My two cents is that organic vineyard practices don’t produce better wines per sé, but that organic practices (and biodynamic practices for that matter) require a substantial amount of extra diligence in the vineyard to monitor the condition of the vines and deal with any signs of pests or diseases right away. Vineyard managers simply don’t have the luxury of noticing an issue a few days late and then resolving it by spraying it with synthetic pesticides. This diligence to guard the vineyard’s health often translates into higher quality fruit, which in turn translates into higher quality wine.

So how does this Cabernet Sauvignon stack up? It’s showing the hallmark characteristics of a California Cab: ripe, dark fruit (blackcurrant, plum, and cherry), white pepper, hints of oak, soft tannins, and medium acidity.

Note as well that, as discussed in last week’s article (“To blend or not to blend“), even though the wine is labelled as a Cabernet Sauvignon, it contains  9% Petite Sirah, 7% Syrah, and 3% Carignane, which you won’t find being mentioned on either the front or the back label, but adds some balance and character to the wine.

In Susanne’s words: It was good.

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