Minority Report: Ethnic Diversity & Small-Production Meet Up in Napa Cab

Vinted on August 17, 2009 binned in California wine, commentary, winemaking

At a new, small California winery, an ethnically diverse pair are making low production Cabernet Sauvignon. Very, very good Cabernet, that is.

For those of you who are playing along at home, I’m going to introduce this article with a bit of background, because it’s several months in the making.  Also, if I don’t start out with some preliminaries, it’s going to confuse the hell out of me.

Also, since we’re going to end up connecting Oaxaca (that’s in Mexico), Napa Valley, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Opus One, Mario Bazán Cellars, and ethnic diversity, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page before we start.

Bear with me, you’re probably smarter than I am, ok?  Here’s the recap:

Right… that’s Twitter, TasteLive, Napa Valley SB, Opus One, the Wine Bloggers Conference, Toquade, ethnic diversity in winemaking, and my coverage of small-production wines.  Crystal clear, right?

Anyway… at that same dinner with Michael, I was introduced to another (very) small-production wine.  A red this time, from a winery owned by a Mexican-born immigrant who employs a young African-American female winemaker.

In other words, I’d hit the serendipity synchronicity jackpot.  Which means that this is the one chance I may have to piss off everybody in a single post… I cannot screw this up!

[ Editor’s note: for those who are humorless, the preceding statement is a joke; in fact, those who are humorless are probably reading the wrong blog and should leave immediately for the sake of preserving their own sanity. ]

Background setup complete – now, let’s get talking about the wine…

The wine is Mario Bazán Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The owner is Mario Bazán, who arrived in Napa from Oaxaca, Mexico in the early 1970s.  The winemaker is Victoria Coleman, who assisted Michael Silacci when they were both at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars.  Interestingly, Mario had worked at Opus One in the early `80s, when he was put in charge of outside management there, but it was at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars where he met Michael and Victoria.

I tasted two vintages of Mario Bazan Cellars wines, and I was impressed with the focus and depth of both, though it was in the later vintage (not yet gone to market) where the wine seemed to hit its stride.  Victoria told me that this is due primarily to having more influence over the activities in the vineyard.  Whatever the reason, the wine started out as very good and is clearly improving.

What struck me was how well – and quickly – Mario and Victoria have captured ‘classic’ Napa Cab; concentrated, dark black cherry fruit is there without coming off as over-extracted; hints of an interesting future is there, too, with notes of graphite and chocolate.

Now, you might be thinking that Victoria got some help from Michael with these wines – and you’d be right, though not in the way that you might assume at first. Michael has helped out, but not as a vintner.

“I am attracted to the integrity and authenticity with which Victoria works,” Michael told me. “It is a joy for me to pull hoses and take orders from Victoria . She is very much in touch with her wine. I enjoy drinking it with her, because she really loves it.”  In other words, when he does help out, Michael is acting like a hired hand and is pulling grunt work (according to him, it’s a nice mental break from running the show at Opus One).

Ok, so that’s Oaxaca, Napa Valley, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Opus One, and Mario Bazán Cellars, only just not quite connected in the way that you would have first thought.  If you ever had thought about connecting Oaxaca, Napa Valley, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Opus One, and Mario Bazán Cellars in your spare time, I mean.

It should be fun to see where the Bazan take the wine from here.

That’s assuming you can get your hands on their wine, of course – and that have the 70+ beans to shell out for a bottle.


(images: futuremusic.com, mariobazancellars.com)





  • Dylan

    Nothing wrong with being a hired hand. In fact, I wish it were less surprising that people were involved in the process this way. When you're forearm deep in vines while leaf-thinning, or weaving in and out of the row's center, you're not focused on anything but the present moment. Your mind is clear and you just feel as though you're connected to the environment you work in.

  • 1WineDude

    great point – that;s how I feel when I'm working out, playing music, and drinking a really awesome wine (though usually not all at the same time :-).

  • Jerae Knutson

    I have been blessed with the opportunity of trying the 2005 Cab. Twice. I want more……Not being one who is eloquent with her words, I can only say that this wine made me swoon. Good stuff & great people.

    • 1WineDude

      It didn't hit "swoon" territory for me, but it certainly kicked butt.

  • Steve Matthiasson

    Mario Bazan and I work together on a few vineyards–wonderful man. Very polite and generous. I really hope his wine is successful.

    • 1WineDude

      I'd say they're off to a very good start!

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