Our Cabernet Era Continues

A new year is here, and winter is at our door with much-needed rain, replenishing our aquifers and urging our vines into hibernation. While winter works its quiet magic, it’s our pleasure to introduce the new 2021 Donelan Cabernet Sauvignon, our first red wine released from the 2021 Vintage. Last week, the Donelans and I had the privilege of hosting Vinous’ own Antonio Galloni and Decanter Magazine’s Jonathan Cristaldi. We showed them our 2021 line-up, including the new Cabernet, and there seems to be a bit of buzz around the wines. We look forward to their formal impressions soon enough and are excited to share this first gem with you.

The Wine

On the nose, our 2021 Cabernet displays the prettier side of Cab with heady loamy notes, lavender, kirsch, and sweet pipe tobacco. A dark profile on the palate comes in waves of cacao, black olive, sweet browned butter, and coriander. This wine evokes delightful winter-time spices and holiday scents amid great acidity and mouth-coating tannin. Our Cabernet program is still young, so we make just a small amount of it. Our previous two releases sold out quickly, and we suspect this one will too. Order it while you can, put a few bottles in the back of your cellar, and drink the rest during cold winter evenings. Decant two hours before pouring or drink over three nights to watch this wine grow in scope and scale.


The Genesis

The genesis of Donelan Cabernet Sauvignon was borne out of losing our Obsidian Estate Vineyard to the 2017 Tubbs Fire. The fire forced our hand to replant but opened the doors for implementing modern viticultural technologies and practices at the estate. An increase from 5,000 to almost 14,000 vines gave us wiggle room to plant other varieties besides Syrah. Cabernet was a natural choice for the low-fertility volcanic soil of the hillside. Knights Valley has long held a reputation for making superb Bordeaux-style wines, and we would be foolish to squander the opportunity to make our mark in the Cabernet arena.


Tractor replanting our obsidian estate vineyard in 2018

Obsidian Replant, 2018

So, in the winter of 2018, the soil was prepped; a Caterpillar D-6 with a four-foot shank cross-ripped the soil in three different directions, bringing 200 cubic yards of volleyball-sized boulders to the surface. After allowing the rootstock a year in ground to establish a root system we began the process of field grafting the scion material of our choice, which for the first time is included in this blend. We finished this huge project with 2.15 of our 7.60 acres being planted to two selections of Cabernet, one block of Cab Franc, and a small block of Merlot (to be grafted over this spring).

Not being one for shortcuts, the Donelans understood that while fruit would begin growing, we wouldn’t bottle a single-vineyard wine until we had some years under our belt understanding how our estate behaves with Cabernet. This started our journey to isolate terroirs planted to Cab that would be fungible with our own. We looked at countless vineyards, but in the end, we were happy to bring into the fold two privately owned winery estate mountain properties. These families have the same shared vision as the Donelans: a no-compromises attitude toward grape growing to make the best wine possible.


The 2021 Cabernet Sites

In early October of 2021, we were thrilled to pick fourth-leaf fruit from our Cabernet Block at Obsidian Estate. For the first time ever, we also picked Cab Franc and blended 5% of it with this bottling. It shows classic hillside traits of dark fruit and luscious tannin. We sourced additional Cabernet from a vintner friend who oversees an interesting property right on the Napa/Sonoma County line where topsoil is scarce among the orange volcanic ground. The vineyard was planted in 1998 and produces shy-baring fruit that’s supple with round, fine-grained tannin.

Our third site is a family-run estate winery on the back side of Spring Mountain. The pocket canyon was planted in the early aughts at high density to a mix of French clones and heritage selections from top Napa vineyards. We picked this Cabernet right before a rainstorm on our last day of the 2021 harvest. Generous hang time created wonderful balance between sugar and acid. Fans of our 2018 and 2019 Cabernet are familiar with the high-quality wines that are made from the Western-facing slope.


Obsidian estate showing progress in 2020

Obsidian showing great progress in 2020, two years after replanting

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