The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2016

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20  /  the tasting panel  /  october 2016 SAN FRAN INSIDER Starr Power CABERNET FRANC HIGHLIGHTS 20-YEAR VERTICAL by Deborah Parker Wong C halk it up to hindsight, but now that we've entered the post-critic era of wine, there seems to be far more appreciation for producers who have stayed their course and never fallen victim to the lure of excessive ripeness that conditions in Napa Valley so naturally favor. The rare occasion of a retrospective tasting spanning 20 years provided such an opportunity, as each vintage lays bare the winemaker's inten- tion, and together, they tell the story of the land from where they came. In her opening remarks, CIA educa- tor and sommelier Christie Dufault paid tribute to one of Napa Valley's ideal partnerships and the teamwork behind the success of Crocker & Starr winemaker Pamela Starr and vintner Charles "Charlie" Crocker. The two teamed up in 1997 to bring winemaking back to the historic Dowdell & Sons winery and vineyard in St. Helena, an estate that Crocker has owned and farmed since 1971. This partnership did not come about by accident. Starr was making wine at Spottswoode ('91 and '96 were tasted there earlier this year) when her wines captivated Crocker, and in record time they formed Crocker & Starr. The addition of a new winery, completed in time for the 2016 harvest, has brought the winemaking history of the estate— first planted to Zinfandel and Riesling in 1886—full circle. After priming our palates with the 2012 and three successive vintages of Starr's expressive Sauvignon Blanc, the 17-wine Cabernet Franc vertical opened with Crocker & Starr's first release, a 1997 showing a deep garnet core of umami-laden plum, dried herbs, bouillon, earth and tobacco. With only 850 acres of Cabernet Franc planted in Napa Valley in '97, there were few, if any, other Franc-dominant wines, making Starr's first release an iconic one for the variety. Originally working with the heritage clone that was planted to the estate, Starr planted Cabernet Franc clones 214, 332 and Goddess for complexity. From 2000 onward the wines were ruby, pointing to their longevity, and as the younger plantings matured, so has the ageworthi- ness of the wines. In 2001, she began gradually stepping up the 20 percent of new oak as the estate responded to organic farming and less water. Ten wines in, it's the 2006 that marks a tipping point for Starr. "This vintage speaks to how we've developed the soil and when Petit Verdot makes its first appearance in the blend." Over the years her choice of blending varieties has included ever-smaller percent- ages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, with 2012 reaching a milestone as a monovarietal wine. An equally impressive vertical of the 1997–2013 Stone Place Cabernet Sauvignon followed. Outside of the Loire Valley, transpar- ency wouldn't be a common way to describe Cabernet Franc's expression, but given Starr's low-touch winemak- ing—a style that's so eminently respect- ful of the fruit—it's possible to taste the evolution of the estate, the complexity of the various clones and the influence of the vintage as the years unfold. It's a partnership with the vines, not unlike the partnership that created Crocker & Starr, that defines the winemakers' role in terroir. PHOTO: JOE HENDRICKS PHOTO: JOE HENDRICKS Crocker & Starr owner and Winemaker Pam Starr's Cabernet Franc has become a Napa Valley benchmark for the variety. The newly-completed Taylor Lombardo– designed Crocker & Starr winery building.

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