Although Calistoga is home to what is perhaps Napa Valley’s most fabled and historic vineyard, the region was only very recently approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau as an American Viticultural Area, or AVA. First planted with Riesling and Zinfandel in the 1880s, the Eisele Vineyard is one of the rockiest sites on the valley floor, with a microclimate that for many decades has yielded some of the most precise and balanced vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon ever to come out of California. The vineyard’s name has graced some rather impressive labels, including Joseph Phelps, Ridge, and Conn Creek; but today, it is associated with only one: Araujo Estate.
Having tasted many of the superb vineyard-designated Cabernets from this particular tract of land, Daphne and Bart Araujo recognized this soil’s unique influence on the vines, and in 1989, when the Eisele family placed the vineyard on the market, the Araujos set out to acquire it. "Our concern was to try to be the best possible stewards of the land that we could," explains Bart. "We knew that we hadn’t acquired just another Napa Valley property."
"Eisele is really a unique little corner that’s completely protected," says Araujo Estate’s director of winemaking, Françoise Peschon, who believes that the site’s distinctive characteristics enabled her and winemaker Nigel Kinsman to produce such extraordinary results in 2008, a vintage fraught with challenges that included drought, frost, and heat waves. "One of the marks of a great vineyard is that it goes through all that," she says. "So while in 2008 the production was way down, we kept the quality up."
Indeed, the Araujo Estate 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon ($290) is a masterpiece of minerality, its immense structure softened by its all-enveloping, velvety texture and fine filigree of essences of brambleberry, black cherry, and smoky piñon.
Araujo Estate Wines, www.araujoestate.com