FrontRunners February 2015: LEISURE
The 2013 announcement that Charles Banks, a onetime co-owner of Napa Valley’s Screaming Eagle, had purchased Mayacamas Vineyards (mayacamas.com) raised innumerable eyebrows among the cognoscenti. Perched on a lonely ledge of Napa County’s Mount Veeder, this 19th-century estate seems worlds away from the exclusive and highly allocated circles of the cult Cabernet with which Banks was formerly associated. Admirers of the brand feared great change, but Banks’s only aim was to preserve the property’s heritage. Aside from a few minor upgrades—among them, hot running water at the winery—Mayacamas remains essentially the same. Even the winemaking team, now led by the superstar consultant Andy Erickson, has decided to adhere to the house style established by the longtime owner Bob Travers. Despite shifts in the tastes of consumers and critics, Travers clung stubbornly to traditional practices, which yielded Chardonnays with bite and Cabernets that require extended bottle aging to shine.
With its old stone buildings and antique winemaking equipment, Mayacamas—originally established in 1889 by a German immigrant businessman based in San Francisco—seems frozen in time. The 465-acre estate stretches from 1,800 feet to 2,400 feet in elevation and encompasses some of the highest vineyards in the Mount Veeder appellation. Yet any oenophile willing to drive up a long and winding road can visit this distinctive destination and taste such treasures as the flinty, vibrant 2012 Chardonnay ($45) or the sturdy but high-toned 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon ($85). Reservations for a tasting can be made by e-mail for $75 per person.