That wine is grown rather than made is axiomatic among the leading vintners of the New World and the Old; nevertheless, when attempting to put a face to a favorite label, we inevitably turn to the winemaker, not the vineyard manager. Perhaps the sole exception to this rule is David Abreu, the vineyard manager par excellence who has planted some of the Napa Valley’s most significant properties, including ones belonging to Harlan Estate, Grace Family Vineyards, Colgin Cellars, and Screaming Eagle. Yet interestingly, when Abreu himself cast about for a winemaker to work with him at his own winery, he did not approach the region’s superstars. Instead, he chose an untried newcomer.
“I met Dave in 1999,” says the winemaker Brad Grimes, a native of Seattle whose first career was in the culinary field. “I just hopped onto one of his crews when he was doing the fruit sorting for the ’99 vintage. I caught up with him a few months later and asked what kinds of opportunities might be available, and the next day he offered me a job. I worked with the guys in the vineyard. It wasn’t until the harvest of 2000 that I was brought into the winery. And I went on from there, learning on the job.”
Grimes’s lack of formal training did not trouble Abreu, whose approach to oenology is purely pragmatic. “Dave explained it to me the very first day,” Grimes recalls. “He said, ‘This whole industry is really simple. It’s just common sense.’ Winemaking can be made complicated or it can be very simple. We simplify it.”
Grimes’s primary goal is to ensure that each of the four Abreu wines expresses the unique terroir of the property from which it comes. To achieve this aim, he and Abreu harvest their grapes by section and do not separate the varietals in the winery: Whatever comes off a block—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, or Merlot—is cofermented and aged as a single blending wine, which can contain up to five varietals, depending on the vineyard.
According to Grimes, Abreu’s original property—Madrona Ranch, at the base of Spring Mountain—is the most challenging of the four, thanks to the number of different blocks, the varying directions of the rows, and the diverse soils and sun exposures. That multifaceted geography manifests itself in the lyrical layering of scents and flavors in the Abreu Vineyard 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Madrona Ranch ($325), a blend of 50 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, 35 percent Cabernet Franc, 10 percent Petit Verdot, and 5 percent Merlot. This dark beauty’s voluptuous structure is swathed in folds of sweet smoky patchouli, brambleberry, black fig, molasses, and cool granite. Despite its myriad shifts and phases in the glass, the wine is perfectly integrated and flawlessly balanced, demonstrating that simple is not only better but, in this case, also more complex.
Abreu Vineyard, www.abreuvineyard.com