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A New Venture for a California Legend
By Mary Ewing-Mulligan
May 3, 2011
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Amapola Creek, Sonoma Valley (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 ($60):  I’m a classicist when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon: I like lean, firm wines that might be austere when young and are not particularly fruity, but that develop complex secondary flavors and supple texture over time.  This wine is not that.  It’s a big, soft hug of a Cabernet that isn’t holding back.  And I find it delicious. 

You might not have heard of Amapola Creek, because it is a very small, new winery.  But you have probably heard of its owner-winemaker, Richard Arrowood, because he has been making wine for 45 years.  He developed Sonoma County’s first vineyard-designated wines during his tenure as winemaker at Chateau St. Jean, from 1974 to 1990.  He and his wife, Alis, founded Arrowood Winery in 1985, and he was the wine mastermind there until 2010, specializing in small-lot and vineyard-designated wines.  During that time, the couple sold the winery to the Robert Mondavi company but he continued to be heavily involved in the winemaking.  In 2010, he shifted his energies to Amapola Creek Vineyards and Winery, on a 100-acre property just north of the town of Sonoma that the couple purchased in 2000.  (“Amapola” means poppy in Spanish; the Amapola Creek runs through the property.)

The Amapola Creek estate comprises 20 acres of vineyards planted to Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier.  The vineyards lie on the western slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains, from 350 to 1000 feet in altitude.  The land had been part of General Vallejo’s land grant in the early 1800s, and had not been previously planted.  The winery’s first vintage was 2005.

The winery’s capacity is only 3000 cases, and Cabernet Sauvignon is the main wine, at shy of 1000 cases.  The second wine is an old-vines Zinfandel from the celebrated Monte Rosso Vineyard, adjacent to the Amapola Creek estate; a small production of Syrah completes the line.  All three reds are big, expressive wines with rich, ripe flavors and beautiful balance; even the 16-percent-alcohol 2007 Zinfandel has freshness and acidity that belie its ripeness.

The 2006 Amapola Creek Cabernet has -- surprisingly for its 14.7 alcohol heft -- nuanced aromas and flavors that suggest rich, ripe dark fruit along with herbal notes of mint and menthol, spice, cedar, an earthy note and charry oak.  The wine is full-bodied in the mouth-filling sense, but it is not dense in texture and it flows easily across your tongue, like heavy silk in your hands.  Although ripe tannin is certainly responsible for this rich texture, any firm-tannin note is absent until the wine’s very final impression in your mouth, where it is welcome because it gives the wine definition.  For as rich as it is, this wine is actually dry and it does have finesse.

The next vintage, the 2007 Amapola Creek Cabernet, has just been released in some markets.  My impression is that the 2007 Cab is at least equal in quality to the 2006 and stylistically very similar, with perhaps a stronger fresh-fruit expression.

Because of its finesse, the 2006 Amapola Creek Cab is very accommodating with food for a big Cabernet.  I enjoyed it with pork roast, sautéed leafy greens, baked sweet potato and mild cheese; without strong tannins, it doesn’t need rare beef as a softening agent, and without jammy fruit, it doesn’t demand rich, flavorful dishes.

91 Points