Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | August 26, 2010

UpValley Cabernet Makes Killer Pie

Killer Cab Makes Killer Pie

It’s Cabernet Day on September 2 which only seems fitting since some wine enthusiasts declared during the heat wave that it smelled like Cabernet pie baking UpValley.

The Cabernet farmers are also having quite a go at it in the marketplace, experiencing what us Chardonnay farmers already know – that you will have to let your crop go for hundreds of dollars a ton and not thousands in 2010 to get it sold or just plan to drop it on the ground come November.

Today there are twice as many Cabernet listings in‘s Grapes & Bulk Wine category as there are for Chardonnay grapes.

Really as far as the marketplace goes “been there done that”  t-shirts are being printed as we speak for us Chardonnay growers. Having experienced the loss of a crop because of rain or lack of buyers in 2009 it doesn’t phase us at Thomson Vineyards and we expect 2010 will be no different. With the extended rains at the onset of 2010 leading to a painfully drawn out season still looming over our heads; the recent baking temperatures that caused the Press Democrat to run the piece titled Heat wave adds to harvest’s weather woes in yesterday’s edition; and the silence in the marketplace for Chardonnay that is long in the market sitting in tanks from ’09 and the Aussies dominating the global market – we figure we’ll diversify the Thomson family business by selling t-shirts with clever slogans about California Chardonnay.

I sat in more than one wine and grape seminar in 2010 and watched the Cabernet Sauvignon growers wring their hands, shake their heads and ask the “experts” what they should do. The “experts” gave two pieces of advice: 1) Keep farming like you’re gonna’ sell it 2) Look at custom crush options and plan to sell on the bulk wine market.

Umm, I know we’ve been through this before – I’m just a little Millennial with some silly MBA thesis called The Current Climate of The California Wine Industry and a family history deep-rooted in farming and pessimistic old farmer men who dominate the hierarchy of Thomson Vineyards…But, THAT is what the so-called “experts” told us Chardonnay farmers LAST year. And look where it got us, about to wear t-shirts with slogans like, “I Farm Chardonnay For My Health” and “To Hell With Farming Chardonnay!”

Well, I’ve thought on it and I think the Cabernet growers have a real opportunity next week to show up on the scene in full force and be a part of Cabernet Day. I also think the Napa Valley Grape Growers and Vintners should host a “let’s make lemonade out of lemons” party for all of you who are eating Cab pie right now. It would be the nice way for the grower associations of the valley to take care of their membership…with free pie for all the sad farmers out there.

We certainly don’t grow it, we’re far enough behind on the mountain Merlot, having not even begun veraison on one single berry at the Merlot Vineyard – but Thomson Vineyards is more than willing to support other growers who want to celebrate by way of a “let’s make Cab pie out of Cabernet” party. I’ve already got three bottles picked out for the night and I’m happy to share.

Two are from esteemed and infamous winemakers who also make vineyard designate wines from Thomson Vineyards fruit and one is a wild card who just began following The Farmer on Twitter.  I’ve included winemaking notes pulled from their websites and am happy to report they each hit a variable price point:

06 Genuine Risk Cab

2006 Genuine Risk Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Ynez Valley

Winery: Black Sheep Finds

Winemaker: Peter Hunken

Price: $22.50 bottle

Where to source:, San Francisco restaurants Range & Chow

Notes From the Web: Cabernet from Santa Ynez Valley is quite different from those grown in Napa Valley. We are in a cooler region so the wines tend to have a bit more natural acidity and structure and less alcohol and over-ripe flavors. Named after a Kentucky Derby winning filly that was raised in Santa Ynez Valley right near this vineyard. Aged for 18 months in 30% new oak, 500 cases produced.

Thomson Vineyards Affiliation: Makes a kick ass 2009 Hocus Pocus Pinot Noir from The Farmer’s precious Old Vine Martini Clones. Working on Winemaker Peter Hunken to take a bit of Chardonnay to pump up his Central Coast 2010 Marsanne with.

Twitter: @BlackSheepFinds

06 John Anthony Cab

2006 John Anthony Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley

Winery: John Anthony

Winemaker: Rob Lloyd

Price: $56 bottle

Where to source:

Notes From the Web: The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is grown on three little vineyards I planted and farm in the Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley. The climate and soils create a beautifully balanced and rich wine with flavors of blackberry and blueberry. There is a hint of sweet oak with a big rounded mid palate and smooth finish due to the integrated tannins. Enjoyable upon release and will continue to improve for years to come.

Thomson Vineyards Affiliation: I once helped a friend apply labels by hand to John Anthony bottles over Christmas break two years ago. This single bottle was my payment.

Twitter: @JAVwine


2006 Bravium Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

Winery: Bravium

Winemaker: Derek Rohlffs

Price: Priceless – 2009 available for retail

Where to source:

Notes From the Web: Raspberry. Licorice. Cherry. Chocolate. Coffee. Mint. Soft Tannins. Elegant. Balanced.

Thomson Vineyards Affiliation: Makes a damn fine Chardonnay from The Farmer’s Block 5, microscopic quantities of 50% martini clone & 50% clone 667 Old vs New Pinot Noir, and will get his first shot at Monticello Merlot in 2010 if he’s lucky.

Twitter: @InfamousWinemkr

So I guess with three solid recommendations for Cabernet Day you’ll have time to think on the three questions that remain: What should the Cabernet growers expect from the marketplace as we near harvest? What’s your best California Chardonnay slogan for a t-shirt? And who’s making Cabernet Pie!?!


  1. Am I to understand you have more Chard and Cab than you can sell or make wine out of? So if you are over on Cab and Chard every year, why are you growing it? I apologize for my Naïveté about grape growing matters but it seems a simple solution. Either take the loss from the labor of tearing out the vines or grafting to another variety, take a loss from dropping the fruit in November, or take a loss from making the grapes into wine and selling it bulk.

    • Rob thanks for the note, we grow Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot. We don’t make or sell any finished wine and feel the market is saturated with wineries in the California and global market all out there for themselves trying to make a buck. A grower like us must have a competitive advantage and business acumen to vertically integrate in this economy and global market. As The Millennial Daughter, I’ve become that person for this four generation family farming business.

      It’s our belief that the industry should collectively unite to fix this problem. When large wineries in the Napa Valley are selling 100+ ton of their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – they’ve over produced and thrashed the market – unable to sell as much wine as the fruit that they grow.

      Furthermore, we have ripped out a 6 acre block of prime Los Carneros land (which is ideally suited for the varieties we grow – Pinot & Chard, so grafting isn’t an option) and it continues to lay fallow while our neighbors continue to plant away. In essence, Thomson Vineyards has done our part to fix the problem – as much as one small family producer can, now it’s everyone else’s turn. No Naivete about your comment whatsoever – you’re right on, and we’re right there with you!

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