Laboratory wines. Standing a little higher and looking out over the sea of vines, you quickly get an idea of the place – and the history of viticulture. At just 4.2 acres, this small portion of a sprawling and coveted vineyard in southern Rutherford comes not only from its pristine terroir, but also from its iconic neighbors. Robert Mondavi and the northern edge of Oakville are a little further south, Staglin Vineyards to the west, and Swanson Vineyards and Inglenook to the north, which are not too far away. The Mayacamas mountains are so close you feel like you can touch them from the track. The soil here is deep and consists of material that has descended from the mountains via a wide alluvial fan, and contains old volcanic rock and ash.

Estimates of the vineyards go back several decades; more recent records show that the vineyards were completely replanted in 1996 by David Abreu for clone 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, the vineyards are operated by Pete Richmond and Silverado Farming Company.

The owners, Ed and Kim Labrie, were originally looking for more remote locations in the Napa Valley, but, as Ed says, we were lucky enough to have a daughter, so they decided to look at properties down in the valley, closer to town. Prior to that, Ed was president of Memphis-based debit company Concord EFS Inc. – which was eventually acquired by First Data – and he became vice president and CEO of the company for a year after the acquisition. And today he is president and CEO of LB Technology Inc. (a fleet maintenance software provider) based in Memphis.

Ed has known Garen and Shari Staglin for years – and it was the Staglins who helped them find this particular property. This location is on Bella Oaks Lane, just west of Highway 29. Their wine portfolio is based on their respective preferences – Ed likes Cabernet Sauvignon, Kim likes Pinot Noir – and together they decided to produce Sauvignon Blanc.

Labrie bought the property in 2016. The grapes from this site were once destined for Constellation and, more recently, Rombauer Vineyards. After Ed and Kim purchased the property, they were able to buy back a few barrels of Rombauer wine and finish wine production at a nearby winery; 2016 marked the first commercial release under the Labry label.

-Vineyard owner Keith Emerson is from Boston and was planning to enroll in a chef’s school when he read an article about the possibility of studying viticulture. He moved to California, attended the University of California, Davis, and graduated with a degree in fermentation science with an emphasis on enology and viticulture.

After graduation, Keith came to Napa and worked his first crop at Biscuit. He then worked at Gundlach Bundschu Winery (the oldest family-owned winery in the state of California) in nearby Sonoma County (Keith is currently their head winemaker). And later, a winemaker friend sent him to Vineyard 29 in St. Louis. Helena. St. Helena. Today Keith is the Director of the Vineyard 29 winery, where he also produces the Labrie wines.

Select Wines
Thanks to Keith’s connections, their first Sauvignon Blanc of 2017 came from a vineyard in Calistoga. The grapes for this wine are also from Ash Vineyards in Oakville (we discovered the wines from this vineyard at the Taste of Oakville event at Robert Mondavi Winery – where they were one of the few white wines from Oakville featured at that tasting). The 2018 Labry Sauvignon Blanc is aged in oak for up to 22 months – the wine is brewed at regular intervals for the first 3 months, then aged in tank and bottled.

Medium gold in color, this wine has a wonderful variety of aromas, including initial floral notes, jasmine, honeysuckle, citrus blossom, and hints of pineapple. As the wine develops – it stays cold in the glass – more tropical notes emerge, including banana, mango and papaya, and cantaloupe. The texture is remarkable – there is no aggressiveness, the wine glides smoothly across the palate. Tones of tangerine, minerals with a slight hint of vanilla in the aftertaste. This generous offering certainly suits the warmer climate, but it is balanced and complemented by bright acidity.

Russian River Labrie’s 2019 Pinot Noir comes from Martin Ray Vineyard (a historic site that Keith works closely with). Medium ruby red in color, with floral notes on the nose, including dried rose petals, violets, raspberries, and hints of red licorice. And as the wine continues to breathe, the flavors show more fruity sweetness, including the influence of dessert spices. Offers a nice tension in the mouth with a very pleasant texture. Aromas of red cherry and tea leaves are complemented by silky, round tannins with subtle, persistent earthy notes. The tannins are well integrated on the finish – this wine is superbly balanced. Aged for 11 months, 40% new French oak barrels, 60% used Burgundy barrels.

The 2018 Labry Estate Cabernet Sauvignon has a medium-dark ruby color with attractive aromas of tobacco leaf, hints of smoke, black olive, and dark fruit like plum and black cherry. The bouquet also reveals the characteristics of the grape variety, with dried herbs, very subtle notes of green pepper and sage. Nice aromatic character – can certainly compete with the fruitier Napa cabs. Balanced on the palate with a nice integration of acidity and tannins on the finish. The tannins are a little dusty, almost chalky, and the brightness of the red fruits. Aged for 22 months before being bottled unfiltered and unrefined.

And through the Lake County producer, Labrie bottles and brands its own olive oil. Current production is a few hundred cases of wine per year and slight growth is expected. The wines are not distributed and sold exclusively through their mailing list. For more information, please visit: www.labrywine.com

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