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La Jota Vineyard Company – Mountain Wine Making in Napa Valley

La Jota logoWe’ll continue our look at some smaller producers in Napa and Sonoma with another mountain winery, La Jota Vineyard Company.  We previously wrote about Mt. Brave, which you can read about by clicking here, and there are many parallels between the two, including Napa Valley mountain sites and sharing the same vineyard manager and winemaker, Mariano Navarro and Chris Carpenter.  Chris also makes the wine at high end Cardinale and Lokoya as well, so mountain cabernet is apparently in his blood.  Let’s take a closer look at La Jota.

The vineyards of La Jota are located on Howell Mountain, in the Howell Mountain AVA which stretches from the 1400 foot to 2400 foot elevation contours.  This area was the first Napa Valley sub-appelation to be given AVA status in 1983, and is somewhat different as it is defined by those elevation levels and not the usual geographic boundaries.  Here La Jota grows Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  Just over 28 acres are under vine, and the vast majority of La Jota grapesthem (20+ acres) are devoted to Cabernet Sauvignon.  Sixteen different micro-blocks cover the three vineyard sites.  Much as at Mt. Brave, the vineyards present many micro-climates which necessitate multiple passes and very specific harvesting.  They might harvest part of one block, or just a couple of rows at a given time.  Constant monitoring of the grapes is required.  Water is at a premium, and with limited irrigation capability the result is small, highly concentrated grapes from vines that struggle throughout the year.

La Jota on Howell Mountain

The La Jota vineyards site on Howell Mountain

Everything here is harvested by hand, collected in 30 pound boxes and then hand sorted as well.  Generally the grapes undergo a 3-4 day cold soak, extracting color, flavor and tannin from the skins before yeast is introduced and fermentation begins.  La Jota winery buildingAll the vineyard blocks are kept separate, fermented in small stainless tanks and then see an additional post-fermentation soak of up to ten days.  Finally the grapes are pressed and the juice transferred to oak for malolactic fermentation and aging.  Aging lasts approximately 22 months.

The results are what you might expect – bold, full bodied wines with great fruit extraction.  They make a Cabernet Suavignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, as well as a premium Merlot from the W.S. Keyes vineyard.  We had a bottle of their 2011 Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, so not from a great overall vintage in Napa.  How would it fare?

La Jota 2011Wine:    2011 La Jota Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon

Winery Location:   Howell Mountain, Napa Valley CA

Tasted By:   Neil & Cheri                Date:    August 2015

Tasting Notes:   this is a blend of 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc.  This saw 20 days of maceration, maybe due to the slightly less concentrated grapes from 2011?  We’re not sure, but this is  dark ruby in color with a rich, somewhat savory nose full of berries and herbs.  Swirl the glass a bit and the legs cascade slowly down.  It is full bodied, full of dark fruit flavors, with blackberry standing out, and brisk tannins.  There is a beautiful acid balance here, and the wine is fresh even though it is pretty rich.  Cheri took a sip and said “It’s good”.  Five seconds later she said “It’s really good.”  Ten seconds after that she completed her description with “Oh my god – it’s really really good!”  I’d say that sums it up pretty well.  The wine is delicious, and I could drink this everyday if we could afford to.

Price Point –    $75 at the winery or online from the winery.  Probably $60-$65 elsewhere.

Would We Buy It?    surprisingly yes.  Just a bottle or two at this price, but this is very, very good and a worthy special occasion bottle.  Strange to say that about a 2011 Napa Cab but there are some out there.  The Mt. Brave was about this good as well.

So what did we learn?  Seems like some of the Napa mountain sites did just fine in 2011.  It’s also pretty much a certainty that Chris Carpenter, the wine maker, is a wizard with mountain grapes.  This is good juice.  We’ll have to see about getting a bottle of Cardinale and Lokoya to see if his form holds.  I suspect it only gets better, although there’s not a whole lot of room for improvement here.  This is Value List wine at $60, not something we say very often.

We can’t wait to try the 2012s.

A votre sante!

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