Top 100 Napa & Sonoma Wines of 2017: 2014 The Lark (#56) and 2014 Dr. Olmo (#70). As I wrote about Napa Valley’s 2014 vintage earlier last year, the 2014s show their true character and nature of their respective soils and microclimates. What’s in the bottle is more about their respective vineyards than the weather patterns during the year. It was altogether a more balanced growing season than most years in my recent memory.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
More than 120 years into its existence, Larkmead is undergoing something of a transformation. A recently completed renovation of the facilities includes a brand-new winery whose tanks are fitted precisely to different vineyard blocks, and a gorgeous new building for seated tastings, with a semi-outdoor patio and an indoor, cellar-temperature chamber lined with Georgia O’Keefe-esque paintings by Larkmead owner Kate Solari-Baker... it’s worth noting that the Larkmead wines provide a welcome departure, style-wise, from most other similarly priced bottles from Napa Valley. Collectors, take note.
Located north of Saint Helena and pulling all from their estate vineyard located around the winery, owner Cam Baker and winemaker Dan Petroski have produced some true superstars in 2015. These are ripe, full-bodied, majestic, yet structured wines that are going to age beautifully.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
San Francisco Chronicle 2017 Winemaker of the Year: Over his 11 years at Larkmead, Petroski has honed a focused, but ultimately traditional, voice for the estate’s Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Structure, a commingling of herb and fruit, tannins that will outlive decades: These are the noble mandates of Cabernet from Napa Valley as from Bordeaux, and have been for centuries… It’s the rare winemaker who can contain multitudes such as these: to forge a style of wine as original and unmoored as Massican while upholding the epitome of the American wine establishment, Napa Valley Cabernet. Or at least, it’s the rare winemaker who can do them both as well as Dan Petroski does. For this, and for much more, Petroski is The Chronicle’s 2017 Winemaker of the Year.
The best wines from 2015 are singular, totally unique expressions of their vineyards and are absolutely spectacular. Apart from very fine-grained, silt-like tannins and great freshness that structure the superlatives, it is the sheer range of aromas/flavors this vintage throws up that has me so impressed. In some wines, red, black and blue fruits can be found existing in more or less equal proportions and great harmony. The intensity of floral and spice perfumes that can be found is just astounding. Given the vintage, these characters have come as a wonderful surprise not just to me but to the winemakers as well.
The 2014s showed their true character of their respective soils and microclimates. Profiles were more about the vineyards they came from, rather than the weather patterns of the year… The wines show a harmony in fruit and structure that will allow early drinking as well as aging.
How did a Nebbiolo-lover from the New York publishing world become an icon of hipster wine while simultaneously producing some of Napa’s most exciting Cabernet for a heritage brand in Calistoga? Because Dan Petroski is uniquely suited for both… Over dinner in Calistoga, I could sense the dichotomy of his character, the toggling between his innate East Coast city sensibility and his newfound agrarian lifestyle as a California winemaker.
Calistoga’s Larkmead is possibly one of the most celebrated but least known of Napa wineries… Dan Petroski, a New York publisher turned winemaker, joined in 2007, after present owners Cam Baker and Kate Solari Baker revived the label. Petroski’s winemaking selection is on the Burgundian model: ‘parcel-based winemaking to express the variation of soils we get up here’.
Wines & Spirits
The new cabernet program brings a refreshing shift in Larkmead’s style. Where the previous estate wines were hedonistic and, at times, monolithic, the new bottlings offer a relatively trim presence in the mouth, and a captivating diversity in relation to each other. Tasting upcoming vintages of Solari, Dr. Olmo and The Lark out of barrel and bottle feels like finding an exciting new classic. They are obviously young, but their progressively greater freshness and transparency points to age worthy wines with clearly expressed site characteristics.
Winemaker Dan Petroski’s focus on more sustainable farming practices and a move towards picking at lower sugars are two recent developments here. To be sure, this historic Calistoga vineyard naturally produces pretty big, powerful wines, so it will likely be some time before the full effects of these changes are felt. Perhaps more important is Larkmead’s increased focus on single-parcel wines at the top of the range.
Proprietor Cam Baker and his winemaker Dan Petroski continue to prove irrefutably what a first growth terroir Larkmead possesses. Located directly on the valley floor north of St. Helena, this is a superb site, with alluvial, gravelly soils, but there’s diversity in the soil, with plenty of clay, rock and what they refer to as Cortina Gravel.
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Petroski has been quietly raising the bar for Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Larkmead may now be the best Napa cab you've never heard of. When I visited its new Howard Backen-designed winery last year, I was blown away by the 2012s, which were rich and generous in the sunny Napa style but had a classical balance and restraint that reminded me of Bordeaux.
This famous, historic estate, highly renowned in the late 1800s, sits to the north of St. Helena and to the south of Calistoga. It is a valley-floor vineyard of 110 acres that has been divided into a hierarchy of quality. They have had an incredible run of great successes at Larkmead, with the 2013s easily the match for the impressive 2012s…The three Black Label wines are about as good as Cabernet Sauvignon can be… Cam Baker, the proprietor of Larkmead, told me that the 2013s were off the analytical charts in terms of extract, tannin levels and color density.
...Larkmead remains one of the most distinctive sites anywhere in California. The 2014s are the first wines made with the new internal division of parcels and, perhaps for that reason, show a bit more focus as well as finesse. Winemaker Dan Petroski describes 2014 as a vintage that had both longer hang time than usual and that ripened at lower sugars than are the norm here, with less heat at the end of the growing season. The bottled 2013s are as powerful and bombastic as they have always been.
Larkmead continues to be a favorite producer in Napa, and its wines remain underrated by many.
This is a stunning set of wines from Larkmead. The 2012s are big, powerful Cabernets that will require quite a bit of patience. They are among the most structured wines of the year I tasted. The 2013s are even more intense…Petroski has a decidedly Old World-leaning palate, which seems very well suited to the kinds of wines that seem to emerge pretty naturally from this historic Calistoga site. Longtime Larkmead fans will note a few changes in the wines, such as a move to make Cabernet Franc an important component in the LMV Salon and the evolution of the flagship Lark to a single-parcel wine, rather than a field or cellar selection. Personally, I very much like what is coming out of Larkmead these days, and that is no way a critique of prior vintages, but rather an observation of what looks like a very bright future here.
TOP 100 WINES OF 2014 - #29 2010 SOLARI This is like Mouton 1982 on the nose with lead pencil, blackberry, mint and asphalt. Iodine, iron and blood, too. Toasted oak and coffee. Full body with an incredible depth of fruit and structure to this red. The texture of velvet is compelling and makes you contemplate all great wines. A pinnacle of pure Napa cabernet. Reserved opulence. Please give this at least three to five years to soften with bottle age: Try in 2018.
As I have written before, this is an extraordinary estate spread out in one contiguous parcel (unusual) in the center of the Napa Valley floor, north of St. Helena and south of Calistoga. A singular characteristic of the Larkmead vineyard is that it has a strong vein of old river gravel. Dan Petroski…has not missed a beat finishing the 2012s and producing the 2013s, which Cam Baker believes might be the vintage of the century for Larkmead.
This splendid estate situated in the heart of Napa Valley, just north of St. Helena, has enjoyed a reputation for high quality for well over a century. Tasting with winemaker Andy Smith and Larkmead’s proprietor Cam Baker demonstrated once again just what brilliant wines these can be…2012 appears to be a fabulous vintage for proprietor Cam Baker.
I was completely blown away by Larkmead this year. The 2010s are simply phenomenal across the board. This is also a vintage in which the different terroirs Larkmead works with are vividly marked. While many wineries are aggressively pushing the boundaries of pricing, Larkmead takes the opposite approach. The fashionable cult-loving crowd might look past these offerings, but savvy readers will recognize that Larkmead Cabernet Sauvignons in particular are some of the very best wines being made in Napa Valley today. If forced to choose one top-flight Napa Valley producer that remains under the radar, Larkmead would get my vote. These are spectacular wines that deserve a much broader audience. I can’t say enough good things about what proprietor Cam Baker, winemaker Andy Smith and the entire team at Larkmead are doing at this historic property.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
A sign of how the older and new Napa styles are being bridged ... a wonderfully revived Calistoga property.
Larkmead is one of the historic estates in Napa Valley, with a rich lineage that goes back to 1895. The wines I tasted with Proprietor Cam Baker and winemaker Andy Smith were all exceptional. Most importantly, though, these are highly individualistic wines loaded with true personality and class. Pricing remains exceedingly fair by Napa Valley standards, considering the quality of what is in the bottle.