Orison Pritchard Hill 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

Orison Pritchard Hill 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon

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Hi Folks,

Last year one of our greatest hits was the Orison Alexander Valley Cabernet that you GUSHED over raided our cellar to secure. It won a blind tasting against stalwart Cabs like Lokoya, Pahlmeyer, Domaine de Chevalier, and others with a group including my brothers Curt and Joe.

Like you many of you, I woke up yesterday morning and needed a reason to smile. Thankfully, a sample of the 2018 Orison Cab showed up and I am telling you IT'S LIGHTS OUT, better - seriously better, than last year's greatest hit. Sourced from an iconic Pritchard Hill vineyard in arguably the greatest growing season for cabernet in Napa since 1997, the wine is ridiculously good. And its price... impossibly good.   



For those of you who don't know Pritchard Hill, its the home of a couple of little wineries that go by the name Bryant Family, Chappellet, Colgin Cellars, Gandona (WINK WINK), Continuum Estate, and Ovid and luminaries such as Ann Colgin, David Abreau, Helen Keplinger, Michel Rolland and Philippe Melka (WINK WINK).   The Cabernets from Pritchard hill START at $250 per bottle and Bryant Family is more than $800.  If you love GREAT mountain Napa Cabernet this is AN ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE WINE.  I was allocated 300 bottles and they are going to fly.   READ THE ORISON STORY below and also read about the history of Pritchard Hill.  This is serious juice at a serious steal.

If you know this wine, you know. And MANY OF YOU are in the know.  But if you don't... here goes. The Orison cab is the product of what happens when you are DIALED into the CULT CAB scene in California. Dan and Pipa Orrison worked in Napa Valley at little places like Chateau Montelena, HARLAN, BOND, Larkmead, and Pride Mountain and ingratiated themselves into the inner circle of winemakers. One of those VERY FAMOUS winemaker friends has exclusively let the couple work with excess juice from his Pritchard Hill estate since 2014, and the quality blows my team and customers away each year. Maybe not surprising, however, because it's THE SAME EXACT JUICE that sells for more than $250 per bottle from the winery!  Only 260 cases were produced and if this wine sells as fast as their last offering, my guess is it's gone by Christmas.

This will be the best $60 bottle of Napa Cabernet you taste over the next year, I promise. 

A Wine's Quality Is Determined In The Glass.

Shane Benson | Owner | New York Vintners   



Comprised of 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc & 5% Petit Verdot, the 2018 Pritchard Hill Cabernet is a wine of extreme depth, power and structure. Sourced from the hillside vineyards of Gandona Estate, the wine was crafted with the intention of ageing. Dark fruits of blackberry, raspberry and cherry unfold in the glass and are enhanced by the underlying earthiness of hillside fruit. A finish of leather, black pepper, truffle and vanilla hold true in what is the most elegant wine in the Orison portfolio. Captivating now, the 2018 Cabernet Sauvignon will continue to develop in the cellar for another 15 years. 

Harvest Window: 9/26/18 - 10/25/18
Maceration: 25 Days, 100% Concrete Tank
Oak Treatment: 18 Months French Oak
Grapes: 84% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot Alcohol: 15% 

The near picture-perfect growing season began in late February. Spring was mild, with extended flowering yielding uniform grape clusters. Temperatures remained steady and warm throughout the growing season, without any significant heat spikes, making for a cool, unhurried harvest. Perfect for Cabernet, yields in the vineyards were consistent and clusters developed perfectly in what was an exceptional growing year in Napa Valley.



The Orison Wine Story

The Orison wine project, started in 2011 by Daniel and Filipa ‘Pipa’ Orrison, embodies two young winemakers' desire to bring the beauty and spirit of Portugal to the United States through wine.

A love of wine & travel brought Dan and Pipa together in New Zealand and has since taken them around the world in pursuit of their passion.  Combined, the husband and wife team have made wines in five different countries at a collection of the world’s top estates -  Harlan Estate & Bond Winery, Chateau Montelena, Domaine des Croix, Camille Giroud, Larkmead Winery, Pride Mountain Vineyards & Failla Winery.  Their style is a mixture of new world precision and old-world instinct as they look to produce wine of unique origin and abundant value under the simple belief that authenticity and balance are paramount, in wine as in life. 

The brand stretches 2,000 cases, represented in two countries and six major markets in the United States, at a collection of the world’s top restaurants and retail stores.  While modest in accomplishment, the team has emerged as a millennial force in the wine industry for the quality of wine they make and the style by which they tell their story.  

 The 2016 Orison Cab up against some of the big names

Pipa rocking the ferment



Pinning Down Pritchard Hill


The best grape-growing region in Napa Valley you’ve probably never heard of is Pritchard Hill. It’s not even an official appellation yet—and may never be one. But this high part of the Vaca Mountains, off the beaten path and remote, is producing among the most profound wines in Napa Valley.

The grape and wine of choice is Cabernet Sauvignon, sometimes blended with other Bordeaux varieties (a few vintners add Syrah). These wines are spectacular. They are Cabs of great richness, depth and length. They also are tannic, but none is so tight that it can’t be enjoyed after a few hours in the decanter.

Where is Pritchard Hill?
It’s hard to define its boundaries, since, not being a legal appellation, it doesn’t have any. Jon-Mark Chappellet, whose father, Donn, pioneered the area, describes it as “a hole” between Oakville, Howell Mountain, the Stags Leap District, Rutherford and Chiles Valley.

Most of the vineyards are higher than 800 feet above sea level, and some rise to nearly 2,000 feet. If you stand at the intersection of the Silverado Trail and the Oakville Cross Road, looking east, you’d see Dalla Valle straight ahead, up the hill. Pritchard Hill’s vineyards are even higher.

Wines grown there qualify only for a Napa Valley appellation. Blakesley Chappellet, Donn’s daughter-in-law, calls the region “a lieu-dit,” the French term for a distinctive geographic area.

Pritchard Hill’s grape-growing heritage
The hill is named for homesteader Charles Pritchard. In the 1890 vintage, he declared a crop of Zinfandel and Riesling. There was scattered grape-growing over the next century, but from a viticultural point of view, much of the action was down on the valley floor.

Pritchard Hill’s modern era began in 1967, when the Chappellets bought their property. Searching for the best site available, Donn sought the advice of André Tchelistcheff, then at Beaulieu Vineyard.

“André replied, ‘All the grapes I get come from the valley floor. If I could get grapes from a hillside, I would,’ ” says Donn. Later, an agent showed Chappellet the Pritchard Hill property, and the rest is history.

The following decade saw the arrival of two families, both named Long, but unrelated: Bob Long and his wife, Zelma (then the chief enologist for Robert Mondavi; their Long Vineyards is no longer operating), and David Arthur Long and his father, Donald, who planted their vineyard in 1978.

Today, David Arthur Vineyards is owned by David, his brother, Bob, and Bob’s wife, Joye. Bob Long also has his own brand, Montagna. The current number of wineries, brands and vineyards on the hill is about 16. The precise number depends on how you define a winery, and not all the vineyards produce a wine.

Oakville, on a mountain
Most winemakers on Pritchard Hill cite soil and elevation as keys to their wines’ quality. The dirt is red, of a series known as Sobrante, described by David Arthur’s and Montagna’s winemaker, Nile Zacherle, as “volcanic clay loam.”

The dirt is littered with huge boulders. Some wineries, like Colgin and Brand, had to dynamite their land and haul the rubble away before planting, an expensive process that can require importing soils to make up the difference.

“The thing about these soils,” says Jon-Mark Chappellet, “is that we have to poke around for areas where there’s enough [soil] to actually farm.”

The soils are well drained, making for small, intensely flavored grapes with thick skins. Yields average from less than a ton per acre to a few tons, depending on the vintage. Water is scarce, and its availability, in addition to the paucity of plantable soils, limits how many additional vineyards can be developed. The current total is only about 340 acres.

Pritchard Hill sits above the fog line. Greg Melanson, whose Melanson Vineyard and home are at 1,200 feet above sea level, describes waking up in the summer to bright sunshine, while the valley below is blanketed in white. That extra sunshine “allows us to have a photosynthetic capacity that’s enviable,” says Tim Mondavi.

The result, says consultant Philippe Melka, who makes the wines at Gandona and Brand (and who was Bryant Family’s winemaker until 2006), is what he calls “the best of both worlds: Oakville sophistication with the extra intensity of a hillside.”

An immediate effect of all this sunny ripeness, of course, is that alcohol levels tend to run high—often over 15% by volume. But I have yet to taste a Pritchard Hill wine that was hot. That warmth gives the wines a soft, round, almost Cognac-like mellowness that adds to their allure.

Will Pritchard Hill ever be an American Viticultural Area (AVA)? The man who owns the 1971 trademark—Donn Chappellet—firmly declares, “It will not.”

The inclusion of adjoining properties in any Pritchard Hill appellation causes Chappellet great concern. “If that happened, then dozens of wineries could put Pritchard Hill on the label, and destroy the valuable name,” he says.

Pritchard Hill’s character
When tasting through a dozen wines, I can’t say I detected a character that was particularly “Pritchard Hilly.” But here are some of the terms I used repeatedly in my reviews: dark, incredible aromatics, delicious, powerful, classic, fantastically rich and flashy.

For all these common tones of California-ness, there were distinctions: in approachability, in ripeness, in the precise quality of the tannins, in ageability, in how the alcohol felt and, in some cases, the role of volatile acidity.

As Jon-Mark Chappellet points out, a Pritchard Hill character “is tough to pin down, almost impossible.”

To sum it up, Ovid’s winemaker, Austin Peterson, says, “Pritchard Hill is a unique, incredible spot for wine.”

Wineries of Pritchard Hill
Melanson (1988)
Greg Melanson bought his land in 1988. It had formerly been owned by Round Pond; Bob and Zelma Long planted the original vineyard in the early 1970s. For years, Melanson sold fruit to the likes of Heidi Barrett (for La Sirena) before starting his own brand. He describes his Cabernet as “minerally” due to the rocks; I call the same quality “hard.” The vineyard consists of 10.5 acres planted to Cabernet, Chardonnay and Syrah.

Bryant Family (1992)
St. Louis-based lawyer, art collector and philanthropist Don Bryant Jr. bought his Pritchard Hill land in 1985. The all-star team includes winemaker Helen Keplinger, consultant Michel Rolland and vineyard manager David Abreu. Bryant Family’s Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the 13-acre Pritchard Hill estate vineyard.

Chappellet (1967)
When the Chappellets bought their property, there was an existing vineyard planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, Gamay and Johannisberg Riesling. Donn gradually replaced these with Bordeaux varieties, except for a brief experiment with Chardonnay. The Chappellets’ approximately 100 acres of planted vines makes their vineyard the biggest on Pritchard Hill.

Villa del Lago (2006)
You might remember David Del Dotto for his how-to-get-rich infomercials in the 1980s. When he decided to get into wine, “I knew Pritchard Hill was one of the hot spots from drinking Bryant Family,” he says. “And I’d met David Arthur, who convinced me of the potential of these wines.” Like Ann Colgin, he considers Lake Hennessey’s proximity “the key” to his vineyard, saying, “We’re the closest to it on the hill.” He makes a range of wines under the Del Dotto label, but reserves the Villa del Lago brand for his estate Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.

Colgin Cellars (1992)
“I’d been looking for something on a hillside that had never been planted, something to create from scratch,” Ann Colgin recalls. She says the proximity of Lake Hennessey, a 1.2-square-mile, man-made lake that sits at the northwestern corner of Pritchard Hill, brings “a cooler aspect” to her 20-acre vineyard. She also credits the site’s “being on the back side” of the hill as “protecting it from the winds that sweep up valley from San Francisco Bay,” bringing a balance of moderated heat. Colgin’s first release of the IX Estate was in 2002.

Brand (2005)
This yet-to-be released wine is made by Philippe Melka. It seems once to have been called Feathered Hill, but Melka says the brandname will be Brand when the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon debuts this fall. The estate had been owned by Miner Family Winery and was purchased by businessman Ed Fitts.

Gandona (2006)
The ubiquitous Philippe Melka is winemaker. The owners are Portuguese; they bought the land from Bob Long (Zelma’s husband) when Long Vineyards ceased operations. Melka says the estate is nine acres, mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon.

Continuum Estate (2005)
Tim Mondavi famously struck off on his own after the family lost control of the Robert Mondavi Winery. He turned to Pritchard Hill for his estate. Actually, he quickly explains, “I didn’t pick ‘Pritchard Hill.’ I picked this soil, this exposure, this aspect.” He calls himself “a convert from the valley floor: being above the fog, having thin soils.” Mondavi describes his wine as “Oakville with altitude.” The vineyard is 62 acres, making it the second largest in the region.

Ovid (2003)
Dana Johnson and Mark Nelson, former software entrepreneurs, bought their vineyard land in 1998 and launched the Ovid brand five years later. To do so, they assembled a stellar team: superstar vineyard manager David Abreu, winemaker Austin Peterson (who worked with Michel Rolland at Château Le Bon Pasteur in Pomerol) and consulting winemaker Andy Erickson (formerly of Screaming Eagle, now at Dalla Valle). The Ovid wine is always a blend of several red grape varieties; the 2009 is 58% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Cabernet Franc, and smaller proportions of Merlot and Petit Verdot. “This area makes incredible Cabernet Franc. It always reminds me of our bright red soil,” says Peterson.

Montagna (2000)
David Long planted the Montagna vineyard for his brother, Bob. Nile Zacherle makes the wines, which include two block-designated Cabernets and a 100% Syrah. Zacherle, who also makes the David Arthur wines, finds “more elegance in Montagna, and more power in David Arthur,” although he says it’s hard to say exactly why.

David Arthur (1985)
David Arthur Long’s father slowly acquired the property from the late 1950s to the early 1970s. “He wanted a cattle ranch,” Long says with a smile. That didn’t quite work out. The family decided to grow Chardonnay, which they sold. Meanwhile, Long says, “I worked at Chappellet and Joseph Phelps, learning about planting, irrigation and grape stakes from the ground up.” The Chardonnay eventually was pulled out. The first red wine release was the 1991. The 19-acre vineyard averages 1,200 feet in elevation