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Mayacamas Vineyards

Legacy, History and Dreams - California’s First Growth

Sometimes it’s easier to say what a wine isn’t rather than what it is. Untouched by the clamour for high octane ripeness and stratospheric scores, Mayacamas remains California’s most un-Californian Cabernet. Nestled above the fog line at a lofty 700 metres on Mount Veeder, Mayacamas’ unique highland terroir delivers the longest growing season and lowest natural yields of the Napa Valley. The flagship Cabernet Sauvignon’s combination of aromatic power, unique structure and noted longevity has regularly invited comparisons with First Growth Bordeaux—from a great year, we might add! At the same time, the traditional winemaking in concrete and century-old foudre owes more to Piemonte than the Napa cults.

In 1968, Bob Travers bought the estate (established in 1889) from Jack and Mary Taylor, who had named it Mayacamas, which translates to ‘call of the mountain lion’ in the language of the Wappo indigenous people. The Taylors also created the iconic label in 1947, which remains unchanged to this day. Winemaker Bob Sessions, who was working at Mayacamas when Travers took the reins, remained on staff through to 1972; both men were considered—at the time and to this day—goliaths of authentic Californian wine.

After Mayacamas’ stunning success at the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting, the 1980s heralded a profound shift in Californian taste. Structure, elegance, moderate alcohols and ageability would come to be seen as old-fashioned, while the sweet, high-octane wines of the Parker era carried all before them. But Travers didn’t blink. He ignored the noise and continued to make ‘mountain’ wines in the style he thought best reflected California and Mayacamas.

Travers eventually retired in 2013 and sold the estate to the Schottenstein family, who installed Andy Erickson (of Screaming Eagle) and Braiden Albrecht as winemakers and Phil Coturri as their viticultural star. Fears that the Mayacamas style would become gentrified were allayed. Instead, the new owners doubled down to preserve Travers’ legacy. The site is organically managed today and has seen extensive replanting over the last decade, using the mass-selection cuttings from the vineyard’s best vines. The 20 hectares under vine are subdivided into 41 blocks across the property, with Cabernet Sauvignon planted throughout. Most of these blocks face south or west, and soils vary from poor and volcanic to ancient seabed deposits. The fruit from these sites retains startlingly fresh acidities and a clean mineral character.

In the cellar, little has changed since Bob Travers took control in the late 1960s. The fruit is harvested by hand early and over multiple passes, often at the beginning of September, to preserve natural, altitude-derived acidities. The alcohols usually end up between 13 and 14%. The wines ferment mainly in open-top cement vessels built in the 1950s. Extended aging occurs exclusively in neutral oak (some up to 100 years old!), typically for 36 months. This practice protects acidities and allows the expression of the vineyard to shine through the powerful fruit profile while minimising oxygenation and maintaining the robust tannin structure Mayacamas is famous for. The wines usually spend a further two years in bottle before they are released to the market.

In the words of Antonio Galloni, Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon captures “an artisan spirit from a long-gone era in Napa Valley that is only now being rediscovered and fully appreciated for what it is: one of the richest legacies in Napa Valley, the United States and the world”. Long may it continue. 

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“Mayacamas Vineyards is one of the greatest Cabernet Sauvignon producers in the history of California. For those who long for great red wines that cellar with conviction and evolve in the course of time into brilliantly complex and compelling wines, Mayacamas Vineyards remains one of the brightest stars in the constellation of California wine. It is arguably the last man standing from the glory days of California’s past.” John Gilman, View from the Cellar

“One of the most iconic estates of Napa Valley… For six decades Bob Travers made some of the most compelling, age worthy and profound Napa Valley wines at Mayacamas. These magnificent Cabernet Sauvignons capture an artisan spirit from a long-gone era in Napa Valley that is only now being rediscovered and fully appreciated for what it is: one of the richest legacies in Napa Valley, the United States and the world.” Antonio Galloni, Vinous

“Really, you can't do better than Mayacamas Vineyards for California wine profoundness... the source of some of Napa Valley's most significant wines, both red and white... Mayacamas Vineyards makes some of California's greatest Cabernets, period.” Matt Kramer, Wine Spectator

“Mayacamas Vineyards, the legendary purveyor of classically structured, age-worthy Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon” Eric Asimov, The New York Times

Country

USA

Primary Region

Napa Valley, California

People

Winemaker: Braiden Albrecht

Availability

National

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