2014 Snowden “The Ranch” Napa Cabernet



Between Saint Helena and Rutherford lies a little gem of a farmstead, first established in 1878.  As the Saint Helena Star reported in 1880:

“Those who only pass through the center of the Napa Valley have little idea of the vast room for ‘ranches’ in the mountains on either side.  What is apparently a forbidding wall of rocks is really a fertile and pleasant country, well watered with living springs and always rich enough for grapes and other fruit, with usually a little room for grain and hay.  One of these little ‘pockets’ of fertility is found by going in from the east side of the valley…”

And in that little pocket is the vineyards of Snowden.

To my taste, palate, and understanding of Napa’s history and its wines, the Snowdens are true unsung heroes of Cabernet, who quietly for decades have produced a gorgeous rendition of what this Valley does best, with no fanfare and certainly no ego.

From the beginning, all Snowdens – father, brothers, wives, and now daughter winemaker – have pursued other careers while continuing to make wine.  While this may not seem like a great feat, when I’ve talked to the Snowdens, I feel it gives them a sense of perspective.  Yes, the winery needs to make money, but it doesn’t need to keep up with the Joneses of Napa.  The price has always been more than fair for what’s in the bottle.

Of the land they own, a mere 14% is dedicated to grape production, and the rest is a wildlife preserve.  They have no tasting room and there is very little in the way of intrusive infrastructure (a porta-potty is the extent of plumbing services).  This might be called “sustainability” in the wine buzzwords of today, but I think that stewardship, the plain and simple task of caring about the vineyards’ future, is the better word.

Finally, the Cabernet they produce is exceptional:

A St. Helena-esque deep black Maraschino cherry fruit character emerges from the nose, with a sweet scent of vanilla and spices.  The cocoa-powder dust, pencil lead, and burnished leather are reminiscent of Rutherford.  And finally the structure and depth, the drama and power is pure mountain fruit, showing itself to the core.  This wine is a baby now, so I would give it a solid decant or romance it slowly, from cocktail hour, through steak au poivre and into salted dark chocolates for a long and amorous evening.

It bears repeating – the price of this wine has always been more than fair.  Take a look at their neighbors – Kathryn Hall’s single vineyard Cabernets are adjacent vineyards.  Heitz is also a neighbor, as well as Randy Dunn on Howell.  Pritchard Hill with all its cult wineries is a stone’s throw away.  All of those Cabernets are double to ten times as much.

But don’t let high prices overshadow the Snowdens.  They had no reason to offer a discount, yet because of California’s recent fires, they wanted to do something to remind us of Napa’s homesteaders and its beautiful wines during this holiday season.  Cheers and enjoy this wine with the ones you love!

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