2015 Groth Reserve Cabernet
Dennis Groth put down the joystick of his Atari 2600 and thought “this is never going to last. At some point kids are just going to get tired of video games.”
The year was 1981 and Dennis was one of the key architects in the development of Atari Corporation, which at that point was the fastest growing company in the history of the United States. But he just couldn’t see that putting a bow on Ms. Pacman’s head would make it the most profitable game in history. He wanted out of the gaming industry.
Also in 1981, before the tourists, fancy restaurants, and celebrity auctions, Napa Valley was just beginning to blossom with a second generation of wineries. While relaxing on a weekend drive up to the Valley, a friend suggested that Dennis take a look at a piece of property planted by a young winery named Silver Oak.
A meticulous man by nature Dennis wasn’t going to jump at any old dirt patch. He and his wife Judy were no experts but they enjoyed drinking wine and if they were going to do something they wanted to do it right. Surprising their realtor they started tasting the wines of their prospective neighbors – Joey Phelps, Plumpjack, Robert Mondavi – to see what the village of Oakville could produce. What they found intrigued them.
Oakville is the heart and soul of Napa Valley. Many say it is here where Cabernet finds its greatest expression of plush, fecund fruit and the Valley’s richest, most defined wines. Dennis decided to take the risk, and by the end of 1981 he and Judy had bought land and founded Groth Winery.
History has now obscured Dennis’ acumen about the collapse of the video gaming industry (very few of us remember the utterly bleak period between the end of Atari in 1984 and the advent of Nintendo in 1987) but there can be no doubt about his impact on Cabernet, Oakville, and Napa Valley as a whole.
In 1985 Dennis’ Groth Reserve Cabernet brought the attention of the wine world to Oakville as Robert Parker crowned it with his first ever “perfect” 100 point score. I believe Mr. Parker’s summation to be an accurate one of the style of Groth Cabernets: “while unbelievably rich, the wine never comes across as heavy.”
In the wake of his achievement new investors and new wineries poured into Oakville bringing with them a different paradigm of winemaking. Now the quest became one of pure and utter ripeness, sometimes for the dynamic expression that only Oakville Cabernet can produce; sometimes for the dynamic price hike only high Parker Points can sustain.
Despite these outside pressures Groth Cabernet has never wavered from its elegant style and the 2015 vintage is indeed a classic. Pronounced black cherry and blueberry fruit notes are balanced by barrel scents of vanilla, five spice powder and toast. The palate is structured around its bold Oakville fruit character with enough lively acidity and powerful tannins to define the taste, leaving a mature depth of finish. While open and expressive now, especially after a swift decanting, the wine is packed with enough mettle to drink well 15 years from now. It is, as Mr. Parker once said, unbelievably rich, but not heavy.
Nowadays some commentators bypass Groth’s wines when referencing Oakville, preferring the drama of Dennis’ new exclusive neighbors – Screaming Eagle, Harlan, and Dalla Valle among them. Yet his winery continues undaunted, meticulously and quietly crafting great Cabernet in the shadow of others’ higher price tags. For some, the lure of price will always persuade, but for others the beauty of a classic will shine through. And Dennis Groth’s Cabernet is indeed a classic: balanced, harmonious and rooted in Oakville.
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