A look at the Wagner Family wines.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers February 1, 2012
The Wagner family has been making wines in California’s Napa Valley since 1915. Its first winery flourished until 1920 when it was closed by Prohibition, and the family turned to farming, eventually growing grapes and making wines at their home. In 1972, Chuck Wagner and his parents Charles and Lorna Belle, established the Caymus Vineyards winery, naming it for the 1836 land grant that included the area encompassing their farm.
Chuck has been the Caymus winemaker since 1984 and within a few vintages, his Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, especially the “Special Selection,” acquired a reputation for excellence and a plethora of awards. The 1984 and 1994 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignons are the stuff of legends and each year, their release is widely anticipated. The senior Charles passed away in 2002, but not before he and Chuck were named to the Wine Spectator’s Hall of Fame.
The Wagner Family of Wines includes several properties and Chuck’s sons are now the fifth generation of Wagner winemakers. Chuck continues to oversee Caymus, while Charlie II (named after his grandfather) works at Mer Soleil and his brother Joseph is responsible for Belle Glos and Meiomi. A long-time Caymus associate, Jon Bolta, was put in charge of white wines in 1988 and released its first proprietary blend called “Conundrum” in 1989.
The Mer Soliel Barrel Fermented Chardonnay 2008 ($32) is made with fruit sourced from Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands. It is a classically styled California Chardonnay with a rich buttery, toasty frame accented with tropical fruits, peach and vanilla. An interesting contrast is the Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay 2009 ($22) that is made with Monterey grapes fermented in cement tanks rather than barrels. It is a softly textured fig, lemon and stone fruit-flavored wine with supple citrus acidity, noticeable minerality and a pleasant finish. Both expressions are food friendly, although they would each pair with distinctly different cuisines.
The Belle Glos winery is named in honor of the family matriarch and Caymus co-founder Lorna Belle Glos Wagner. It produces excellent Pinot Noirs from three coastal California vineyards including the medium-bodied, Santa Barbara-grown Belle Glos Clark and Telephone Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($44). A spicy blueberry and dark cherry flavored wine with good depth and balance, it has minerals, coffee and soft tannins in the finish. The Belle Glos Taylor Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir 2009 ($44), from the Sonoma Coast, has more pronounced red cherry and raspberry flavors with cola, spice and coffee notes. The fruit for the Belle Glos Las Alturas Pinot Noir 2009 ($44) is from the some of the highest sites in Monterey. Floral and dark fruit notes predominate, along with chocolate, cola and a pleasant smokiness that lead into a long, balanced ending.
In contrast to the single vineyard Pinot Noirs of Belle Glos, the Meiomi Pinot Noirs are blends of three coastal locations; Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara. Not surprisingly, the name means “coast” in the indigenous language. The Meiomi 2010 ($22) is a softly balanced Pinot Noir that shows layers of dark cherry, herb and berry flavors intermingled with root beer, smoke and a sweet oakiness that flow into a lush finish.
The Conundrum 2010 ($24) is a mystery white wine blend. My guess is that it contains Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillion, Chenin Blanc and Viognier. Intensely aromatic with scents of flowers, honey and pineapple, it has rich, soft melon, pear, apricot and apple flavors and perfect citrus acidity for balance, making it an ideal accompaniment to seafood or Asian cuisine.