They say necessity is the mother of invention. This would seem to be a fine example of that saying. No one has time to read the whole story of Anderson’s Conn Valley Vineyards. Their website claims four generations have been here though the label only started with the 1987 vintage and their website states “Since 1983 we have been family owned and operated by the Anderson’s.” (this is a direct cut and paste showing the incorrect use of the possessive for all you English nigglers out there). They got a lot of attention pretty soon in their history, rattling off a series of 92+ scores in successive vintages in Wine Advocate (and a Wine Spectator cover with their incredibel 1988) and the label was generating some buzz ahead of the emergence of a number of now iconic ‘trophy styled wines’ shortly thereafter.
Conn Valley is a little different from the heart of Napa. Located roughly ten minutes up the hill east of St. Helena, sort of on the back side south of Howell Mountain, this 40 acre estate sits in a sort of elevated cleft known as Conn Valley. It has a completely different and more serene vibe than the Valley below and this all-by-itself property has cave cellars, a sort of throwback facility, and what one might call its own ‘zen’. We visited the Andersons there many years ago, met Todd and his father, and got a real feel for the wines. We sold the many renditions from Conn Valley for many years but, as has happened so often in this part of the world, prices started to creep up beyond the point where they were slam dunks.
They made their bones on a series of ‘reserve level’ bottlings called Eloge, Reserve, Signature and Right Bank built from Bordeaux varietals. It should also be mentioned that they have had some occasional enthusiastic kudos for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, but their reputation was based on wines made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc, and Merlot. The style has always been of a luxury bent with broad, creamy fruit well-seasoned with top flight oak. It seemed to be the perfect recipe for the market, and it had a pretty good run.
No one can say for sure what happened but production started to outpace sales. One could suggest a gradual slowdown in the super-premium market and their signature wines ran from $80 to $150, though they got reviews commensurate with that level of pricing. Maybe it was the move from just making a wine called Cabernet to making a number of different bottlings (until this wine, the last review we saw for something called simply Cabernet was 1995) that confused consumers. Maybe it was the label, which they changed to something else rather distinctive (but also difficult to read) not long ago.
Maybe it was Todd Anderson’s focus on his super-super-premium Ghost Horse project that took away from the attention devoted to Conn Valley. There are many conjectures, and the story can get pretty complicated. But the bottom line is that the winery decided it needed to produce a wine that got the attention of a whole new set of buyers and was within the price range of a larger audience.
To that end, the 2016 Anderson’s Conn Valley Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was born (or ‘reborn’ depending on how you interpret the history). The blend is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot & 5% Cabernet Franc, the Cabernet Franc the only part to come from another site (Reinke Family Vineyards, a hillside vineyard in west Carneros…the wine still qualifies as estate bottled under the law).
They really nailed this one. This has a lot in common with their ‘reserve’ level wines (except the price)…creamy fruit, notes of chocolate, spice and vanilla, along with pretty ripe, melty tannins for a wine so young. The winery’s story is this, “A new product for us is this first ever ‘non-reserve’ Cabernet. It is a fruit forward, friendly, easy to drink style of Cabernet produced from the barrels that don’t quite make the cut for the Reserve and Eloge bottlings. What you may enjoy though is knowing that this is an estate grown, estate bottled Conn Valley Cabernet for HALF what you’d normally have to pay…”
It certainly tastes like it had the luxury treatment and showed surprising presence and polish on both occasions that we tried it. This definitely has a ‘wow’ quality to it, and the kind of plush refinement you simply don’t see for under $40. If you are a fan of Cabernet, it would be hard not to like it.
We don’t think the media has seen this one yet as this just hit the market. No doubt it will be tasted among the other, much more exotic (and more expensive) Conn Valley wines and probably not get its due with respect to numbers. It’s our version of the ‘theory of relatively’ where, if there are ‘upper cuvees’, most writers will focus on those and work backward. As to timing, you are definitely ahead of the game as the wine was literally just released.
Are we going to tell you it’s as good as their $150 reserve bottling? We know human nature far too well to promise that. Are we going to tell you that if you drop this in among what is out there for $35-60 it will likely steal the show? Absolutely! It is one of the sexiest Cabernets we have had for this kind of fare but it’s all estate fruit from a place that has been making top notch reds for a long time. They created this wine to make an impression. That it does!