For those who were lucky enough to grab I. Brand & Family’s mesmerizing Mourvèdre a while back—as well as for those who missed it—get ready for another small-production gem from this talented young winemaker: This is a classic, cool-climate Cabernet hailing from the famous ridge high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains—a mere 211 cases were produced and we were thrilled to receive a tiny fraction.
In an interview with Edible Monterey Bay, winemaker Ian Brand and his wife and partner, Heather, had this to say about their micro-production, single-site wines: “Outside of local sommeliers and the restaurant community, we haven’t taken time to showcase what we’re doing here.” Well, this is SommSelect doing some showcasing—and it’s my favorite I. Brand wine yet. To me, Ian is a vineyard hunter first and a winemaker second. He has studied the lands around here for over a decade, searching for a deep relationship between grape and place. This is one of the truest, unmasked expressions of California Cabernet I’ve come across in quite some time and if I had to compare it to something, I’d say it drinks like a rich and modern Second Growth Bordeaux that has the ability to age gracefully like those of Ridge. Excluding their quaint tasting room in Carmel Valley, you’ll be hard-pressed to find this micro-production wine elsewhere, so be sure not to miss it here!
If there’s unique source material to be had in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and the surrounding areas, chances are Ian Brand has traversed the grounds and studied the grapes, the climate, the soils; every aspect imaginable. As quoted on their website: “This is farm land, desolate hills, and solitude. What we do is simple, without artifice, and we enjoy it.” Last year, we offered a vibrant, Monterey-sourced Albariño under his La Marea label and, more recently, he’s launched a series of single-vineyard bottlings from iconic vineyards under the I. Brand & Family moniker (like his aforementioned Mourvèdre and today’s Cabernet). These days, Ian stays busy, producing wine for a dozen different labels, while managing three of his own, but these site-specific wines under his I. Brand & Family label are, without a doubt, the standouts.
Monte Bello’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean coupled with an elevation surpassing 2,000 feet makes this parcel of land a proverbial Shangri-La. It is atop this high-altitude ridge within the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA where Cabernet finds itself in one of California’s coolest climates. Unlike Napa, the well-drained soils here are mostly loamy with a limestone substrate—more similar to those of Bordeaux. With its high elevation and warm growing season, the diurnal swings are immense and allow for a rich, voluptuous wine with an invigorating level of acidity. In a custom crush facility back in Salinas, the wine was vinified in small batches and sat on its lees for 22 months in 10% new French oak before resting an additional year in bottle.
In the glass, Brand’s 2014 “Monte Bello Road” Cabernet displays an opaque, dark garnet core moving to magenta highlights at the rim. It is plush but structured, offering more than a passing nod to some of the great terroirs of Bordeaux’s Left Bank. Heady aromas of kirsch, cassis, and red and black currant mingle with notes of graphite, freshly turned earth, tobacco, and ground espresso. For all of its richness and viscosity on the palate, there’s also freshness keeping the wine buoyant and energetic, and enough grip to suggest a few more years in the cellar. By all means, decant a bottle now about 45 minutes before serving in large Bordeaux stems at 60-65 degrees, but save a few for what I think will be its true peak in three to four years. This is a ‘main event’ bottle, deserving of an opulent, serious main course pairing: the cherry-rosemary sauce in the attached duck recipe should complement this wines push-pull of fruit and earth beautifully. Enjoy!
Santa Cruz Mountains
10% New French
Franciscan Loam & Limestone