I say less than ideal because most California winemakers will tell you that the cooler 2011 vintage was a challenge, but in reality, for many in the hotter appellations of the state, it was a relief to experience cooler conditions during the growing season. It appears as though in Lake County, where temperatures easily exceed upper 90s° during the growing season, that the coolness seemed to be a positive trait of the vintage for this Cabernet Sauvignon.
Hawk and Horse Vineyards is located in the Red Hills appellation of Lake County. Nestled just on the northeast side of Napa County, in the northern stretches of the Mayacamas Mountain range, Red Hills appellation terroir is comprised of high elevation, with vineyards planted between 1,350 and 2,600+ feet above sea level; well-drained soils of red volcanic origin, rich in obsidian, quartz (locally called "Lake County diamonds") and gravel; and oceanic and lake influences bringing big diurnal shifts, aiding a long, slow and steady ripening process.
The Cabernet Sauvignon grapes for this 2011 bottling come from Hawk and Horse Vineyards' 18-acre estate; the vines are planted at 2,200 feet above sea level on mountainous terrain. The vineyards are both CCOF Organic and Demeter Biodynamic certified. As I noted before, 2011 was a cool year; in the Hawk and Horse Vineyards' estate vineyards, this meant that during the growing season temperatures ranged between upper 90s° and lower 100s° during the day, and cooled down to the high 60s° at night.
The 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon from Hawk and Horse Vineyards was aged for 20 months in 80% new French oak, with the remaining 20% being two-year-old French oak. Coming in at 14.5% alcohol and including a small 2% of Petite Verdot added in, the resulting wine is one of both intensity and finesse.
Black cherry and red currant fruit open on the nose alongside dusty soil nuances, purple floral aromas of violet and lilac, and a dark chocolate backbone. As the wine opens, the dark chocolate aromas lighten and become more cocoa-like in nature, with an evolution of fruit that leans towards blueberry. Those same black cherry aromas are found on the palate as well, in addition to a hint of black cherry cola with blueberry, and dried red cherry begins to show as the wine breathes in the glass. Those red cherry notes feel enveloped in chocolate on the dry finish, reminiscent of chocolate-covered dried red cherries, and are supported by the finessed texture and medium body of the wine. The new French oak is but an integrated piece of this well-balanced wine—not dominating any of the nuances in the slightest bit, but rather giving the wine its pleasant texture and gentle tannic undercurrent.
This is an elegant expression of Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Hills appellation in Lake County. The mountainous terroir, clean vineyard practices and light touch in the cellar make this five-year-old wine a real pleasure to taste.