The best California "cabernet" you'll never taste

On my little foray to Carlton, OR on Friday I stopped by the tasting room shared by our own Jacki Bessler’s Barbara Thomas label and Seven of Hearts brand of winemaker Byron Dooley. I’ve been remiss in posting notes on the pinot noirs I tasted, but I’m compelled to talk about Byron’s wine he made in 2004 from his own vineyard that he owned and planted on Howell Mountain.

It’s not a commercial bottling so he can’t sell it, but he pulled a bottle and cracked it while I was there and gave me the rest of the bottle, which I consumed last night - okay, not all of it but a goodly slug. The most amazing thing about this wine is that it’s third-leaf fruit; 70% cabernet with the rest merlot, cabernet franc and petite verdot.

Honestly, the wine is simply stunning. It shows all the intense, blackberry/cassis fruit of mountain cabernet with a fairly intense minerality and it reminds me very much of a Mt. Eden, my favorite CA cabernet. Even after being open for about 28 hours - or maybe because of it - the aromas were incredibly fresh as I drank it with my steak last night. And this morning, a half-glass that was left over still smells fresh and vibrant, as does the rest of the wine in the bottle - probably another 6 ounces or so. It smells so good I’m going to probably finish it this evening - two days after opening.

Somehow I’m going to have to talk this guy out of some more bottles so I can share.

Great post Bob. I love reading things like this.

What does “third-leaf fruit” mean?

Does it refer to the distance of the grape bunch from the stem of the vine?

Or to the chronological order in which it was harvested?

Or to the qualitative order in which it ended up after passing through the sorting table?

Or to something else?


Third leaf refers to the third season the plant has been in the ground. This is typically the first year the vine will bear fruit, and not a whole lot of it.

I will agree with Bob. Byron’s Howell Mountain is stunning. I’m also a big fan of the rest of his wines. I’m spoiled in having easy access to them. So neener, neener Bob. [tease.gif]


I used to have this hypothesis that there was something wrong with the dirt in California, and that for whatever reason, California vineyards tended to go bad after about 20 or 30 years [or maybe even as few as 10 or 15], but I never found another soul who would even consider the possibility.

Although I do know one wine guy whose family replants about every 20 years or so because the vines go bad [for whatever reason, their site just can’t support old vines].

Well, since I dig Howell, I need to try this. Why is he in Oregon if his vineyard is on Howell?

At the time, he and his wife lived on the property and he planted the vineyard while he was going to winemaking/viticulture school. They now live in Oregon and own a pinot noir vineyard. I suspect they sold the Howell property but don’t know for sure.

Anyway, good luck trying it since he can’t sell any and he only made two vintages.

Is this some sort of BATF/CA-ABC nonsense?

It’s a Fed thing. Basically, anyone (technically, a head of household, whatever that means) can make up to 200 gallons of wine per year without a bond from the TTB (that is without tax liability) for personal consumption. Ironically, the ability to do this arose as a by-product of the legislation (Volstead Act, 1919) that provided the enforcement for prohibition. But, the net net is that wine made out of bond cannot be sold.

Welcome, Byron!

Ditto, nice to see you here, Byron!

Thanks for the kind words, Bob – I’m very pleased you enjoyed the wine. Always happy to share it with the hard-core enthusiast (which was apparent after about 13.4 seconds after I met you)…

Bob’s right – we sold the property in order to purchase land and plant Pinot noir in Oregon. The Howell Mtn Property was only 2.5 acres on which 1 acre was plantable. I planted 11 different clones of the 4 varieties mentioned earlier. I was only able to make one vintage of wine from the property before we moved. The wine I made from the prior year was 100% Cabernet I purchased from a vineyard in St. Helena (on the border of Rutherford). A whole different animal…

This post brings up a lot of questions:

  1. Where is Dooley’s vineyard specificly in Oregon. Did he do a new planting or buy an existing vineyard? What is the status of his activites in Oregon.

  2. Jackie, who is doing your winemaking now? I believe that Josh Bergstrom was doing it, but didn’t he just sign some deal recently where he is now only going to do his own fruit plus one big project that he signed on for? I believe he is no longer doing all the private labels for other people.

I’ll let Byron answer #1, but re: Josh, yes, he made our 2005 and 2006 PNs. Around that time he began phasing out his custom crush clients as he was out of space and still picking up speed on the family labels. We moved over to 12th and Maple in Dundee in time for the 2007 crush, where we’re working with Aron Hess (Daedalus and Jezebel) who is the head winemaker there for Corus Estates.



I bought both the 05 and 06. I’m coming out in mid August and will have to visit your new location and get some new insights. I thought you were still in Carlton. Dundee is easier!

My vineyard, Luminous Hills, is located in the southwest portion of the Yamhill-Carlton AVA. I planted in 2006, so my first (small) harvest, 3rd leaf, was in 2008. It is currently all Pinot noir, although I have an area cleared for a white variety, TBD. I planted mostly Pommard and the rest in 777, 667, and 115. It’s an interesting site in that it’s higher elevation (600-800 feet) and, whereas the AVA as a whole is predominantly sedimentary soils, this site, being in a transition zone, is 65% sedimentary (Willakenzie and Willakenzie-like) and 35% volcanic (Jory). These distinct areas are in separate blocks.

Including 2008, I’m in my 3rd year of production here in Oregon, having purchased fruit in 06 and 07 (as well as 08). I focus on Pinot noir, but also have a Chardonnay and will be releasing a Columbia Valley Roussanne/Viognier blend this spring. I will continue to make wine from favored sites in other AVAs even as I introduce the estate wines. I sell my wines under the label Seven of Hearts.

Thanks Bryon;

Do you do tours and tastings? Would love to see your patch of earth and how you do things. Toward the end of July I would love to sit something up with you for sometime Aug 13-15.

Her tasting room is in Carlton. The winery facility (12th and Maple) is in Dundee and, if you think Dundee is easier to get to than Carlton considering the traffic, perhaps you’d be interested in the bridge I have for sale. [berserker.gif]

EDIT: I avoid Dundee like the plague, especially during the summer when the ONLY route I’ll use to get there is Worden Hill Rd. from Highway 240.

Love mountain Cab’s - Atlas Peak sub-appellation being one of my fave’s.

Well thank you kindly, sir! [give_heart.gif]

We’d love to have you visit. As Bob mentioned, our tasting room is in Carlton, but the winery facility is in Dundee. I can arrange a tour of the winery, which is a very cool state-of-the-art custom crush facility built into a former nut drying facility, and we can finish up in Carlton and taste through some wines if you’d like. Let me know when you have firm dates and I’ll get it onto my calendar.