Recently, there must’ve been either a big cellar cull, or perhaps an estate sale on Winebid, as a couple of months ago there were 37 pages worth of old California wines available at auction on the site. Having had success with some older California Cabernets Jay Miller had purchased there and after checking fill levels, I took the plunge and bought a couple of cases worth mostly from '74 and '78, with a '69 and some others from the '70’s thrown in, as the prices were just too good to pass up on trying a bit of California wine history. This past Saturday, I tried the first bottle after having let it rest a couple of weeks. I was more than pleasantly surprised.
1978 Sycamore Creek Vineyards- Cabernet Sauvignon, Central Coast, Santa Clara Valley
Starts off with some old musty barrel flavors and aromas, but they blew off to reveal surprisingly youthful and decadent cassis and plummy fruit with just a hint of cocoa, earth and herb in the background, but make no mistake about it, this is a fruit driven wine. While the fruit still has youth and vitality, the wine itself is nicely softened and has that wonderful aged smoothness that’s just like buttah. Not so much a thinking wine, but it’s a lot of fun and a surprising example of how good an old school California Cabernet can be and how well they can age. $25 delivered was a steal. A-/B+.
This is actually just outside of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Neighboring vineyards at about the same elevation include Bates Ranch and Harvest Moon.
Sycamore Creek quickly went downhill and stayed there. A few years ago it was purchased and quality has been restored. Their vineyard management is impeccable. They also own the nearby Uvas Creek Vineyard, which Stefania sourced from '05-'07 and Downhill Winery beginning with '08 (I was impressed by a barrel sample).
Stefania is replacing Uvas with their own Crimson Clover Vyd. in the same area. The Santa Clara Valley is really experiencing a boom, a return to quality after a century of neglect.
About a year ago about a case of these came up at K&L for $30 each. I tried one and went back for a bunch more. The corks were in a shocking state, but the wine was lovely, as you describe, and I got through them in no time.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a few on Winebid recently, so I bought some of them and am pleased to hear they are probably in just as good condition. I picked up some 1979s too; doubt they are as good, but they were only $10 each. I’ve yet to collect them.
I believe Terry and Mary Kay Parks ran the winery successfully for about 10 years before it was sold to the Morita family who own Sony. I’ve tried a couple of the wines from that era and they were pretty mediocre.
I think there had been some leakage when the bottles were filled. The cork was practically glued to the rim of the bottle - on my first go I had to take a knife to it in order to get it out. This finally convinced me that I needed to buy one of those two-prong cork pullers.
I took one bottle to a restaurant in Vegas and greatly enjoyed watching the waiter struggle with it
A bit more background: the property was owned by the Marchetti family over 100 years ago - they planted Zinfandel and Carignane. The Parks restored some of those vines and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, head trained and dry farmed. The old vines were torn up and replanted in the 1990s.
The 30 year old Cab vineyard wasn’t in a great state so it was ripped out last year and is being replanted.
Dave, I got a '79 off winebid, too. Turned out to be San Luis Obispo fruit.
Chris, those Gemello Cabs were made from fruit from the Monte Bello ridge and Saratoga. Gemello had been making those for a couple decades before the Ridge partners bought the William Short, and later, Montebello vineyards. The wine served as a reference point for their wine. The Saratoga fruit was from a vineyard that no longer exists (regrafted to housing). Not sure exactly where it was, but it would likely also fit in the SCM AVA. (Then again, there are still some small excellent vineyards lower in elevation there.)