Mayacamas & Favia Wines with Andy Erickson

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I’m happy to announce that the California drought is officially over. At least that’s how it appeared to me in February when I spent five days in Napa and Sonoma in the most torrential storms they’ve had in about five years. The rain just didn’t stop. So much for the ‘Sunshine State’ I found myself thinking each day as I took the perilous journeys to wineries on land sliding, flooded roads in my tiny rental car that clearly was far from suited to such conditions. Note to self: always rent a 4x4! This being the second time I’ve tried to do it on the cheap and have found myself defeated by off road trails leading to wineries far off the beaten track, the sort of wineries I naturally seek out and that usually make up the majority of my trips. 

One such winery I discovered is Mayacamas, located near the summit of Mount Veeder in the Mayacamas Mountain range in Napa County. At 800m above sea level this is true mountain viticulture. Luckily we had this visit booked in on day one of the storms as by the following day trees had come down, along with mudslides that shut the road for almost a week. Of all my visits in Napa, this was probably my favourite. A combination of the winery’s history, its location and the wines themselves, made this an unforgettable visit. Unfortunately it was too wet to get to see the vineyards themselves so a return trip is imminent.

Winemaker Andy Erickson took us through the wines as well as some of his own under the Favia label. The Cabernets are what Mayacamas is famous for but I enjoyed the Chardonnays very much too. The Cabs are unique, offering a freshness, purity and vibrancy which was unparalleled by any other Cabernets I tasted that week. I believe the Mayacamas philosophy not to be seamless, not to be too contrived and too one dimensional is what sets them apart from many wineries in Napa, some of whom, to my mind, are trying to be too polished and perfect. There is minimal sorting of these mountain grapes, they are picked early at 22-24 Brix and then fermented in concrete or neutral oak vats. No cold soak, no extended maceration but long ageing – 2 years in large oak vats, 1 year in used barriques, followed by 1 year in bottle – is partly what gives these wines their unique signature.

We started with the Mayacamas Terraces Chardonnay 2013, a special bottling from older vines planted in the 1950s. Full of lemon and lime fruit with almond flowers, hazelnuts and a touch of melon it was mainly aged in old small barrels with no MLF. Very pure, fine, elegant and quite delicious. Only 400 cases were made.

As a comparison we looked at the Mayacamas Mt Veeder Chardonnay 2015. This showed riper fruit with more pear, peach and melon flavours, some ripe citrus and a touch of new French oak spice. Barrel fermented and aged with a creamy texture yet still the hallmark freshness and laser focus. 

Mayacamas Merlot 2014, our first red for the day, was bright ruby in colour, full of plum and raspberry fruit with rose petal and violet overtones. Very bright, pure fruit, lovely texture and tension. Linear structure and a lengthy finish.

Then on to the Cabs. First up was Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2013, deep ruby hue and lovely bright aromatics of raspberries, cherries and cassis alongside a touch of herbaceous character. Great focus and fine grained tannins which were not too grippy and not at all drying. A hint of bay leaf on the lingering finish. Exceptionally pure.

As a comparison Andy had a selected the Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon 2003, to see the development of the wine 10 years on. This is something I wish producers did more for those wines destined to age as it really gives a much clearer picture of the wine’s style as well as ageing capacity. A lot of Napa Cab is drunk young, too young in my opinion, so many consumers may not be bothered by the capacity to age and develop but in my experience some of the finest wines I’ve tasted from Napa are those with a bit more age to them. It’s fascinating to see just what happens to all that fruit and tannin with a few decades of age. Ten years on in this case was enough to recognize the signature style but with the added layer of gamey, leathery complexity one gets with aged Cabs alongside the forest fruits, mixed herbs and a hint of mint. Firm tannins, lovely freshness, drinking nicely now but still with time ahead of it.

Of the Favia range Andy showed us three wines. The first was Favia Linea Sauvignon Blanc 2015. Fruit is sourced from a dry farmed vineyard in Coombsville, a relatively unknown Napa sub-region but growing in reputation. Pale lemon in colour with floral, peach, melon, guava, a touch of grass and a hint of savoury character, this was whole cluster pressed and barrel fermented with 10% new French oak. Highly textured. Tasty.

Favia Cerro Sur Cabernet Franc 2013 is sourced from 40-year-old vines and aged for 22 months in barrel, two thirds new French oak giving it its toasty character. This is accompanied by cassis, liquorice, lavender and raspberries making for a super elegant and characterful Cabernet Franc with firm tannins that will soften over more time in bottle.

The Favia Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 fruit comes from three different vineyards in Coombsville. Ripe and powerful with firm tannins this is very youthful and will hopefully mellow out over time in bottle. Rich raspberry, cassis, blueberry fruit alongside hints of sage, rosemary and smoky, leathery touches. A big wine. Not for the fainthearted!

Mayacamas wines are available to buy via Links Concept in Hong Kong. Favia Wines are seeking representation.

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