If you think California Merlot is overhyped well,
you're right, but there are a few ones worth buying and those from Havens are
near the top of the list. Mike Havens decided to specialize in Merlot way before it caught
on as a fad.
Call him lucky or call him a
visionary, but do call the winery and ask to placed on the mailing list if you want
terrific Merlot at a fair price in today's scheme of things.
The following article was written
at the time he first moved into his very own building. The wines continue to be as
excellent as described. I'd especially recommend his Bordeaux-blend Bourriquot or
his Reserve Merlot.
REBIRTH OF A WINERY. (September 9, 1995) "Ten years ago," says
Mike Havens, "when I said I was going to make Merlot, everyone said, But
No one in Napa Valley asks him that question anymore. In 1991,
he suspended production of Chardonnay to concentrate all his efforts on Havens Merlot. And
this week, after a decade of renting temporary space, he unboarded the doors of the
shut-down Lakespring building and started turning it into a winery once again.
Its a big space with lots of capacity. To get it, Mike
and Catherine Havens pooled resources with another husband-and-wife team Jon Scott
and Russell Lane and with winemaker Peter Franus, who will be operating a separate
venture under his own label.
In a flip-flop of their former situation, the partners will
also be contracting their space and services to third parties. For example, theyre
storing and bottling von Strassers new "Freestone" Cabernet, and the
upcoming von Strasser Sauvignon Blanc will be crushed and fermented at Havens. It was Rudy
von Strasser, in fact, who told me I should check out the happenings here.
Quite a bit seemed to be happening when I walked past the
brand-new permit notice and poked my head through the door. Phones were chirping with news
from lawyers, barrels were being trundled in, fermenters getting checked out for a harvest
that might begin any day. Everyone had that tired-but-wired look you often see in the
faces of folks who are driving a start-up.
Russell walked me through some of the surrounding vineyard.
Its a little south of Yountville, abutting the foot of Mt. Veeder. A nice location,
but it looked to me like the Chardonnay vines here werent long for this world. She
confirmed they were grafted on AXR rootstock, and Pierces disease was threatening
too. In a year or two, they will all be pulled out and replanted.
We talked about what would go in its place and she said
theyre still investigating. Everyone knows by now that AXR falls prey to phylloxera
but people dont talk so often about it resistance to other problems. Growers
have to be careful when selecting new rootstock, or they could soon be in trouble all over
again. (Thus Sterling, Ive heard, is ripping out vines for the second time in five
I asked how they all got together. "We go way back,"
she said. "Years ago, when Mike was teaching college, we used to drive up here from
Los Angeles in the autumn. We were gleaners. A tiny second crop often ripens after harvest
up here, but it doesnt pay the growers to pick it.
"Wed gather those grapes, crush them and put the
must into big plastic trash cans. Then wed load them all into Mikes Volkswagen
bus and head on home. Pretty soon it would be fermenting and wed have to stop the
car every once in a while to punch down the cap. Mike would be up to his elbows in
blood-red juice! Passers-by gave us some pretty startled looks."
Back inside the winery, I tasted the HAVENS 1993 NAPA
VALLEY MERLOT. This is the regular bottling, made for current consumption. Half
the fruit is local to Yountville and the other half comes from Truchards Rancho
Chamiles in Yountville. While this wine is not for the ages, it certainly tasted good.
Deep ruby, it had a clove-chocolate nose and peppered the palate with spice. The body was
light to medium, and the finish wasnt bad. Most significant is what you wont
taste no screech of acid, no greenery, no olives, nothing but
The HAVENS 1994 MERLOT is clearly a stride
ahead. Tasted from the barrel today, it has the same soft character, but is noticeably
deeper and longer than its predecessor. Its 23% Cabernet Franc, fermented with 18
days of maceration and will be released in June of 1996.
For wine-geeks, the real excitement happens in Havens
Reserve Merlots. Selling in the low to mid-twenties, recent vintages are worth seeking
out. The HAVENS 1992 MERLOT RESERVE (tasted later, back home) is chewy,
dark, delicious California Merlot of an excellence exceeded in 1992 only by the likes of
Newton, Matanzas Creek and Beringer.
I still havent tasted the Havens 1993 Reserve Merlot
yet. But Im counting the days until February 1997 which is when the HAVENS
1994 MERLOT RESERVE rolls out of the winery. This stuff is denser than chocolate
fudge! My barrel sample was practically black, with tempting aromatics of coffee and
berries adding to its sex-appeal. On the palate, all that fruit pours over the tannin in
slow-motion, drenching your senses and finishing long. Watch out, Matanzas Creek.
Finally I tasted the HAVENS 1993 CARNEROS SYRAH.
With fruit from the Leigh Hudson vineyard where Pinot Noir for Etude also grows
this inky young juice gives off tasty hints of blueberry, chocolate and game.
Its big wine, enjoyable now and could use some time in the cellar.
Mike Havens likes Cabernet Franc as a blending grape for
Merlot. The 1994 Merlot, blended last February, includes 23% CF. It clearly pays off in
the lovely aromatics of these wines.
As a winemaker, he intervenes "only when I have to"
acidifying rarely (a sign of good judgement, given the fruit he gets), fining
lightly with egg whites, and when he decides to filter, the pores dont get finer
than 1.2 microns. All the Merlots are aged in 50% new oak. Reserves get all French oak,
while the regular bottling gets 15% American.
Merlot has been very good to Mike Havens and it looks like
Mike Havens is going to be great for Napa Valley Merlot. Be warned, however, that Havens
wines are hard to locate on the East Coast. Pennsylvania and Delaware only get a case or
two. Maryland gets nothing.
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