Buying Wine, Cellar Management

Mailing Lists: Excellent California Wine Without The Wait

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My brother started buying and cellaring wine a decade after I did and has since amassed about 800 bottles of mostly California wine. He recently lamented that his collection was deep in Pinot Noir but lacking in Cabernet Sauvignon. He was wondering which Napa Cabs I suggest he look into.

This got me to thinking: Many of the wines you hear so much about have long waiting lists, including Schrader, Maybach and Scarecrow. It never hurts to put your name on the list, but what should you do in the meantime to stock your cellar with varietals you’re passionate about?

I gave my brother the name of several California wineries that made classic Cabernet Sauvignon and did not have a wait for their mailing lists. Here are those and a few more to check out if you’re new to the hobby or want to build up a particular varietal:

Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Spottswoode – Spottswoode was founded in 1972 by Jack and Mary Novak in St. Helena. Year over year, Spottswoode competes with the very best from both Napa and Bordeaux. The wine is not cheap at $145 a bottle, but this is one to splurge on.
  • Pahlmeyer – Pahlmeyer was founded in 1986 by Jason Pahlmeyer. While the Proprietary Red is a Bordeaux blend, not a Cabernet, it is another wine that delivers without fail. The wine runs $115 from the winery.
  • Black Sears – For years Black Sears sold fruit to some of the finest wineries in Napa. They also produce an Estate Cabernet made by Thomas Rivers-Brown. You are looking at $80 for the most recent vintage.

Pinot Noir

  • Navarro – Located in the Anderson Vally, Navarro, has been producing exceptional, fairly-priced wines since 1974. The Deep End Blend Pinot Noir is their very best and will only set you back $38.
  • Black Kite – Black Kite is a family-run winery in Anderson Valley, specializing in block designated Pinot Noir from the Kite’s Rest Vineyard. A great lineup starting at $42 per bottle.
  • Peay – The winery is in the Northwest corner of Sonoma County, just a few miles from the coast. A lineup of classic Sonoma Coast Pinot’s starting at $45 per bottle.


  • Ridge – I think Ridge is often overlooked in a Zinfandel world where Carlisle and Turley get all the press, but their history goes back almost 50 years. Exceptional single vineyard Zins starting at $35.
  • Brown – The Brown family acquired land in the hills east of Rutherford in 1980 and started their own label in 1995. The flagship Napa Zinfandel runs $40 per bottle.
  • Black Sears – As mentioned above, Black Sears does a stellar Cabernet but they are better known for their Zinfandel (the vineyard was at one time a fruit source for Turley). The current vintage will be released this fall and should price around $45 per bottle.

I’ve been a fan of these wineries for years, and am pleased to have them in my cellar. You should be able to buy directly from all of them without a wait to get on the mailing list.

What California wineries would you recommend for us patiently awaiting mailing list spots?

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12 thoughts on “Mailing Lists: Excellent California Wine Without The Wait

  1. Kistler, Williams Selyem, and Araujo are outstanding and currently have either very short or no wait.

  2. I was up at Papapietro Perry this weekend and for pinot noir, that would make my list. Pricier on the whole than some of the ones you mention, but every bit as good as the “list” pinot producers in the region.

    And I don’t think I’ve had Black Sears before. Looking forward to trying it.

  3. For my money, Corison can’t be beat. Frankly, I prefer Corison Cabs to many of the long wait list cult cabs. Corison cabs are full of beautiful Napa fruit, but more elegant and restrained than most of the powerhouse Cabs that command top dollar and long waits today. They are wonderful by themselves or with an surprisingly wide range of food. They are extremely age worthy, but really become quite enjoyable with just a modest amount of aging (5-7 years). The Napa Cab is always delicious and available for $75 on release. The Kronos Vineyard (Corison’s old vine Rutherford bench vineyard previously owned by Mondavi) is available for $98. To add to all this, you can still acquire a wide range of libary wines at fair prices direct from the winery. I’m currently drinking vintages between 2000 and 2004 and they are out of sight good for my palate.

    On the Pinot front, I’m a huge fan of Joseph Swan. Readlily available, reasonably priced, and consistently good. The Trenton Estate wine is a distinctive Pinot I feel I could always pick blind out of a line up and is just a pleasure to drink.

    1. Great selections. I started drinking Corison in the early 90’s. The 90, 91 and 92 were stunning wines. I need to check out some of the more recent releases.

  4. Tom, like you, I am on the mailing lists for many of the cult wines, so it’s great when you find a wine that’s still attainable, and yet has a great QPR. I don’t think you can beat Lewelling cabernets for both quality and price. They go for just under $100 (sold in pairs of their regular cabernet and Wight vineyard cabernet). Having said that, I’m not entirely sure if they have a wait list at this time.

    I know your question was for CA cabs, but I thought I would throw in a Rhone style recommendation from the West side of Paso Robles, Epoch Estate wines, that I think is really great, and is likely going to get even better…

    1. Thanks Charles. I thought about doing a Syrah portion on the post but the lists I am on for this varietal have pretty long waiting lists: Saxum, Lillian, Carlisle, etc.

      I have tried and like the Epoch wines. Do you think there is some “duplication” by being on both the Epoch and Saxum mailing lists?

      For instance one of the reasons I have not bought alot of Reynvaan (a relatively new but very acclaimed WA Syrah producer with Christophe Baron as consulting winemaker) is that the wines are very similar to Cayuse which I already buy a bunch of.

      1. Tom, great question about whether there is duplication by being on both Saxum and Epoch. I suppose it depends on how much Rhone-style blends you want to have in your cellar.

        For me personally, I love Rhone blends – maybe even more so than single varietals – so I don’t mind buying both Saxum and Epoch, even though one could argue that there are some similarities in style between the two since Justin Smith is Epoch’s consulting winemaker (I believe that was the basis of your question?).

        However, I believe that Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch’s full-time winemaker, is doing a great job there and we should see even better wines in the future.

        One possible reason to seek out wines like Epoch – especially for those Rhone wine lovers who don’t have access to wines like Saxum – is that you can still have access to Epoch wines before they get to the point of being “exclusive” and close their mailing list. To digress, it just amazes me how many “closed” mailing lists there are out there now, especially considering the price points of many of the wines, especially when it comes to CA cabs or Bordeaux-style blends. It’s crazy.

        One last thought… as you know, Saxum, like Cayuse, does not have a tasting room and primarily sells direct to consumer through their private mailing lists. On the other hand, for those who are still seeking high-quality Rhone wines in the states – and enjoy the experience of going to a tasting room to taste the wines – can still go taste the Epoch wines in their tasting room, and still purchase some of their wines.

        By the way, they have a very cool tasting room here in Paso Robles with a very knowledgeable hospitality team. Now I’m starting to sound like their PR person – which I am not :-) I truly just enjoy their wines, like their people, like what they are doing and where they are heading. But then again, my wife and I also enjoy a lot of other Rhone wines, both from the states and from France.

        By the way, meant to ask you, do you use CellarTracker to manage your cellar, or something else?


          1. Cool. That’s easy, my Twitter handle is mmmmWine. I’ll set you up as well.

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