Bottle Notes, Buying Wine

A Visit with Alex MacDonald at MacDonald Vineyards

MacDonald Vineyard

Earlier this month we had the opportunity to visit with Alex MacDonald at MacDonald Vineyards. We met Alex at the cottage near the vineyard that is situated off Walnut Lane in the Oakville AVA of Napa Valley. The visit began with a walk of the vineyard and an oral history from Alex of the vineyard and winery.

The history of the MacDonald family and To-Kalon has been well documented. In 1954, the great-grandparents of Alex and Graeme MacDonald purchased a small cottage in Oakville and, reluctantly, the surrounding property. After the purchase they removed the cherry trees and planted the first vines. For 60 years the grapes have been sold exclusively to Robert Mondavi and have been part of the Reserve and To-Kalon blends since their inception. When Robert Mondavi resurrected the property’s historic name, the MacDonald family were the only private growers to be part of the Robert Mondavi To-Kalon Vineyard. The arrangement with Robert Mondavi continued after the winery was purchased by Constellation.

Where the story becomes really interesting is in 2010 when Alex and Graeme founded MACDONALD Vineyards and made their commercial release of Cabernet Sauvignon. The winery has been incredibly successful and demand for MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon is only matched by the likes of Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow. Production has slowly increased over the years to 500 cases of the soon to be released 2019. I understand there are over 9000 names on the waiting list to just get an offer of their Cabernet Sauvignon.

At the end of 2021 the contract with Mondavi came to an end and the brothers are faced with the decision of what to do with these grapes. At present time approximately 5 of the 15 total acres go into the MACDONALD Cabernet. Given their desire to grow slowly folding the grapes into the MACDONALD label is not an option. They also want to be very conscientious about to whom they sell the remaining grapes. They are not keen on another winery putting a MACDONALD Vineyard designation on the their label so the focus would be a larger winery that does some sort of Napa Valley Appellation wine. The decision will be fascinating.

After walking the vineyard we sat down and shared a bottle of the 2019 MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon. I did my best to write a Bottle Note while the conversation ranged from the fires of 2020 to Napa Valley Cabernet pricing and the travails of the Dodgers and Giants.

2019 MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon – Opened and decanted the previous night. Dark purple in color. 14.5% ABV. Breathtaking nose of black and red fruits, graphite and violets. Immense and powerful with freshness and acid that keeps everything in check. Blackberry, black currants, creme de cassis and minerals on the palate. The finish is exceptionally long with incredibly silky tannins. The proverbial iron fist in a velvet glove. What most Napa Cabernets strive for. This should age gloriously for several decades. Perfection from the MacDonald brothers in the highly acclaimed 2019 vintage. Release price of $195.

My rating: 100 points.

I think we could have talked for another hour or two but we were already running late for a tasting appointment at Rivers-Marie. There is not much more I can say that hasn’t already been said about MACDONALD. I truly look forward to following the story and buying the wines in the years to come.

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