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BERGER: Under the radar with balance, structure

With the number of U.S. wineries now numbering in the 7,000-plus range, and with the number of brands perhaps twice or three times that, the vast majority of wines that you find on store shelves these days are less than well known.

Flying under the radar, then, is a commonplace condition alleviated a bit if the winery is located in a well-known region. As such Napa Valley wineries are generally better known than those in, say, Sonora or Amador.

Napa wineries in particular often gain points for being easy to visit, right off Highway 29, and the fact that almost everyone here makes a cabernet sauvignon, a wine that brings in collectors and commands high prices.

Which makes Sequoia Grove's situation a bit odd. Founded nearly 35 years ago, the winery is located in the heart of Rutherford, one of the most prestigious areas of the valley, located within sight of some of the most famous of the state's iconic wineries.

Also, it's one of the few wineries whose name is an actual landmark: the tasting room and grounds are ringed by one of the few sequoia groves in the valley, a classic spot for photo-taking. Moreover, the winery makes stellar wines.

So the lack of national visibility for Sequoia Grove is hard to understand — until you chat with the wine making staff.

"We are all about balance and structure," says CEO Mike Trujillo, not exactly echoing the valley's major message of the last two decades: mammothly constructed red wines with impact, power, and pizzazz. And a slathering of oak, high alcohols, and softness.

Sequoia Grove's red wines are carefully honed by wine maker Molly Hill with a deft touch. As a result, she is cautious to answer a question about her typical wine making techniques.

She says it's really all about "what the fruit looks like each year. You have to know what you have before you can decide how the wine wants to be made."

The best example of the Hill/Trujillo style is in the newest cabernet sauvignon release, the 2010 ($44), with a cherry, herb, and tea leaf aroma that reminds me of the famed 1985 Sequoia Grove Cabernet, but which has a better structure and doesn't need as much time in the cellar.

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