Bob Cabral Jr. remembers the pained look on his father’s face when he took in the view, acres of his grapes rotting on the vine.
Cabral was a teenager when his family was farming grapes in the San Joaquin County back in 1977, during the grape glut.
“I saw my parents work 365 days a year and then lose those grapes through no fault of their own,” he said. “I thought I’d learn to make wine so my family would always have a place for their grapes.”
Today the pragmatic Cabral is the winemaker behind our wine-of-the-week winner — Three Sticks, 2015 Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay at $55. This is a chardonnay with great complexity –– bright stone fruit, hazelnut and crème brulee. It’s lush, but manages to be balanced. The Three Sticks has great minerality, a supple texture, and a lingering finish. It’s an absolute knockout.
Cabral credits Mother Nature for the prized chardonnay, calling himself a “hands-off” winemaker.
“The Durell Vineyard has a unique personality and we want to capture what that vineyard wants to show us instead of trying to push it into a direction it doesn’t want to go,” he said.
The winemaker is fond of Durell’s sense of place. With soils of volcanic clay and breezes from the San Pablo Bay, Cabral said the vineyard offers up flavors of mineral, saline and stone fruit — white peach and white nectarine.
What the uninitiated don’t know about chardonnay is that the cool-climate version is a different animal, Cabral explained.
“It offers a lot of flavors and textures that tasters might not find in other varietals or in warm-climate chardonnays,” he said.
Cabral graduated from Fresno State in 1984 with a Bachelor’s degree in agricultural science and enology, and moved to Santa Rosa in 1987. His credits include winemaking at these Sonoma County wineries: DeLoach, Kunde Family Winery, Alderbrook Winery, Hartford Family Winery, Williams Seylem Winery and Three Sticks Wines.
Cabral joined Sonoma’s Three Sticks Wines as the director of winemaking in 2015, and his team includes winemaker Ryan Prichard and associate winemaker Ashley Holland.
“I’ve never made a great bottle of wine on my own,” Cabral said. “It’s always a group effort. My work at the winery has a lot to do with mentoring.”
With his deep roots in farming, Cabral said his strength as a winemaker lies in understanding the land and the grape growing process from pruning through harvest.
“You have to be a little thick skinned and crazy to be a farmer I think,” Cabral said with a laugh. “It doesn’t pay a lot in cash but there are so many other rewards. It enriches your soul like no other occupation.”
THIS WEEK’S BLIND TASTING
Drop dead gorgeous chardonnays
Three Sticks, 2015 Durell Vineyard, Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, 14.5% alcohol, $55. ★★★★1/2
A chardonnay with great complexity — bright stone fruit, hazelnut and creme brulee. Lush, but manages to be balanced. Great minerality. Supple texture, with a lingering finish. Absolutely knockout.
Merry Edwards, 2014 Olivet Lane, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County Chardonnay, 14%, $60. ★★★★1/2: This is a striking chardonnay with great depth. Notes of melon, fig and spice. Supple texture. Rich, yet balanced. Nice length. Extremely well crafted. Impressive.
Cuvaison, 2015 Adda Carneros, Napa Valley Chardonnay, 14.2%, $26. ★★★1/2: This is a pretty chardonnay weighted to stone fruit — peach and apricot. A hint of honeysuckle and a splash of lime in the mix. A steal for the price.
Dierberg, 2014 Dierberg Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay, 13.8%, $32. ★★★★: A blousy chardonnay with rich flavors, but it has a nice underpinning of bright acidity. Notes of ripe apple, melon and toasty oak. Lovely.
Bravium, 2015 Russian River Valley Chardonnay, 14.1%, $25. ★★★★: A chardonnay that over delivers for the price. Layered with notes of pineapple, toast, honey and honeydew. Bright acidity, coupled with good minerality. The pineapple gives this chardonnay a refreshing twist. Delightful.