Wine of the week: Banshee, 2019 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon
Alicia Sylvester is a citizen of the world, having worked harvests in Australia, Italy, Denmark, South Africa and Argentina.
“I was doing two harvests a year and loving it!” she said.
The well-traveled winemaker is behind The Press Democrat’s wine of the week winner — the Banshee, 2019 Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon at $25. It’s a steal for this caliber of cab, with great structure and generous fruit. The Banshee has concentrated flavors of blackberry, black raspberry and plum, with an undercurrent of peppercorn and a hint of cedar. Well-crafted, it’s balanced with bright acidity and has a lingering finish.
“Rooted in old-school winemaking but definitely a new-world wine, I wanted to make a clean wine where you can smell and taste the fruit, oak, acidity and tannin balance,” Sylvester said. “Many cabernets can be a bit too intense for drinkers, probably because the wine needs a bit of age on it. The Banshee 2019 is a bigger wine, and you can feel it on the palate. But you still get wonderful fruit that carries through and some fun forest and light peppercorn.”
The winemaker said one of the most challenging aspects of making cabernet is ensuring the grapes fully ripen in the vineyard.
“If we don’t have a balanced crop load or a balanced sun exposure, I can risk my fruit not reaching its optimal ripeness,” she said.
Growing up on a farm with an almond orchard and 20-acre vineyard in Ceres, in Stanislaus County, Sylvester knew winemaking interested her.
“When I drove to Napa Valley for the first time, this huge smile came to my face and my eyes were like star-eyed emojis,” she said.
Sylvester, 33, joined Foley Family Wines — which now owns Banshee — in 2015 as an enologist at Lancaster Estate. She was promoted to winemaker of Banshee in 2020.
The Banshee brand, with its focus on cool-climate pinot noir in the Sonoma Coast, was founded in 2009 at a bar in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood. Foley purchased the brand in 2019. Today Banshee produces about 150,000 cases a year with a focused line-up of pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon, rosé, sparkling brut and a red blend.
Sylvester graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture business, with a minor in wine and viticulture.
At Banshee, the winemaker now crafts both large-scale and boutique bottlings.
“It’s such a fun twist,” she said. “Some of my wines are accessible in some grocery stores, and some of my wines are still very small-batch for the wine club and tasting room only.”
The Banshee tasting room opened on the Healdsburg Square, 325 Center St., in 2013.
“At Banshee, I strive to produce site-specific wines from Sonoma County and have a little fun along the way,” Sylvester said. “The cabernet sauvignon is structured with fine tannins, but it’s very approachable, which makes it a great wine for any occasion.”
Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5310.