February 12, 2020
by Bruce Neyers
Looking northeast towards Conn Creek, located at the treeline, c. 1940. The Left Bank parcels are on the far side of the creek.
The idea behind our Left Bank Red began at a meeting we had in the fall of 1984 after we purchased our 45-acre Conn Valley Ranch. We bought the property as a potential vineyard site and hired a consultant who specialized in Soil Analysis and Geology to help us with the planting decisions. He drilled test holes, examined the soil under a microscope, did some complicated laboratory work, and then wrote a lengthy report with his suggested farming plan.
He also advised us that Conn Creek – the stream that flows year-round through the south end of our ranch — is well over a million years old, so we’d probably find deep gravel deposits along its left bank. He suggested we plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. When we started to work the land, we found gravel almost immediately, and our original optimism was confirmed. The following spring, the land was cleared, ripped, and deer-fenced, and we planted low-yielding 5BB and 5C rootstock. The parcel closest to the creek where the gravel was likely to be deepest was later budded to Merlot.
In 1994, we bought a second parcel — also on the left bank of the creek — and planted it to Cabernet Sauvignon. For several years we bottled separate wines from each vineyard, but the similarities between the two wines were striking. With the 2014 harvest we blended the entire crop from these two blocks together and made one wine. It was about 55% Cabernet Sauvignon and 45% Merlot, and we named it Left Bank Red in recognition of its site along the left bank of Conn Creek. The inaugural bottling from the 2014 harvest was selected by the ‘Wine Spectator’ for inclusion in Jim Laube’s November 2016 piece on the year’s best bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon, where it was rated the number one wine in his ‘Top Values’ category, an impressive debut.
It’s no coincidence that Barbara and I enjoy the red wines of St. Julien in Bordeaux. Many of them are made from grapes grown in the deepest gravel deposits in the region. A few years ago we drilled a new well on our property, and the drilling company suggested we locate it at the edge of the Left Bank Vineyard. After reaching a depth of 15 feet, the drill rig encountered gravel, then emerged from it almost 50 feet later. Gravel has an important effect on red grapes, especially Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Because of the absence of nutrients, it throttles back their natural vigor. It’s well drained and doesn’t trap water, so the berries are small, concentrated and produce an aromatic wine that is dark colored.
One of my favorite wines from St. Julien – Château Gloria — is an everyday Cru Bourgeois grown not far from the Gironde. It has a high percentage of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon in the blend, and both are grown in soil loaded with gravel from the nearby river. I love the flavors of this wine as they roll around the tongue. They are moderate in acid and tannin, making it a lovely model of restraint. I think of our Left Bank Red whenever I open a bottle, and find many similarities.
There’s a hint of ripe cassis in the 2017 Left Bank Red, along with a note of earth and mineral. There’s some chocolate here as well, and an attractive sour cherry flavor in the finish. I sometimes find a hint of fresh tobacco leaf here, and in small doses it’s irresistible. About this time of year, the Daphne plants along our walkway begin to bloom. Their aroma is hard to describe but it’s captivating, and resembles the heady nose in a glass of our Left Bank Red.