The prodigious 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, including fruit from some of the oldest Cabernet vines still in existence in Napa. This full-bodied classic displays notes of forest floor, earth, crème de cassis, blackberry liqueur, licorice and some pen ink. It is dense, full-bodied, prodigiously rich, massive in intensity, yet relatively light on its feet. This great ballerina of a wine has extraordinary ripeness but pulls back from the edge before going over the top. There are 1,000 cases of this classic, which should age effortlessly for 30+ years. RP 100 points
The scarecrow story begins in a patch of earth with a fabled past. The J.J. Cohn Estate, where Scarecrow grapes are born, borders what was once the legendary vineyard of Inglenook winemaker Gustave Niebaum, whose plantings blanketed more than 1,000 acres of the Napa Valley at the close of the 19th century.
John Daniel Jr. took the helm at Inglenook in 1939, determined to restore the label to pre-Prohibition standing and produce world-class Bordeaux-style wines. In 1945, Daniel convinced his neighbor, J.J. Cohn, to plant eighty acres of Cabernet vines on the 180-acre parcel Cohn had purchased a few years prior. The property served as a summer retreat for Cohn’s wife and their family. He had no ambitions to become a winemaker himself, but Daniel promised to buy his grapes, so Cohn planted vines. The rest, as they say, is history.
J.J. Cohn fruit figured prominently in Inglenook’s superlative Cabernet Sauvignons of the post-war era, and has more recently gone into wines of such renown as Opus One, Niebaum-Coppola, Duckhorn, Insignia and Etude.
J.J. Cohn Estate grapes are highly sought-after in part because Cohn bucked the trend, begun the mid-1960s, of replacing vines planted on St. George rootstock with the supposedly su y superior AxR#I hybrid. Over time, vines grafted onto this new stock proved highly vulnerable to phylloxera. But by then, virtually all of the old St. George vines in Napa had been destroyed. Only the original 1945 J.J. Cohn vines survived. These highly prized “Old Men” continue to produce uncommonly rich fruit—the hallmark of Scarecrow wine.
Scarecrow is one of the more intriguing stories in Napa Valley. Today the property is owned by Bret Lopez, grandson of J.J. Cohn, the famous movie executive whose name adorned the property until fairly recently. Lopez spent his childhood vacations here, and always retained a keen interest in the property. According to Lopez, the house remains furnished pretty much as it was when he was a child. Lopez then went on to build a career as a world-class photographer, but never lost his passion for the estate. Lopez teamed up with his neighbor Francis Ford Coppola to buy out his siblings when the property came up for sale. As part of the transaction, Lopez kept the parcels right in front of the house. Scarecrow is notable for its old vines planted on St. George rootstock rather than the ill-fated AxR1 rootstock that ultimately proved to be vulnerable to phylloxera.
Today the wines are made by Celia Welch and show tremendous potential. Welch uses 90% new oak barrels and bottles with no fining or filtration. She prefers commercial yeast strains for the alcoholic fermentation, largely because the wines are made at a custom crush facility and it is therefore impossible to control the environment. After spending several hours at Scarecrow tasting and walking through some of the spectacular older, gnarly, head-trained vines, it is impossible not to conclude that the estate most likely needs its own winemaking facility and internal winemaking team to realize its fullest potential, all pretty standard among top-flight wineries in Napa Valley today.