We recently had the opportunity to taste a vertical of the Cabernet Sauvignons produced by Napa Valley’s Diamond Creek Winery from the 1973 to 1983 vintages. Thanks to Roy Wagner, who purchased and cellared these wines for almost 40 years, we were able to explore how the wines of Diamond Creek’s three historic vineyard parcels have evolved. As shown in our notes below, as a whole the wines remained surprisingly fresh with still firm tannins and lively fruit.
Founded in 1968 by Al Brounstein, Diamond Creek Winery is widely recognized for producing some of the finest and most distinctive estate-bottled Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. Planted on a 79-acre hillside parcel in Diamond Creek Canyon, it produces wines from four distinct sites each with their own soil types, exposures and unique microclimates. They are: Volcanic Hill, eight acres of light volcanic ash soils on a south-facing slope; Red Rock Terrace, seven acres of iron rich soil that is cooler with a northern exposure; Gravelly Meadow, five acres of very cool gravelly soils; and Lake Vineyard, a tiny ¾ acre parcel that is the coolest on the estate. Lake wines have been produced only 10 times since 1972 and are very rare.
Brounstein was born in Saskatchewa, and became a self made millionaire in the pharmaceutical business. He developed a serious interest in wine after attending a course in wine tasting at UCLA. In 1966 he bought his parcel on Diamond Mountain and began planting vines. After clearing the land he discovered the distinct geological and topographical character of the property. His first cuttings were allegedly smuggled in from Bordeaux. Initially, Brounstein received help from Jerry Luper in developing his vineyards. Phil Steinschriber has made the wines since 1991. Al Brounstein sadly passed away in 2006.
Our tasting consisted of the wines from each of the three Diamond Creek vineyard sites from 1973 to 1983. They were originally purchased by Roy Wagner of Fairfax, Virginia, who organized the tasting. The wines had been stored in their original boxes and kept cool and dark. Thus they were in perfect condition for tasting and showed beautifully. Despite their age, the wines exhibited a considerable amount of color, fruit and overall freshness, although many revealed earthiness with hints of cedar, eucalyptus and mushrooms. Most surprising. virtually all the wines retained their intensity and tannic grip even after 20+ years in the bottle. The Diamond Mountain wines also had levels of alcohol of 12 to 12 .5 alcohol, unheard of in today’s Cabernets. Finally, acidity levels remained moderate to high, and most of the wines showed excellent balance.
Volcanic Hill Dark garnet with ripe red berry and plum fruit. Earthy in character with firm tannins and good persistence.
Red Rock Terrace Dark garnet. Not as intense as Volcanic Hill. Still has much of its fruit along with lots of mushrooms, plum and firm tannins.
Volcanic Hill Dark garnet. Red fruited, earthy with excellent balance and acidity still in place. Remarkable. Brighter than the 1973.
Red Rock Terrace Aromas of meat with intense fruit, earth and minerals. Good balance and acidity with tannins still in place. Austere character.
Gravelly Meadow In very good condition. Hardly a trace of earthiness. Just deep black fruit and tannins in place. Rich texture is amazing.
Volcanic Hill Earthy and herbal, dark fruited, soft silky attack. Lightly under ripe tasting, yet bold in flavor with lots of residual acids and dry tannins.
Red Rock Terrace Meaty, red fruited and densely flavored. Appears to lack phenolic ripeness and still has dry tannins.
Gravelly Meadow Dilute compared to the superb 74 vintage, dry and lacking fruit with notes of soy and mushroom and a dry finish.
Volcanic Hill Medium garnet. Ripe plum, mint, soft elegant mouth feel, very evolved yet retains its structure with some earthiness on the finish and big tannins. High toned and long. Very fine.
Red Rock Terrace Minty character. Earthy. Ripe and full on the palate with dark ripe fruit. Soft, concentrated and simply amazing. None of the compote character, however.
Gravelly Meadow Elegant and refined dark plum flavors. Delicious wine with perfect balance and long firm tannins. A superb wine that may last another decade.
Volcanic Hill Big ripe nose of dark plum and earth. Red garnet. Meaty and gritty, dry tannins. Hints of soy and must.
Red Rock Terrace Meat and earth notes. Fruit is in good shape with high degree of acidity and some herbal notes on the finish. Very dry. Mushroomy nuances.
Gravelly Meadow A little bret or must in the nose. Dry, tannic and earthy.
Volcanic Hill Earthy, meaty and ripe, but light in the mid-palate. Quite evolved and nicely balanced with good concentration.
Red Rock Terrace Nice. Ripe red fruit with good acidity and freshness. Nicely balanced. Big, expansive and nicely defined. Cassis-like dark fruit flavors. Still has lots of tannins.
Gravelly Meadow Ruby purple color. Earthy aromas, rich and intensely flavored with hints of toasted oak. A most impressive wine.
Volcanic Hill Nice. Ripe red fruit, not the usual meatiness with good acidity and freshness. Fruit is beautiful and perfectly balanced. Lovely wine with lots of tannins.
Red Rock Terrace Earthy, somewhat closed. Silky slate-like texture; firm tannins with a long finish.
Gravelly Meadow Dilute compared to the ’74. Somewhat in lacking fruit with dry tannic finish. Soy and mushroom notes.
Volcanic Hill Ripe and youthful fruit. Delicious wine that’s still young and drinkable, showing earth, leather, and firm round tannins. Could be the beginning of a new phase when wines are difficult to drink and not as evolved.
Red Rock Terrace Reticent nose, Nicely balanced with good acidity and freshness of red fruit. More like a young Gravelly Meadow. Very hard tannins.
Gravelly Meadow Hint of bret on this wine too. Musty earthy, moderate fruit flavors, dry and moderate intensity. Mixed character. Bright red fruit.
Volcanic Hill Ripe and salty with dark plum fruit. Tannic and red fruited.
Red Rock Terrace Highly tannic and lacking density of flavor. Silky in texture but unevolved. Shows more oak. Red iron and mineral-like character.
Gravelly Meadow Minty eucalyptus notes. Ripe and very young tasting.
Volcanic Hill A delicious wine still very much alive showing the excellence of the vintage. Nicely evolved.
Red Rock Terrace Also very good vintage for this wine. Dense and concentrated dark fruit flavor, excellent balance and good acidity.
Gravelly Meadow Not as ripe. Cool climate character with excellent flavors, soft and elegant flavors, nicely balanced. Fruit forward vintage. Softer tannins. Most interesting of the three in 1982.
Volcanic Hill Very ripe and evolved. Earthy aromas, dark fruited soft attack; layered and beautifully balanced with firm tannins.
Red Rock Terrace Moderately ripe, dense black currant fruit; young and bold on the palate.
Gravelly Meadow– Very ripe and delicious, one of the best Gravelly Meadows; riper than others with notes of minerals and big earthy flavors.