1988 Montelena Estate Cabernet Sauvignon

A solid stepping stone on the road to making distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon is the opportunity to work with the same vineyard year after year. The 1987 and 1988 vintages were the most similar back-to-back growing seasons for Cabernet since 1976 and 1977. Droughty conditions and extremely low crop levels dominate the characteristics of these earlier vintages, but the fine-tuning of skills we gain from past, similar harvests shows in the balance of the more recent wines. This “learning curve” is how authentic traditions in fine wine come to be: we learn from each vintage and apply that knowledge at the next opportunity. This is true even if a similar situation doesn’t arrive until five or ten years later.

The 1988 vintage for Montelena Cabernet was most remarkable for the penurious nature of the vines. Its 1.25 tons per acre was even less than the miserly 1987 yield of 1.4 tons per acre. (Compare these yields to our already low average of 2.5 tons per acre.) That is less than seven pounds of grapes per vine. This low production is why this wine is the essence of Montelena Cabernet.

vintage weather

Hot. Relatively dry winter, warm spring, early bud break. Rainy weather at bloom reduced crop size. Hot summer and a long crush. Like ’87, low production and concentrated wines.

tasting notes

All of our Estate Cabernets have this wine's singular blue-black color when young. The nose is a heady concentration of dried roses, violets, intense cassis with a hint of dried cranberries, along with the traditional earthy notes from our Estate vineyard. The palate follows with a dense core of Montelena's unmistakably intense Cabernet-berry fruit, which is complemented by the flavor of the soils in our vineyard. I enjoy exploring this wine's many layers.

The 1988 vintage naturally had good fruit density, but we carefully crafted the wine to result in a mouth-filling, balanced texture that shows our experience in dealing with highly extractive vintages. This Cabernet is showing its potential early on, but an even greater reward will come with additional bottle age.

After a special July 2010 tasting, wine journalist Laurie Daniel published her notes on this vintage: "Dark, youthful aromas. Flavors are cedary, with powerful black fruit, tobacco and drying tannins."

Harvest Date August 30 – September 29
Sugar At Harvest 23.5° brix
Barrel Aging 24 months
Bottling Date May 1991
Release Date September 1992
Cases Produced 8,500
Alcohol 13.0%