The name O’Brien in Ireland has various meanings, least are “hill, high place, eminence, lofty or exalted one”. I believe it is with this background that the owners Bart & Barb O’Brien, put O’Brien Estate on the map. Their wines are “lofty” in taste but easily in reach for most folks to buy and enjoy.
O’Brien Estate is located in the Oak Knoll district east of Highway 29. The estate is forty acres planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. They only produce what is on the property and do not sell off any of their “excess wines” as they are all needed for the highly in demand wine. If the yields are up, the wine club members and over the counter guests enjoy more. When the yields are lower, the wine clubs are appropriately allocated. Typically they produced around 5,500 cases a year.
Being in the lower Napa Valley, the loaming soils produce a unique terroir. In addition, being closer to the bay with nightly fog, it allows both Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon to co-exist on the property. Both David Yorgensen, winemaker and Mark Davis the assistant winemaker, have cultivated the vineyards to their maximum. They use 75% new French oak barrels for their Estate Wines and can use up to 100% new French oak for their Reserve Wines.
On a sunny day, in winter, the estate was awash with deep yellow mustard plants as crop covers as far as the eye could see. The first wine tasted was a refresh citrus Sauvignon Blanc. Normally this is the wine to wake up the palate, but this is a wine which stood on its own, not a prelude to others! It was rich and provided a solid tropical bouquet. No wonder why this Sauvignon Blanc is call “fascination”. This wine sells out quickly and is for Club and Retails sales only. They also make a Chardonnay, but I did not taste it. A good reason for a return visit.
Most of their reds have unique names, telling the story of their enthusiasm and love of the land. The wines are also divided by Estate Wines and Reserve Wines. The first Estate Wine I tried was their 100% Merlot 2012, which 700 cases were produced. It was opulent, had a dark cherry nose and was “round in the mouth” with hints of chocolate. The next wine was Seduction, a 2012 blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Franc. This was easy to drink, smooth and a wonderful wine for just about any occasion. The next wine was the 2012 Passion of the Soul Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine was 90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Merlot. By added to Merlot, it allowed the rounding and softening of the Cabernet. While Parker stated it was good for 10-15 years, I personally don’t see any more than 10 years. An excellent wine to drink today or hold for a few years.
The final tasting in the outdoor sun drenched patio/tasting area with views of the knolls, were two distinct wines. First was in their Reserve Wines, the 2013 Reserve Merlot. This is 100% Merlot with only four barrels or 100 cases produced. It was deep ruby in color, with a mouth fulfilling taste comparable to the noteworthy Spring Mountain Merlots. This was no second class citizen! For the serious Merlot aficionados, this is one for your cellar. Parker rated it 96 points and some of his thoughts were: “One of the most Titanic Merlots ever made in Northern California, the wine is rich, full, reveals graphite intermixed with chocolate, sweet black raspberry and black cherry fruit in abundance. It’s full-bodied, opulent, luxurious and even extravagant”.
The last wine tasted was their Unrestrained blend consisting of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc. This was the wine for the Grand Finale for sure. It was given 98 points by Parker. From the first smell you got aromas of dark fruit interlaced with the roundness of cherry. The color is a deep and passionate ruby color. It is aged 18 months in 100% new French oak barrels. This is not an entry or everyday wine!
Their grounds are peaceful and relaxing with a well-trained and hospitable staff (Steve, Luis and Julio) to make your day special when you call for a reservation. They do have an indoor tasting room if inclement weather arises which also doubles as their bottle area. As stated in the beginning that the O’Brien name can mean lofty and their wines surely show an eminence over many, be it Oak Knoll or other Napa wines.
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