Titus Vineyards – Two Brothers and A Winemaker
Going back about 20 years I had an opportunity to try Titus Vineyards Cabernet Franc. My initial impression was that it was a solid wine. But over the years never had another encounter with their wines until last week at a Wine Writers/Media Event at the winery called “Celebrating the 2019’s”. Eric Titus and Stephen Cruzan hosted the event. The event focused on the vineyard, a tour of facility, a gourmet luncheon and of course wine tasting. In retrospect, I missed some 20 years of enjoying some remarkable wines.
(Phillip on the left and Eric on the right)
The winery is run by Eric Titus and Phillip Titus which they took over from their father. Both brothers spent their youth and summer working around “the farm” which sold their grapes to various local wineries. Eric went off to pursue his degree (and PhD) in Biology focusing on marine science and toxicology. He continued this work through the 1990’s. He return to the winery full time in 2002 to help with the management of the family’s flourishing business. Today he is the General Manager and Vineyard Operation Manager of the winery. With his background, he has adopted both green practices and sustainable farming of the property. Eric has served as President of Napa Valley Grape Growers Association, St. Helena Viticultural Society and promoting the St. Helena Appellation.
Phillip studied agronomy, viticulture and enology at the University of California at Davis. He also traveled extensively getting an appreciation of many wine areas including Bordeaux. Phillip began his career working at Quail Ridge Winery, Stratford and Chappellet. In 1990 he was named Winemaker at Chappellet and continues to make the wines there today. That same year he also became Winemaker at Titus Vineyards. It was on the Titus Ranch Estate, some 40 acres, with 34 planted in 14 separate parcels/vineyard blocks with varying soils and clones that provided the background for Phillip to understand the difference and unique characteristics of each. His goal was to showcase the highest quality of fruit from each lot to make distinct Titus Vineyard wines.
Again, fast forwarding to 2015 when the new production facility was constructed, they hired Stephen Cruzan. Stephen a graduate from North Carolina State in biochemistry, was gearing up for a life in research. While working at a restaurant, he met with a winemaker from California. He decided to combine his enjoyment of fine wine and his technical degree to making wine. He started at Kathyrn Hall in the lab, then harvests at Sacred Hill in New Zealand, Domain d’ Ardhui in Burgundy and Clemens Busch in Germany’s Mosel River Valley. In 2009 he joined the team at Chappellet under Phillip Titus and worked his way up the ladder to Enologist and thru Phillip met Eric. Later he went to Cade Winery as the Assistant Winemaker. His focus was on the differentiation of wine barrels completing the end desired result.
The totality of the three as a biologist focused on ecology/sustainability, an enologist focused on the unique characteristics of each vineyard block (14 on the estate and 3 at their Ehlers Lane Vineyard) and a well-traveled winemaker with a keen focus of barrel selection, Titus was positioned to launch even further in the wine business from 2015 on.
The welcome included a casual discussion on the patio overlooking the estate vineyard blocks sipping a glass of their 2020 Sauvignon Blanc, a light and refreshing wine.
While taking the tour a tasting of their 2019 Zinfandel was poured as we strolled the production facility. This wine hit my personal wheelhouse as dry but enough spicy fruit and rated one of higher ratings for the day. The stainless steel tanks ranged from small (6 ton) to massive (10 ton) and used appropriately depending on how many tons of fruit were harvested for a specific varietal. When viewing the barrel room the smell had a heavenly fragrance (pic just shows one side of the storage and they also have another off site location).
Food and Wine Pairing
(Gougeres, black pepper, thyme chestnut soup with Hazelnut, Pomegranate, crème fraiche)
We then sat down for a gourmet lunch prepared by Michelle Mutrux a free-lance chef from Calistoga. As you can see from just a couple of pictures, it was something extremely spectacular. We discussed each of the wines and tasted with the various bowls/plates of food offered. All the wines were outstanding and two rose to the level of “Best Wines Tasted in 2021” (coming out December 2021). The first being the 2019 Cabernet Franc ($60) with a beautiful color, black tea flavoring and in the mouth just a sufficient amount of classical pyrazine flavors and a subtle smokiness. The second was their 2019 Titus Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($105) dark and luscious on the eyes with blackberry, Bing cherry and plum on the palate. They used 90-100% new French oak each year for their Reserve. Not too oaky, not too sharp of tannins, but an enjoyable smooth and robust Cabernet Sauvignon. We finished off with a 2002 Napa Cabernet planted from their newer vineyard block as a question came up on how long to hold the wines to maturity. The 2002, so 19 years old was still tasting exquisite but was beginning to reach it’s maturity level. This was a perfect wine for the dessert made from Titus Vineyards walnuts and olive oil for a Browned Butter Frosting cake.
(Red wine-braised short ribs, Maitake mushrooms, Rosemary polenta, Gremolata warm Levain, garlic butter)
While we discussed many items during the tour and meal, perhaps the most heartfelt and goose bumping tale was with the impending fire reaching just across the Silverado Trail (less than 100 yards) and how the two brothers and Stephen fought off flying embers with firehoses from their 50,000 gallon water tank. It was like a band of brothers standing arm in arm against overwhelming odds of a wild fire. At the conclusion of the meal after much discussion on the fires, vineyard orientation, leaf canopy, future direction, wine clubs, etc., I will end as I started, that I missed some 20 years of enjoying some remarkable wines created by some talented individuals.