Saturday, September 23, 2017

Who Makes the Best $29 Biodynamic Cabernet You Never Heard Of?

Martin Pohl, Beaver Creek Vineyards
Martin Pohl of Beaver Creek Vineyards has never made it onto the cover of the Wine Spectator. And he probably never will. But - shhh - his wine really should.

While the wine establishment pats its own back everyday for making fine wines from famous regions (and sprucing up the grapes with added flavorings), Pohl is up to something special, in the unpretentious Lake County wine country. On the 185 acre Horne Ranch across the street from a big casino, south of Harbin Hot Springs and the town of Middletown, he makes lovely estate wines from his 22 acres of Biodynamic vines planted on volcanic soils. With no additives at all.

He also has a great spot to kick back and enjoy a leisurely visit inside his tasting room or outside in the rustic garden area.

Pohl was a few weeks away from harvest when I visited last week. You could see his delicate Cabernet grapes hanging from vines that had clearly not been over irrigated. (Unlike Napa.)

He's been farming them through thick and thin, including the very thin of 2015 when Lake County suffered through three terrible fires, including one that scorched a portion of his vineyard. (None of his current release wines show any ill effects.) The government paid him $35,000 for the cost of new vines, but didn't reimburse him for any labor. The Czech born winemaker (and wine grower) has nevertheless persisted - like so many of his neighbors - in the pursuit of his dream.


Pohl makes four wines from his own vines - a Sauvignon Blanc, a Petite Sirah, and two Cabs - and buys organic Merlot and Zinfandel for two more wines. He's also got some more locally grown wines from conventional growers for sale in his tasting room.

Last week I tasted through the entire org/BD lineup. The Sauvignon Blanc was delicious, the Merlot was wonderful, and the regular Cab was great, but the Fairytale Cab was truly outstanding.

I'd been in Napa a few days earlier and had been tasting through a new luxury winery's debut vintages. They were presented in a glamorous downtown tasting room filled with art, glitzy interiors, and metallic backed leather chairs and priced at $75-150.

Yes, those wines were more Bordeaux-like, but the Beaver Creek Fairytale Cab was a stunning wine that could hold its own in a blind tasting, I'd venture. It's quite different stylistically from those other wines, but stylishly elegant in its blackberry and cassis flavors.

The Fairytale Cab is $29 or $348 for a case (less a 20% discount when purchased in the tasting room)


Unlike the Napa luxury wine, which is more than likely made with commercial yeasts and additives (almost all wine is and almost all wine in Napa is, too), this wine's flavors come purely from the grapes and the oak barrel aging. This wine is certified as both an Organic Wine, which means no sulfites are added, and as a Biodynamic Wine, which means only native yeast fermentation was allowed.

You won't find Beaver Creek at the RAW Wine Fair, or at natural wine shops in NYC. In fact, the RAW Wine Fair's U.S.-based vintners mostly buy grapes. Most of the wines from a number of the wineries featured are not from organic grapes (neither practicing nor certified organic). But Pohl is the real deal - growing the grapes himself and making wine via traditional methods.


Martin shared that he's made this particular Fairytale vintage with the special addition of amethyst crystals in the barrel.

It's not something he did in the 2015 and 2016 vintages - just the 2014. I've tasted this wine over the years, and it's always been a standout. But it's nice to know that the bottle we tasted from had that extra, supercharged, je ne sais quoi life energy.

At $348 a case, this is a wine you want to know - and buy now.

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