Havens Wine Cellars
Michael Havens is a soft-spoken man. There is an air of quiet confidence about him and he likes to smile. He has a lot to smile about.
As you may know, the Gang blanketed Hospice du Rhone last year and provided extensive coverage of the event. The introduction to the piece touted the charm and hospitality of Paso Robles, and the lack of "Napatude." While we received quite a bit of feedback on the story, only one of our readers took exception with what we implied with that term:
Now don’t get me wrong – his email was very polite, and he complimented the story – he just wanted us to know that there were Napa wineries that eschewed the glitz and hype, and were just quietly making wine and being part of the community.
We thanked him for his comments and I took a look at his website and added my name to the mailing list. Frankly, I didn’t know anything about Havens and simply by default I added them to my list of small family wineries I didn’t know, who most likely made unexciting wines.
Then (Napa being the small community that it is), I had a chance to meet Michael and Kathy in person at a party hosted by a mutual friend. He remembered our brief correspondence of last year and invited me to a trade tasting he was hosting at Tra Vigne where he would pour all 13 vintages of Havens Reserve Merlot and all 7 vintages of Bourriquot, his proprietary Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend. Unfortunately, my work schedule got in the way and I was unable to attend. Fortunately, the tasting would be repeated in San Francisco at Jardiničre and I made it a point to be there.
Jardiničre is a joint venture of Pat Kuleto – the San Francisco Bay Area’s most prolific and talented restaurant designer, and Traci des Jardin – the brilliant young chef who opened Rubicon and put them on the map. It is located in the Civic Center neighborhood of the city, just a couple of blocks from the Opera House and City Hall, and is housed in a simple brick building that was home to Kimball’s (a well known jazz venue) for years.
The restaurant was a hit right from day 1. The room is gorgeous and dramatic, and Traci’s food is fabulous – an unbeatable and winning combination.
Jardiničre does not offer lunch, so we had the entire room to ourselves. The tasting was intended to be informal – the wines were setup on long tables arranged end to end, and we were invited to pour for ourselves and proceed at our own pace. The restaurant provided platters of wonderful breads and cheeses that paired beautifully with the wines.
I greeted Michael, grabbed a glass, and had at it. My personal preference is older to young.
P I A
1985 Merlot Reserve - Hint of bricking in the color - slightly muted nose with the characteristic aromatic profile of an older wine - cedar and spice notes predominating and dark plumy fruit. In the mouth, the wine opens somewhat sharply, with bright and lively acids – I suspect the fruit is in decline in this wine although it still has good structure and might pair well with certain foods.
1986 Merlot Reserve - Deep garnet color – aromas of very ripe fruit with a suggestion of some volatility, although the aromatics are more interesting than disturbing. Medium weight and balanced in the mouth with good focus and grip – clean finish with just a hint of smooth tannins in the midpalate.
1987 Merlot Reserve - Also shows slight bricking on the rim – quite lovely sweet berry notes in the nose – softer and more pleasant in the mouth without the prominent acids of the first two wines. Again, well balanced – a gentler wine that drinks smoothly with the breads and cheeses provided by Jardiničre (left: a view of Jardiničre's cheese room).
1988 Merlot Reserve - Aromatically reminiscent of the 86 with more spice and a suggestion of ultra ripe fruit – focused and balanced in the mouth with a bit more focus than the 87 – finishes cleanly – a very nice wine from a not so nice vintage.
1989 Merlot Reserve - The 89 has surprisingly rich and pleasant aromatics. I’m learning now after tasting five vintages that what I perceived as "over-ripeness" really is either a characteristic of the fruit sources for this wine, or represent significant consistency in the viticultural and winemaking techniques.
The wine opens strongly in terms of aromatics, but fades after just a few minutes, becoming shy and elusive. In the mouth, the wine is reminiscent of the 87, but has more concentration and focus. Nicely balance, with quite lovely berry and plum flavors – a similar clean finish, and a pleasure to drink.
1990 Merlot Reserve - Dusty plum fruit in the nose – smooth entry with fruit flavors that follow the aromatics. This is the first of these wines that fits the descriptor of "youthful" – the fruit is bright and forward – excellently balanced, and goes down very nicely.
1991 Merlot Reserve - Less forward aromatics, but the typicality of this wine is well expressed – ripe and sweet in the mouth with the characteristics that made this year such an exceptional vintage in Napa. This was the first wine that I actually sat down and drank – absolutely delicious.
1992 Merlot Reserve - Aromatically not nearly as lush (of course) as the 91, but plumy and sweet in its own right – velvety on the palate and just a fraction of a notch down from the 91 – soft and lingering finish – no less a wine than the 91, but appealing in a different manner.
1993 Merlot Reserve - The 93 has more of that over-ripe quality in the aromatics, similar to the wines from the late 80s. The wine is more successful in the mouth than in the nose with a very smooth entry and a burst of sweet Merlot fruit – wonderfully balanced, and drinking very nicely.
1994 Merlot Reserve - Shy in the nose – it was hard to coax any aromas from the glass – the wine is not particularly successful in the mouth, either – it comes across as somewhat awkward and just a bit disjointed – the tannins are fine, but noticeable, and we may be making the transition in this vertical from wines in their prime to young wines that require additional time for aging.
1995 Merlot Reserve - A bit more forward in the nose with very sweet black cherry and plum aromas – rich and forward in the mouth with a very smooth entry and good balance. Clearly more forward and certainly more drinkable than the 94 at this point. The wine obviously has a long life ahead of it, and shows the characteristic balance and excellent flavor profile this wine consistently shows.
1996 Merlot Reserve - Varietally true plumy Merlot fruit in the nose – more noticeable tannin and less forward fruit in this wine – a reflection of the vintage, I think – nevertheless, smooth and pleasant – needs time to show itself.
1997 Merlot Reserve - More forward aromatically with upfront pleasing sweetness of fruit – absolutely delicious in the mouth – the wine opens broadly across the palate with a wave of sweet Merlot fruit that puts a smile on your face – may not have the structure to make old bones, but that’s OK – just delightful. It has a lot more splash than its counterparts – again, perhaps, reflective of the vintage.
1998 Merlot Reserve - Different. After 45 minutes, the aromatics settle down a bit – shows a pleasing sweetness of fruit – seems to lack the character and personality of the other wines – like the 96, it may just need some time to come around.
1992 Bourriquot 75% Cabernet Franc 25% Merlot - First pour from a freshly decanted 750. Aromatics a bit on the shy side – with vigorous swirling yields up pleasing and sweet aromas of Cabernet Franc without the herbaceousness or "green-ness" that sometimes accompany the aromatic profile of this varietal. Very smooth entry with balance and lovely fruit flavors – there is a backbone of smooth tannin and just enough grip to make the wine interesting and to ensure the wine will pair well with food. Impeccably balanced.
1993 Bourriquot from magnum 67% Cabernet Franc 33% Merlot - Aromatically similar to the Merlots of the 80s – ripe and sweet in the nose – smooth and sweet on the palate with beautifully balanced ripe fruit flavors – fine tannins and a clean finish.
1994 Bourriquot 67% Cabernet Franc 33% Merlot - Reticent nose (as was the 94 Merlot) – has not quite come together in the mouth – the tannins, although smooth, are fairly prominent in the mouth, and the wine is a bit disjointed. Hopefully, some time will bring it together.
1995 Bourriquot 67% Cabernet Franc 33% Merlot - Much sweeter and more forward in the nose – delicious ripe fruit in the mouth that is rather lush and seductive – beautifully balanced with structure to age, but drinking quite nicely right now.
1996 Bourriquot 67% Cabernet Franc 33% Merlot - As was the case with the Reserve Merlot, these wines have far more in common than they have in contrast. Sweet plumy fruit in the nose – similar to the 95, but with a bit less forward fruit and intensity – lovely soft and plumy fruit in the mouth – rich and forward in the mouth – finishes cleanly with fine tannins that need just a bit of time to integrate, but the texture of the wine is very appealing.
1997 Bourriquot 58% Cabernet Franc 42% Merlot - Typical aromatic profile – very forward – more lush in the nose than the three preceding wines – smooth, forward and lush on the palate – immediately seductive on the palate – the tannins are present, and need to integrate, but in no way detract from the enjoyment of the wine – drinking quite beautifully right now.
1998 Bourriquot 63% Cabernet Franc 37% Merlot - Spicy plum in the nose – more sweet than lush in the mouth – a very young wine that needs time to come together – shows promise, despite the difficulties of the vintage.
Some overall impressions:
This was a most excellent tasting – casual and low key, plenty of time to enjoy the wines, simple accompaniments to compliment the wines, and a great venue. For those of you who believe that Merlot is just a blending grape (and even for those of you who don't), I highly recommend these wines. They are soundly crafted, of high quality, and deserve your attention.
A big thank you to Michael and the folks at Havens for holding these tastings, and for allowing me to attend.