Estate Wineries of the Year
Wine & Spirits Buying Guide 2003
Every year, we taste the three new releases of Diamond Creek: Red Rock Terrace (from seven acres of reddish-brown soil facing north), Gravelly Meadow (five relatively flat acres with a gravelly, sandy soil) and Volcanic Hill (eight acres of white volcanic ash on a hillside facing south). And every year we recommend them all with exceptional ratings. In '97 and '98, it was Gravelly Meadow and Red Rock that showed best; in '99, Volcanic Hill was the clear favorite.
When Al Brounstein bought this 70-acre parcel on Diamond Mountain in 1967, he had the foresight to plant each vineyard block by the soil structure and exposition that, and the plant material he smuggled in from two premier cru chateaux in Bordeaux, help to emphasize the site expression. Collectors have recognized the individual character in the wines from their early releases, even when they were made in a remarkable basic, artisanal winery.
Today, the style of Diamond Creek's wines is somewhat more accessible, while the site distinctions are no less apparent. Much of that accessibility can be attributed to changes winemaker Phil Steinschriber made after his arrival in '91. He trained the vines from their two-wire California sprawl to a vertical trellis, allowing more light into the canopy. In the most vigorous soils, he used a Geneva double curtain, raising the fruit higher while training the canes and leaves below. The grapes achieve a more balanced ripeness, and they are harvested late, sometimes into November, Steinschriber also installed stainless steel fermenters with temperature control. Together with a new crusher, the equipment allows him to maintain the concentrated Diamond Creek fruit without aggressive tannins.
Volcanic Hill, which once produced the most tannic and inaccessible
wine, grew the most elegant Diamond Creek Cabernet in '99.
While the others show some hyper-ripe flavors - the jet-black tannins
and black cherry liqueur fruit of Gravelly Meadow, or the soft,
black and lavender depths of the Red Rock Terrace Volcanic
Hill grew more perfectly ripe. It has a tailored feel, the flavors
black cherry up front, fruited chocolate in the end, balanced and
dry. Over the years, Brounstein has consistently found that the
wines that grow out of the soil on Volcanic Hill are the longest
lived of the three vineyards. Recently, he won approval to plant
three more acres on the same white volcanic ash. The vines went
into the ground in 2001, more densely planted than his other vineyards,
and Brounstein believes they will make his best cabernet yet.