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Taste of Wine: Latest Napa Valley cabs from To Kalon vineyard

Behold To Kalon Vineyard on Highway 29, adjacent to Mondavi Winery in the Oakville district of Napa Valley.  Known in inner circles as the “kingmaker” vineyards, wineries in Napa that can afford to buy grapes from To Kalon have gone on to fame and fortune, thanks to this fragmented 1,000-acre expanse of wine grape-growing land.

I had the extreme good fortune of walking several rows of To Kalon several years ago, experiencing this higher world of “first growth” vines, and tapping into its magical well-draining gravelly soil where vines must search deep underground for water, creating ideal stress for grapes to ripen.

A brief history of this hallowed ground should cast more light on the serious competition to connect with To Kalon and its expensive but luxury tasting wine grapes that command hundreds of dollars for each bottle of wine that emerges from its annual harvest of superior grapes.

The Godfather of To Kalon was H.W. Crabb who in 1868 purchased 240 acres of farmland in Oakville and immediately started experimenting with winemaking.  In 1881 Crabb expanded next door and bought more than 119 acres.

In 1886 he named his total acreage “To Kalon,” inspired by a Greek expression meaning “the highest beauty.” Cabernet Sauvignon dominated the vineyard and it soon gained international fame with this varietal, originally from the fields of France.

Crabb kept increasing his acreage until close to 1,000 acres boosted the To Kalon name. In 1966, Robert Mondavi purchased a 12-acre holding, to include his new and bold looking winery.  In 1986, he was using the name To Kalon on some of his select French-style wines.

About this time, Napa Valley’s Beaulieu Vineyards had also purchased To Kalon acreage from the Crabb estate, then sold its 89-acre share in 1993 to Andy Beckstoffer, a successful wine grape grower with numerous holdings in Napa Valley. In 1999, Beckstoffer convinced winery customers to label their wines “Beckstoffer Original To Kalon Vineyard.”

This started a war of words with Mondavi. It carried on until 2003 and an out-of-court settlement with terms never made public. However, you can still find the Beckstoffer To Kalon name on wines made from grapes grown in that vineyard. Andy Beckstoffer does not own a bottle with his name on it.

He doesn’t have to, he has it on some of the greatest wine bottles in Napa Valley that covet his To Kalon vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon.  He also owns 10 other vineyards in Napa Valley and Mendocino.

A postscript to this To Kalon saga…in 2007 the property was placed under a land conservation easement that forever prohibits non-agricultural development, sealing To Kalon’s history as the most famous (and expensive) wine-making vineyard in U.S. history.

Other owners of To Kalon land now include:  Opus One, a renowned winery, the result of an agreement between Mondavi and Chateau Mouton Rothschild of France making high-end Cabernet Sauvignon and the University of California Davis, the leading enological school in the U.S.

Two recent dynamic wines have emerged recently with To Kalon grapes, the 2015 Blind Justice 100% Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon, with a recent sale price of $174.95 and the 2016 Janzen Beckstoffer To Kalon Cabernet Sauvignon with a recent sale price of $218.95. Visit at bountyhunterwine.com.

Wine Bytes
  • Sal Ercolano’s West End Bar & Kitchen in Del Mar has opened his entire menu to take out and delivery. Daily hours are 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.  Check out his website for surprise offers and special news at westenddelmar.com.
  • Chandler’s Oceanfront Dining at Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad has new family-style dinners for pick up only Wednesday thru Sunday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Make it special and leave the cooking to Chandler’s for family meals for two or four.  Call 760-683-5500 or visit chandlerscarlsbad.com.
  • The Morada Restaurant at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe has “Comfort Classics for Home.”  Choose from a menu of cocktails and newly added dinner items like Braised Beef Short Rib and Buttermilk Fried Chicken dinner for two.  Open for your order from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Call 858-381-8289 or visit theinnatrsf.com.

Frank Mangio is a renowned wine connoisseur certified by Wine Spectator. Reach him at [email protected]

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