1991 Araujo Estate Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard


Now, here's a rare old bird. The 1991 Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard was the maiden vintage after Bart and Daphne Araujo purchased the revered vineyard from Joseph Phelps. In fact, according to Frédéric Engerer, who served this wine blind in London, this was the very last bottle in the original cellar, the estate having been sold to Artémis Group in July 2013. It brought back fond memories of a complete vertical a decade ago in London, and I dug out the accompanying article that I penned for Wine-Journal.

Eisele Vineyard is located east of Calistoga in the northeast Napa Valley. Its genesis lies in the 1880s when Riesling and Zinfandel were cultivated; Cabernet Sauvignon was eventually planted in 1964 from low-yielding Saint George rootstock. From 1969, Eisele was owned by Milt and Barbara Eisele, who initially sold their fruit to co-operatives before realizing their grapes were just too good for such an ignominious fate. Several single-estate bottlings appeared during the 1970s, including Ridge in 1971, Conn Creek in 1974 and most famously, Joseph Phelps between 1975 and 1991. Phelps bottled Eisele separately but sometimes used the grapes in his own blend; for example, the 1976 Insignia was almost entirely sourced from Eisele. A small plot of Syrah was planted in 1978 but subsequently grafted with Cabernet in 1986. However, approximately 100 recalcitrant vines failed to ‘take on’ the re-grafted Cabernet and continued producing Syrah. Therefore, a miniscule amount was bottled in 1991 and 1993 and expanded thereafter. In 1989, the Eiseles sold their vineyard to William Farley, CEO of Fruit of the Loom, but Farley decided that winemaking was not his bag. Bart and Daphne Araujo purchased the estate in 1990, although that year’s crop was sold to Phelps, which is why 1991 is their de facto inaugural vintage. They initiated a replanting program, augmenting the Cabernet with a little Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petit Verdot, as well as improving the clonal selection and the winery itself.

So, how is the 1991 after 33 years? It has a wonderful bouquet with mainly black fruit, gravel and cedar, perhaps quite Graves-like in style. Indeed, if I were served this blind, I would find the aromatics difficult to pin down as Napa. After 20 minutes, hints of autumn bonfire and a touch of ash appear. The palate is very refined and surprisingly youthful, which must partly be put down to the provenance. Quite sapid in style, with hints of seaweed tincturing the tertiary black fruit; what I really appreciate is the linearity and restraint on the finish. Absolute class. If you are lucky enough to own bottles, drink now and over the next 8 to 10 years.  94/Drink 2024-2036.

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