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Patrick Campbell — Intercontinental Wine Maverick

Patrick Campbell is probably the most culturally versatile and self-actualized winemaker and grower one could meet.  During three years living in a Zen Buddhist community on Sonoma Mountain above Glen Ellen, Patrick tuned himself to the rhythms of growing wine grapes at a neighboring vineyard.  In the end, he purchased this three-acre Laurel Glen Vineyard in 1977, restoring the vines to their full vigor.  Soon the renowned Laurel Glen Winery was born, where Patrick developed his thoughtful, meticulous winemaking style. 

So it began for Patrick on this remarkable ridge at the northern end of Sonoma Mountain.  Commanding a glorious view of Mt. St. Helena over the Mayacamas range, it is home to the Laurel Glen Estate.  Viticulturally, the hillside is distinguished by its exposure to sun.  It receives both morning and evening sun in contrast to many vineyards that receive predominantly one or the other.  As a result, the grapes carry fully developed flavors as well as provide excellent acidity and solid texture.  Patrick has since expanded this vineyard to 35 contiguous acres as his remarkable wines have garnered acclaim.

Patrick and his harvest team work meticulously.  As many as 15 passes are made through the mountain property, so that each cluster of grapes is harvested at the perfect moment.  Each lot is then barrel fermented separately, and the team sorts the barrels of 100% Cabernet Sauvignon into three levels—most ageworthy (Laurel Glen), the early-drinking lots (Counterpoint), and those not to the level of quality for use at Laurel Glen.  The individual lots are sampled and sorted for up to six months or as Patrick says, “until we get to know each barrel like a good friend”.

The style of winemaking is more European in flavor than is typical for California; the wines have perfect acidity and lower alcohol levels.  Sturdy and focused, the Laurel Glen wines are rounded, but not flabby.  They are fragrant, not opulent, fruity, not simple.  Their mouthfeel shows a tight core surrounded with supple and rounded tannins to match sweet fruit flavors.  Perfectly balanced, the finish is persistent but not harsh. The wines are very food friendly.

Patrick’s wines have an international and American following for the above reasons.  And no one will damn the wines with what Patrick thinks of as wine's greatest myth:  "It tastes hard and tannic now, so this rough monster will be great in a decade or two."

As Patrick looked to increase production in the mid-1990’s and prices for Napa and Sonoma Cabernet skyrocketed, he started to look far beyond Sonoma Mountain for more fruit.  Expanding his horizons, he settled on fruit for two affordable yet brilliant old-vine wines that come from Lodi, and two distinctive mid-priced Malbec wines with fruit from Argentina.  These wines have also been embraced with much acclaim.

His most unique choice, drawing from his expansive cultural awareness, was to source fruit from the abundant, old, reasonably priced vines of South America.  Several other American wineries have tried similar operations, but most have abandoned the effort.  Patrick explains that business in Latin America takes patience and good humor.   He pays top dollar, and personally travels south five times a year to ensure consistent quality and compliance with his precise farming methods.

Malbec, a Bordeaux varietal grape used primarily for blending in France, is the national treasure of Argentina.  The Mendoza region itself is a land of immense skies, incredible cloud formations and violent meteorological changes.  The most exceptional Malbec fruit Patrick works with comes from a 90 year-old vineyard situated in the prestigious Alto Agrelo area of the Mendoza region.   Mendoza offers a trip backwards in time—much of the soil work is still done by mule!  Crumbling adobe wineries are surrounded by tiny Malbec vineyards, interplanted with olive and other fruit trees.  It could be a scene from Italy and not surprisingly, since Italians settled the region a century ago.  

The careful methods used at Laurel Glen have become the norm here in Argentina.  Restricted irrigation, crop thinning, leaf pulling, picking into small bins, hand sorting, temperature controlled fermentations with “natural” yeast, and minimal handling of the fruit taken together result in two of Argentina’s best wines.  After harvest and crush, the wines make a three-week journey in 24,000-liter stainless tanks, moving across the Andes to San Pedro, Chile, where they board a ship and later arrive in Oakland.  The wines are barreled for 12-15 months in Graton, and then are bottled. 

In a great year like 2003, the resulting wines are intense with black fruit flavors, spicy, dark, and exotic.  Their color suggests a massive, bold wine, but it is surprisingly light on the palate.  Irrigated with the pure water of the Andes, the minerality from the rocks the water has eroded highlights the wine’s flavors.

These wonderful wines have made the journey towards you, and Patrick Campbell’s Laurel Glen wines are widely distributed.  Recently, they have also become available at Locals Tasting Room in Geyserville for tasting and purchase.

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WineCountry Online Newsletter Editor: Carolyn Lewis
 

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