Two Jakes Merlot by Winemaker Clark Smith (4)

Maybe I’m being idk, a bit picky, but “Clearlake” as is mentioned, is referred to more as Clear Lake, where I live, namely, the Napa Valley, making me wonder as to the whereabouts of the writer of the wine blurb…

Dunno about such a place in Napa. The Lake County situation is confusing. Clearlake is the name of a town north of Lower Lake at the southeast corner of Clear Lake. The AVA in that region is Clear Lake, but since that AVA has no prestige, we prefer to use the County appellation and unite with other Lake County winegrowers to foster the reputation of the county rather than distinguishing ourselves from them by promoting the local AVA.

That said, we do believe that Diamond Ridge Vineyards, where Two Jakes is made, is the Jewel in the Crown of Lake County.

It’s a remarkable vineyard, essentially a mountain shoved into the corner of the lake, combining the advantages of volcanic soils with a lake effect. The result is minerally, energetic wines with firm tannins but also dynamic fruit intensity.

Many of you know me for my WineSmith wines, including the Cabernet Franc wooted last month from Diamond Ridge Vineyards, owned by Arizona cotton farmer Jake Stephens. In homage to his dad, Jacob Stephens II, Jake launched the Two Jakes brand with Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah.

Jake and his Dad spent years researching California potential vineyard sites in pursuit of the ideal site for quality and value for Bordeaux varieties. Eventually they discovered this unique holding in Lake County at the southeast corner of Clear Lake, combining volcanic soils, fog-free conditions and a lake effect moderating afternoon temperatures. The result has proven one of the great sites in all of California, yet still affordable.

For Merlot in particular, the constant UV gives amazing color and serious tannins while dispelling any hint of bell pepper pyrazines so common in downstream vineyards. The cool sunlight also creates intense grenadine aromas which are retained by virtue of the lake effect which cools the vineyard to 60F each afternoon around 3PM, preventing shrivel and raisiny flavors.

The decomposed granite soils also impart a mineral energy to the palate which gives lively vitality to the palate and also enhances longevity.

This wine is nothing like a typical California Merlot. It resembles more closely a classic Pomerol from Bordeaux – highly structured, dense in fruit with substantial ageing potential. It did extremely well when offered last November.

[youtube=]My video about this wine.[/youtube]

Notes from previous offer in November:

2011 Two Jakes Merlot
PnP into large Riedel’s. Color is ruby with no sign of bricking. After ten minutes the nose is not yet showing much fruit and there is a bit of heat present. What is present is cigar box and plum with a slight herbal/woody component, perhaps fresh cut fir. On the palate the initial attack has a lot of acid, backed by some serious medium plus tannin. Still not picking up much fruit on the nose or palate. Tannins are chewy and linger on the medium length finish. There is definitely a tobacco note mixed in with the tannin.

After 40 minutes open some fruit is starting to show. Bright acid driven bramble, almost like a blackberry that is a couple days shy of ripe. Went ok with bison burgers, but it wasn’t the best pairing. Gassed and recorked for day 2.

Day 2 this Merlot still has good acid and is now showing more dense fruit of plum and dark cherry that has incredible depth. The layers just keep rolling off and every time we check in there is something different going on. Finish length has increased and lingers for 30 seconds or so. Much better balance on day 2 and the acid is now more mouthwatering that tart.

Last glass was definitely the most integrated, even on day 2. Recommend a long decant or extended cellaring as this wine has the structure and stuffing to age.

This is a really accurate description. This is Pomerol-style Bordeaux with great aging potential. Decanting the day before (there’s no sediment, but some good aeration) is not a bad idea. This wine has a LOT to give, and will be really extraordinary in time.

We probably should have charged twice the price, so people would understand what they’re dealing with. It has a lot more in common with Chateau Trotanoy or Petrus than with typical California Merlot. I can see parallels with the better Columbia Basin Merlots.

Thanks Clark! I put an order in! Excited to try it!

I have never had Trotanoy or Petrus so I would not know myself, but how can you say that it will have more in common with those two wines when you do have not the vintages to back it up, especially if we are talking about the aging potential?

What is the aging potential?

All of Clark’s wine is both complex and well balanced. Always a joy to drink. (And it seems it most often gets “sold out”.)

That’s a really good question. Until recently, age-worthiness could only be determined by tasting skill based on long experience. I started studying Bordeaux in 1972, tasting and cellaring hundreds of wines from each vintage starting with the '61s and '70s to acquire this acumen. Here are a few pointers.

  1. Wine aging is like baseball.

If you hit the ball so it gains altitude to quickly, that’s a pop fly that will come down in the infield and go nowhere. Similarly, a wine that has open, fruit-forward enjoyability and soft tannins is likely to fall apart quickly in the cellar. The current “hang time” craze begun by the Australians uses extensive time on the vine to quench the wine’s anti-oxidative power through “field oxidation” which results in wines that taste great early on but do not last. Within 3-5 years, these wines will begin to brown, the tannins will get dry and grainy and begin to precipitate, and the fruit will fade and be replaced by aldehyde, caramel, nuttiness and sometimes even vinegar.

This style is very popular with novice consumers who don’t have aging cellars and consume their wines the same day they buy them. These raisiny wines tend to taste all alike, though, and after awhile, the experienced wine drinker gets bored with the sameness and goes looking for wines which speak of a particular terroir and can acquire complex and profound nuances that only develop after time in the bottle.

My aesthetic: I like to hit home runs. I actually think that past a certain price point, selling forward wines that do not age well is a betrayal of consumer trust.

Perhaps I err on the side of longevity, because when you swing for the fences, the ball is still gaining altitude when it leaves the infield. This means my wines are not generous in youth. So that those without cellars can enjoy them, we generally hold them for several years before release.

  1. Sensory properties of age-worthy wines.

Appearance: An ageworthy wine should look younger than it is. You should see more purple and less brown than you’d expect from the vintage date. This Merlot is still a dense ruby shade indicating good health.

Aromas: We are looking for youthful fruit without oxidative elements like aldehyde (staleness), maderization (caramel or coffee) or volatile acidity (vinegar). A wine with aging potential will deliver more fruit in the mouth than in the nose. In extreme cases like highly tannic Petite Sirahs and Cabernets, there may even be some stinky sulfides caused by high anti-oxidative reductive vigor. A closed aroma can be coaxed to open up through aeration or decanting hours or even days previous.

Taste: Besides richer fruit than in the nose, the tannins should be well-formed. Young “hard” tannins can be quite aggressive, but they should be entirely on the top of the tongue and without graininess. These will soften over time. Another type of aggressive tannin, which emerges as the wine is dying, is called “dry” tannin. It’s easy to recognize because it is very grainy and fills the moth with coarse particulates which are also in the cheeks and under the tongue. This type of aggressive tannin just gets worse. It is usually accompanied by browning.

Staying power: An ageworthy wine will last and even gain quality over several days after opening.

Many of my WineSmith wines are 2005s and 2007s, and for this reason are considerably more expensive. This Two Jakes offering is a 2011, so five years old, and still a little tight. As noted, this Merlot lacks generosity when first opened. Not a bad idea to open and decant the day before at this stage.

I have spent the last couple years perfecting a wine analysis of oxygen appetite. We employ a newly developed methodology for measuring dissolved oxygen inside a bottle without opening it, a capability we’ve never had before. The wine is saturated with air and then its rate of consumption of oxygen is measured. The rate of oxygen reactivity tells us how much life the wine currently has, from which we can gain insight into where it stands on its lifetime trajectory.

I haven’t measured this wine yet, so I just set up a sample today and can give you some preliminary numbers tomorrow.

This is a lot of wine for $30, and here you are getting it for almost half price. In a halfway decent cellar, it should continue to improve for at least another decade, so you might want to get enough that you can track its development over time.

I should also add that I have been making Merlot, Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah off this vineyard since 2007, so we have a pretty good track record of the vineyard’s performance. The 2007 Merlot, which was quite hard at this stage, is now softening and full of pomegranite aromas and hard to describe tertiary aromatic nuances that conjure up hints of porcini, Romano and herbes-de-Provence.

Our primary business is providing Ultra Premium wine-grapes to well known Napa and Sonoma wineries, 14 years. Our vineyards show many “Aspects”, as we have carefully selected clones and rootstocks for each vineyard block and hillside slope. No flat ground at this site, only rocky soils.

We started making our own wines in 2007 in the interest of knowing our full potentials.

As go our grapes, so goes our wines, very structured, yet fruit driven in your mouth, having a long lasting finish with a hint of minerality.

As Clark has so aptly stated, our wines are big, needing a bit of time in the bottle, but equity drinkable with a good aeration prior to consumption.

I trust one will enjoy these wines for sometime.

Jake Stephens

There’s a whole lot more information about this offering at the original woot offering November 28th of last year, including 71 comments and plenty of wooters discussing their tasting notes.

In particular, this from Ace Winemaker Scott Harvey:

You people are making resistance difficult.

As always, thank you for the informative response. I am curious about the wine and I will probably pull the trigger as well.

Thank you, Jake. Since Clark mentioned Trotanoy and Petrus in Pomerol, do you see or want your vineyard receiving that type of acclaim for Diamond Ridge Vineyards? There can only be upside to it, but of course, the average consumer such as myself is left out in the dust at that point. I do not mind that at all! Wine growing is a difficult business enterprise and there is so much competition so I can only wish for the best managed vineyards to survive. Would you say that to be your goal when you said “We started making our own wines in 2007 in the interest of knowing our full potentials”?

Thanks for your Questions, must apologize for my tardiness had busy doing other things. attention.

Yes, we certainly would enjoy the name recognition that the Pomerol region garners having both Petrus and Trotany.

Although one must recall that these two great houses have been in business since the 1800’s. We have a long way to go.

Vineyards and winemaking are a difficult enterprise, day to day vigilance is a necessity. We are small fish in a sea of wines world wide.

As for pricing, I believe that both Clark and I would prefer to continue to make great wines at a reasonable price, allowing consumers of all types to enjoy the fruits or our labors.

Once again thank you for your valued time.

Jake Stephens

It’s been a busy week, and I haven’t kept up with the Plus offers, so I found out just 15 minutes ago that this was here. What a coincidence! We just had a bottle with dinner tonight, one of our favorite meals, a simple stovetop pork loin roast, with mashed potatoes and carrots. I had thought of a Syrah, but I ran across this Merlot from last November’s offer, and thought why not? Clark made it, it’s sure to be good. It was actually a really nice pairing, even though it could have used more time to open up. There’s plenty of bright fruit, and the tannins were surprisingly well-integrated. We still have 3 bottles, but Clark’s suggestion that it could easily last a decade has me thinking we should get more, and maybe drink a bottle a year to see how it develops.
I need to decide soon, though, or it will sell out before I hit the button, like it did last week on Clark’s 2nd Fiddle PN. LW was not happy about that one.

I was surprised that the Merlot’s were my favorites in the Wellington mystery cases (I haven’t opened any of the Victories yet), and am interested in trying other well made versions of the varietal. Have also been very interested in trying a wine Clark Smith worked on. I know this is a screaming deal at about 16.00 a bottle, but I’m just wondering if I will really appreciate this wine if I have no intention of cellaring. I basically keep the wines on their sides in their original boxes in my closet until I drink them, which will be within the next year. Should I buy this deal if those are my intentions?

Perhaps I am delusional, but I think my wines, including this one, are quite enjoyable when they’re at this stage.

The wine is by no means unpleasant today. It’s just that it will give so much more later. That is, to me, one of its joys, to find a wine with real structural integrity poised for eventual greatness. This is the kind of wine that’s so well put together that you will find yourself making plans for a cellar.

It’s a 2011, not exactly a baby, and has very refined tannin, if still a bit grippy, plenty of pomegranite aromas, though still to be more fully developed.

If it were a young Petrus you’d paid $1,000 for, I’d say early consumption is inappropriate. But at this price, how could you not?