Emerson Brown was founded in 2005 by winemakers Keith Emerson and Brian Brown. Both grew up around fine dining with family’s involved in the restaurant industry. Keith is from Boston and was planning to attend culinary school to become a chef when he came across an article mentioning the possibility of going to school to learn wine making. This sparked his interest so he moved to California, attended UC Davis and ultimately graduated with a degree in Fermentation Science with an emphasis on Enology and Viticulture.
After graduating, Keith came to Napa and worked his first harvest at Cakebread. From there he worked at Gundlach Bundschu winery (the oldest continuously operating family owned winery in the state of California) in neighboring Sonoma County (Keith is currently their winemaker). And later a wine maker friend referred him to a position at Vineyard 29 in St. Helena. While there, he hired Brian onto the wine making team and after three years of working together – both decided to become vintner partners – combining their last names to create the name of their wine label. Today Keith is the Director of Wine making at Vineyard 29.
Keith also runs a small label on his own, Sonría Wines which focuses on lighter style varietals including an Oregon Pinot Noir and a Rutherford produced Sauvignon blanc. As Keith says, “Sonria will never see a Cabernet Sauvignon under the label”. Cabernet Sauvignon is a varietal he excels at working with yet is a wine he continuously tastes while on the job. The Sonría Wines are from non Cabernet Sauvignon varietals that he enjoys drinking when he is not working.
While Brian lives in Paso Robles and is involved in a number of wine related projects on the Central Coast, Keith lives in Napa and overseas the day to day wine making for Emerson Brown. Both are involved in the blending decisions. Their wine making style puts the fruit forward while complementing the fruit during aging with a judicious use of oak. They never want the oak to overpower their wines – as a result these wines drink well soon after bottling – as we found out during a recent tasting. With that said, there is the acidity, structure and power of fruit to ensure they will age well for many years. Twelve years after their inaugural vintage of 2005, Keith indicates that particular vintage continues to evolve and is showing very well.
Brian’s family owned a vineyard in Oakville – at the time it was called the III Michaels Estate and was owned by Brian’s father. This vineyard plus the heavier yields in 2005 were the genesis for the Emerson Brown wine. In 2013 the III Michaels Estate was sold; while Emerson-Brown retained the rights to the fruit after the sale (and continue to source from this vineyard), the economics no longer justified the price point of their Oakville wine. In 2005, their original intent was to produce a high quality Napa Cabernet Sauvignon – over delivering on the quality to price ratio. Wanting to keep producing a well-made wine at a reasonable price point – they introduced a second wine in 2013, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Note the long label on their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon – it represents both of their fine dining backgrounds and was designed in honor of long white table cloths found at premium restaurants. Brian remembers first stocking wine bottles at age 12 and over the years recalling the difficulty of finding a bottle of wine in a wine cellar where all the ends of the label look the same. They made sure there would be no difficulties picking out their wine among stacked bottles; a bright logo of four poppy petals is engraved into the end of each wine bottle capsule. These poppies are a tribute to some of the Spanish Conquistadors who looked at the California poppy fields and called them “Copa de Oro” or in English, cup of gold.
The 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is blended slightly with small percentages of Petite Verdot and Malbec and the fruit sources are from Calistoga, Rutherford and Oakville. This wine sees a higher production each year (usually in the 800-1000 case range) and is mainly distributed via wine shops and restaurants. The 2014 shows darker fruit on the bouquet which holds up consistently in aroma as the wine breathes. Generous aromatics include ripe plum, blackberry and a hint of dark cherry liqueur – leading to plush fruit on the palate. The tannins are fairly fine grained lingering softly both on the front and back of the palate for some time.
The 2014 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% varietal. This is the wine they have made since day one and is mostly available direct – via their mailing list. It tends to sell out quickly. Both Keith and Brian have worked with the III Michaels Estate for many years. They like it’s location – its at the Eastern edge of Oakville where some of red soil from the nearby slopes encroach into the vineyard. It is also in a windier part of the valley. The vineyard typically sees long hang time with even ripening. The vines consistently produce grapes with good natural acidity and even slow ripening after veraison occurs.
This 2014 vintage is noticeably dark – the bouquet is elegant inviting and complex and evolves remarkably in the glass over a short period of time. It shows both dark fruit and floral characteristics including dried lavender and a more subtle earth characteristic. As it breathes an additional sweetness develops – including notes of baking spice and toasted cedar. The palate shows a purity of fruit – and is not dominated by oak. Structurally this wine feels nice on the palate – there is a certain grip of tannins but even at a young age, these tannins feel like they are already fairly well integrated.
At times their wines have been in prominent restaurants and continue to see distribution in fine dining establishments in select states including New York and Texas. In the past, their wine was on the French Laundry wine list in Yountville. Locally the wine is often available through the K. Laz Wine Collection in Yountville. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.emersonbrownwines.com