WaterMark Wine is a small longtime under-the-radar boutique winery run by long time Napa Vintner Phil Steinschriber. Phil is also winemaker for the much coveted Cabernet Sauvignons of Diamond Creek Vineyards on Diamond Mountain and because of his long history (35+ years) working in the wine industry in the Napa Valley has access to extremely good fruit sources. He has been around the beverage industry ever since he was a child.
Phil’s parents immigrated to the USA after both survived concentration camps separately from each other during World War II, in Poland and Germany. Phil spent some of his childhood in New Jersey where his parents raised chickens – and after being unsuccessful in this venture they pivoted completely both in location and type of business – and drove across country to Los Angeles where the family moved and purchased a liquor store in Los Angeles.
The liquor store was Phil’s first introduction to alcohol – helping his father sell a variety of alcohol including very cheap wine. Later he would become the wine buyer for his father’s store.
He earned his master’s degree in Agriculture Chemistry from Fresno State and then spent two years producing Kosher wines in the Golan Heights of Israel. It was while working in Israel that he met Al Brounstein who suggested to Phil that he come work for Diamond Creek Vineyards. Before he did so, he was winemaker for a winery in New Mexico for a short while. Eventually he moved to the Napa Valley and worked for Napa Creek Winery (no longer in business) for several years. In 1991 he became winemaker for Diamond Creek Vineyards and has since made his mark for this winery, often earning top scores for their Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Phil continues to make the wines for Diamond Creek Vineyards even though Al and Boots Brounstein have since passed.
The WaterMark wines are layered and complex; we should also mention they are available at much less the cost then some of the wines he makes for other premium wineries. Phil’s wines are all hand produced. They are made in a Bordeaux-style. The grapes for the 2005 Watermark Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon were harvested by hand in the very early morning, then cold soaked for 4 days, pressed sweet for the free run juice and then fermented. No pumps are used, punch downs are carefully regulated and are done less often in the later stages of fermentation to help ensure a wine that is less tannic. All aging is done in small French oak barrels.
We met Phil many years ago at a tasting and then followed up with Tim Mertz who worked at A Dozen Vintners (before they closed) and helped Phil with a number of harvests. We were fortunate to be able to taste WaterMark’s inaugural 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon with Tim – this is a wine worth seeking out.
Napa’s secret and sometimes not so secret recipe is combine unique high end terroir with a long time well-regarded wine maker veteran; this combination is an ingredient for success in the wine industry. The 2004 WaterMark Cabernet Sauvignon is all about the fruit; one immediately notices that upon smelling the aromas for the first time. Aromatically this wine is big with raspberry and spice components including black pepper. The palate continues with raspberry and cherry with notes of chocolate, cloves, cinnamon and subtle nuances of tobacco, vanilla and toasted oak to round out the finish. Speaking of the finish; it is clean and very long. There is a lot packed in this wine, both in fruit and spice flavors.
The 2012 Mt. Veeder grown (vineyard at 2,000 feet) WaterMark is dark ruby in the glass with medium viscosity. Aromatically it reveals notes of blueberries, darker cherries and a dark cedar box note with hints of mushroom. A nice intensity of fruit shows on the mid palate through to the finish. Both oak and grape tannins linger with a touch of toasted oak. The tannins are well integrated and do not dominate. A good food wine that over delivers for the price.
Watermark focuses entirely on Cabernet Sauvignon with the one wine mentioned above as well as a Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon. Wines from there own small vineyard on Howell Mountain won’t be producing for several more years.
Their wines have good acidity and backbone structure and will age nicely for a number of years. Their first vintage was in 2004 and production remains tiny at merely several hundred cases of each wine. The wines can be purchased direct via their website or in several retail outlets locally including the Bounter Hunter or Backroom Wines in the city of Napa, V Wine Cellar in Yountville, ACME Fine Wines in St. Helena or the Calistoga Wine Stop in the town of Calistog. For more information or to join their mailing list, visit: www.watermarkwine.com