Mayacamas: Rising Like a Phoenix

The legend of Mayacamas Vineyards is in good hands with winemakers Braiden Albrecht and Andy Erickson

Aug. 20, 2018

There are parts of the landscape around Mayacamas that look more like the surface of the moon. And the old house that stood on the grounds is gone. The devastating California wine-country wildfires of October 2017 did some damage here, but it looks worse than it is.

“In the vineyards, really just some vines along the edges got singed,” says winemaker Braiden Albrecht, 31. “We cut them back and there was still green growth, so they’ll come back in the next year or two. And all told it was maybe 1 percent of production.”

“And while obviously there was some damage, it gave us a chance to fix some things en masse that we really needed to get to, such as the pump house, drainage, other infrastructure items,” says Andy Erickson, 50, the consulting winemaker here. “Not the sexy part of winemaking, but necessary.”

There’s so much to get done, and in time for the coming harvest, that Albrecht is now living onsite. Romantic maybe, though the drive up the narrow, winding dirt road to Mayacamas will make you think twice if you forgot to get milk.

The Schottenstein family, who have been partners in the winery since 2013, took sole ownership of Mayacamas in 2017 when former wine executive Charles Banks sold his stake. And the Schottensteins seem committed to giving this estate what it needs to recover fully from last year’s fires. But don’t expect the wine style to change. A few foudres and vats might get changed out for efficiency’s sake, but new oak is not typically on the menu here (one wooden foudre, T-8, stands majestically in the cellar … and has been in service for 100 years, according to Albrecht).

“We harvest early. We embrace the tannin and acidity the mountain gives,” says Erickson, who also consults for a number of other high-profile properties in the valley, in addition to the Favia label he owns with his wife, Annie. And the wines will continue to be aged for up to two years in wooden vat and then another year in barrel before bottling.

“2013 is a great vintage for everyone here,” says Erickson of California as a whole along with his and Albrecht’s first vintage at Mayacamas, “but we were putting things together as we harvested.” Though the style won’t change, we should expect to see finer detail in the soon-to-be-released 2014s, as the team has settled in now. “In 2014, I think we see what we want to do here, I really think we hit the target.”

I tasted the 2013 and 2014 vintages non-blind at the property during my visit, and these were my impressions.

The 2013 Mayacamas Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder is dark in profile, with lightly smoky black currant, blackberry and fig notes infused with a light licorice snap hint. It roils with depth and power and shows the quality that marks the vintage in general. (Read the subsequent official blind-tasting review.)

The 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is packed with crushed currant fruit and laced liberally with sage, tobacco and mint, all backed by a light loamy echo. The finish is carried by warm stone, bramble and licorice notes. The wine sports that unabashed chewy mountain fruit profile without sacrificing purity or cut. (Read the subsequent official blind-tasting review.) As impressive as the ’13 is for its more overt and flattering profile, the 2014 has a sense of range and detail. And if that’s what Erickson meant by hitting the target, I’d agree.