Last night, as I worked my way through a 13-vintage tasting of Dominus wines, I could not help but remark on how Bordeaux-like these wines were. And then it hit me. Christian Mouiex was making a Bordeauxesque wine in the heart of Napa. Could there be any lessons here for the Bordelais as they face the prospect of region-wide impacts associated with global warming?
Christian Mouiex, owner of Dominus, cut his teeth in Pomerol, home of Merlot, but chose Cabernet Sauvignon as the backbone varietal of his Napa wine because it is more suited to the environment. In the decade of the 1980s, the Dominus blend averaged 82% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Merlot, 3.7% Cabernet Franc, and less than 1% Petit Verdot. In the 1990s, the ratio was 76.11% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.6% Merlot, 12.88% Cabernet Franc, and 3.33% Petit Verdot. In the 2000s, the blend averaged 85.75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2% Merlot, 8% Cabernet Franc, and 4.5% Petit Verdot.
A number of trends are obvious as this Bordeaux winemaker experimented with how to make a Bordeaux-style wine in the hot Napa environment. First, the high Cabernet Sauvignon levels were reduced in the 90s but was even higher in the 2000s than they were in the '80s. The lesson here? Cabernet Sauvignon is desirable in elevated-temperature conditions. Second, Merlot went from 14% of the blend in the '80s to 2% in the 2000s. Indication: Merlot may be problematic for Bordeaux-style wines in elevated-temperature environments. The Merlot falloff has been taken up by Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, all later-ripening fruit.
As the estates of Bordeaux -- especially the Pomerol and St. Emilion estates -- consider strategies for dealing with the warming trend, they may do well to look at the accomplishments of a native son and use Dominus as their North Star.