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Watch, Collect, Goosecross Cellars


by Andrew Chalk


Don’t you wish you had got in on the ground floor of a winery like Harlan Estate? Bought their first vintage (1990) at the release price of $65? The 2020 is selling for $1700, an increase of 2515%. Over the same time period the consumer price index (CPI) increased 124%, so Harlan increased roughly 20 times more than the CPI. Now, releases of Harlan’s Napa Cabernet Sauvignon doubtless got better over that time, but nobody thinks that its 2515% price increase was solely due to an increase in its intrinsic quality. Rather, most of it was an increase in the recognition of what its intrinsic quality actually was. Put slightly differently, early collectors of Harlan made a proverbial killing, buying a wine that was much better than a $65 wine, for just $65. Nowadays, Harlan is more “fully priced” on release. 


The good news about missing out on early Harlan is that Harlan is not the last Harlan. The malleability of terroir and ingenuity of winemakers and viticulturalists pretty much guarantees that there were repeats since, and will be in the future. 


I may have run across one. Goosecross Cellars is a Napa producer with estate vineyards in the Yountville AVA that is selling its main estate wine at less than $100. In Napa terms, that’s charity work. Its reserve is only $165. They are made by one of the most underappreciated winemakers around, Bill Nancarrow, who formerly made wines at Duckhorn. Based on the quality of his work for Goosecross it is a crime that he gets less recognition than fellow New Zealander Peter Jackson, who had J.R.R. Tolkien as a baseline. 


BACKGROUND

The owners of Goosecross, Dave Ficeli and Christi Coors Ficeli acquired the winery in 2013. They met at Gallo where they worked for many years in marketing roles. Christi was part of the famous beer family, but left to pursue her interest in wine. Their strategy so far has been to focus on cabernet sauvignon, Napa’s signature variety, and source from carefully chosen vineyards from around the valley. For example, their ‘micro lot’ series features wines from Howell Mountain, Oakville, and Atlas Peak. Despite the cabernet sauvignon focus hitherto they have recently pulled some of the grape to plant malbec. I sense a Bordeaux blend coming in a few years.


Christi came through town recently and tasted me on a selection of their current vintages.



THE WINES

Goosecross 2020 State Lane Cabernet Franc, Yountville, Napa Valley, CA. ($90)

State Lane is the estate vineyard of Goosecross Cellars. It is on an alluvial fan which assures good drainage. This wine is 100% cabernet franc. It was aged for 19 months in 100% French oak, 30% new. It was made from two clones in two lots that were vinified separately. After an 11-day cold soak the lots were each fermented for six days. After six months aging the lots were combined and aged a further 11 months. 


Tasting notes

Consider this the gateway drug of cabernet franc. The green pepper notes for which the grape is renowned are tightly restrained to become an interesting foundation layer on which the red and black fruit can express itself. One note, which turned out to be a theme of Nancarrow’s red wines, is the sheer luvability of the tannins. These are medium intensity and chewy in character. They make you want to just savor the wine in your mouth and come up with things to say, even to people you don’t like talking to, just to work your jowls.



Goosecross 2020 State Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Yountville, Napa Valley, CA. ($90)

Nancarrow’s notes say “We harvest from three of five blocks of cabernet sauvignon planted on State Lane, each with a defined and unique characteristic allowing wines to be crafted with balance, finesse, depth, and intrigue.” Intrigue. In the case of this wine the intrigue might have been Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, as flavors you thought you had subsumed in the finish, reappear and re-contribute to the wine unfolding in your mouth.


Tasting Notes

Blackberry fruit and herbal notes accompanied by Nancarrow’s tannins again (medium plus intensity in this case, with a chewy texture) make this a pleasant wine to drink now but one that is also likely to age for 5-10 years.





















Goosecross 2020 State Lane Aeros, Yountville, Napa Valley, CA. ($165)

This wine is made from the best blocks of the vineyard in the vintage, and a selection of the best barrels within those lots. It is two-thirds cabernet sauvignon, and one-third merlot. Aging is 20 months in 66% new French oak, one third used French. Think of Aeros as the estate ‘Reserve’ wine. 


Tasting Notes

Nancarrow presumably made Three Palms during his Duckhorn tenure so it is nice to see him get to work with merlot. Chocolate notes from that grape are distinctly present in the nose and the use of a blend irons out any one grape’s edges. This is a powerful wine with more structured tannins than the earlier two. Impressive and will age for a decade.
























C. Elizabeth 2018 Game Farm Vineyard, Oakville, Napa Valley, CA. ($150)

I reported on a vertical tasting of this wine in 2021, conducted in COVID virtual conditions. Tasting the 2020 with Christi in person offered a chance to put a face to the winery,  as well as to augment those notes. 


Tasting Notes

This is a quantum more structured than the earlier wines but, as such, offering great promise. Put it away for a decade and then return to a bottle a year every two years for the next ten. One tasting note is that this wine is aged in American, not French, oak. Forty percent of the oak is new, and the aging period is 20 months. 


I think of C Elizabeth as emblematic of Goosecross’s special projects. The earlier Aeros is the lineal winery tête de cuvée. But that is just my mental classification.



TWO OTHER WINES

We also tasted the 2023 Goosecross Rosé for Lucy, Napa, a light salmon-colored rosé made from pinot noir. It was a pleasant starter. In addition, the 2022 Goosecross O2X Chardonnay, Carneros, is unusual in being foot-trodden. The practice was common in the past in places like Portugal’s Douro Valley where port was routinely made from grapes foot-trodden by barefooted, naked men. Goosecross used covered feet and clothed treaders - but the technology is the same. It resulted in a very good New World chardonnay that balances the neutral French oak with vibrant fruit and a phenolic backbone. 





CONCLUSION

Overall, Goosecross can make the claim that they are a winery on an ascendent path. Only time will tell how far they will go. Consider this your chance to get in on the ground floor. Bill Harlan, do you want a case?



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