Rebel with a Softer Cause – Akrasia Cellars
The Napa Valley has become almost synonymous with one particular varietal – Cabernet Sauvignon. According to Napa Valley Vintners, more than 34 different wine grape varieties are grown in Napa County, but 51% are dedicated to Cabernet Sauvignon. With approximately 475 physical wineries in Napa County alone producing more than 1,000 different wine brands, marketing a differentiation becomes a challenge.
One would think that that it would be a monumental task for a winery that produces, on average, only 130 cases a year of Cabernet Sauvignon. “It is all about focus for us,” said Phil Pead, the owner of Akrasia Cellars. “The smaller quantity allows us to be very particular about the wine we are making.”
Phil grew up in London, England, and he recollected his early experiences with European wines. “Aged Bordeaux’s are magnificent, almost magical, and Burgundies are wonderfully complex and mystical,” he said. After he moved to the US, he drank almost exclusively European wines. “It wasn’t that I was averse to drinking wines from the US; it was just that I was more knowledgeable about wines from the old country.”
But that all changed when he first tasted a California Cabernet. “It was very impressive,” he said. Phil remembers that he was amazed by how approachable the wine was. He recalled how that, even though the wine was still young, the tannins were soft, and the fruit was fresh.
Over the last two decades or so, the alcohol content of Napa Valley’s Cabernet wines has increased. Phil attributed this to the point-scoring of wines from reviewers. “Your wine will achieve higher scores with higher alcohol.” He went on to say that, in his opinion, the ratings have “homogenized” wine. “It used to be that you could tell the difference between wines from different AVAs, but today it is becoming more and more difficult.”
So, after purchasing a vineyard located in the hallowed Rutherford region of Napa Valley, Phil set out to make a Cabernet that was more reminiscent of the first California wines he tasted. “I hate high alcohol wines. I find them undrinkable. Wine should complement the food, not overwhelm it.”
To achieve a more balanced Cabernet where alcohol and acidity were more in harmony, as Phil put it, he chose a Pinot Noir winemaker to make his Cabernet. “Patrick was a little incredulous at first,” said Phil of his winemaker, Patrick Saboe. “He didn’t know why I would choose a Pinot winemaker, but to me, it was obvious. Making Pinot is all about finesse, and I wanted that same finesse used with our Cabernet.”
Today, Akrasia Cellars is on the list of some of the most prestigious restaurants in the US, and the very limited production makes it sought after with mailing list sub- scribers. Phil said that sommeliers love to talk about our wine. As a prominent sommelier said about Akrasia Cellars, “This is the closest thing I have had (from California) to Pichon Longueville or Pauillac in ages, elegant and restrained in its opulence.”