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Magical Merlot

Winemaker Sarah Gott Creates Varietals with True Character

While Sarah Gott attended UC Davis, she had every intention of
becoming a veterinarian. But, once she caught the wine bug, while
exploring the viticulture and enology programs there, she changed
her major to winemaking. “I’d spent a lot of time in the wine
country with family friends when I was growing up. Food and wine
had always been a part of my life, so becoming a winemaker seemed
like a natural progression.”

Flash forward to present day, and Gott is the winemaker at
Blackbird Vineyards, the much-buzzed-about merlot producer in the
Napa Valley that has drawn comparisons in the press to Château
Petrus, and is owned by Michael Polenske. The 2003 Blackbird
Vineyards merlot received a 95-point score from Vintrust, and this
is in no small part due to Gott’s approach to winemaking. “The
importance of the vineyard is number one,” according to Gott, and
her level of humility in the vineyard has led to great artistry in
the cellar.

It would be too easy to describe Gott’s merlots as “feminine.”
Her wines exhibit layers of complexity, a broad flavor profile, and
exquisite balance; all descriptors that defy easy definitions
within categories that invoke one’s gender. Instead, Gott’s wines
can best be described as issuing forth true varietal character.
This means that Gott is able to translate the fruit of the vine
into the bottle, with minimal interference from stylistic
flourishes, as is often the case with other winemakers. “The
quality of the fruit is what drives the quality of the wine,” Gott
said.

To meet Gott herself is to have a better understanding of her
winemaking style. When first introduced to her, in a room full of
wine industry folks, I realized that I had mistaken her for one of
the lovely young women who were hosting the event, and whose
purpose it was to make certain the guests were all finding their
way to the Sarah Gott Reception. She hung back from the rest of us
and smiled politely to all the guests who entered the breezeway.
But, once Gott started speaking about her wines, she assumed a
commanding, competent presence. She knows the kinds of wines she
likes, the kinds of wines she’s trying to make, and how to speak
articulately about both. I couldn’t help but think that Gott’s
approach to the Blackbird Vineyards merlot is the same — hang back
and watch the fruit mature in the vineyard, observe what it is the
fruit has to offer, and then lend a level of competence and focus
to the wine, to allow the fruit to find its true voice in the
bottle.

Gott is no novice to winemaking. She has had successful stints
at world-class properties, and has held winemaking positions at
Joseph Phelps Winery and Quintessa, in the Napa Valley, and Wirra
Wirra, in Australia’s McClaren Vale winegrowing region.

Gott seems to have found a great home at Blackbird Vineyards,
and is especially fond of the fruit source with which she gets to
work and create. “Blackbird is in a unique location, in the
renowned Oak Knoll AVA of the Napa Valley. It has deep soils, which
lead to early ripening, and that’s especially good for merlot. It’s
cool enough so you get some longer hang time. But you also get the
ripeness you want in terms of extraction and flavor and tannin
development,” she said.

The 2003 Blackbird Vineyards merlot has underpinnings of
eucalyptus, chaparral, sage, and wet earth on the nose, with an
abundance of elegant briar patch fruit, cedar, and rose on the
nose. The mouth feel on this wine is amazing. For such a young
wine, the tannins are very finessed and elegant, yet the overall
power of the wine hints at a healthy longevity in the cellar.

4·1·1 To learn more about Sarah Gott and
Blackbird Vineyards, visit www.blackbirdvineyards.com.

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