Crown Point’s $185 Wines

Roger Bower and Adam Henkel Up the Stakes in Happy Canyon

Adam Henkel and Roger Bower

Three years ago, a Texas millionaire named Roger Bower hired Adam Henkel away from Napa’s renowned Harlan Estate and challenged him to make the best wine that Santa Barbara County had ever seen. Bower, who built his fortune developing firefighting foam and running elite firefighting squads in disasters and war zones around the world, had recently purchased a vineyard in Happy Canyon (formerly called Cimarone) and gave Henkel an almost unlimited budget to enhance those vines and buy whatever technology required to excel.

“I had no tanks,” said Henkel of when he first showed up. “That first year was a real scramble.”

But he moved his family to Santa Ynez and persevered, acquiring traditional foudres and cutting-edge glycol heating/cooling systems, custom-made cement fermenters, and his favorite oak barrels. His approach combines time-tested traditions of the Old World — picking by hand into tiny bins, for instance — with the niftiest gadgets available, which are all linked into the mission-control center on the wall of Henkel’s office/laboratory.

This fall, the first two Crown Point wines will be released: a 2013 cabernet sauvignon and the 2013 Relevant Red, which blends 30 percent each of petit verdot, malbec, and syrah with 10 percent cab. Both spent 26 months in barrel, and both are $185, making them among the most expensive bottles ever made in the county.

“There are structural through-lines in the wines,” said Henkel in describing these new wines as well as the two other vintages in barrel. “There is great fruit density.” It’s true: Amid the hearty blackberry, blueberry, coffee, and roasted meat aromas and flavors, both Crown Point wines are most memorable for their luscious viscosity, the same sort of soft-mouthfeel-meets-intense-concentration combo that people pay upward of $500 for in the Napa Valley. Both Henkel and Bower are excited for the years to come, especially for the cabernet. “We think that has the greatest potential,” said Henkel, who is already tweaking the Relevant blend (and perhaps the name, too) for future vintages.

Winemaking skills aside, Crown Point’s progress is rooted in the 105-acre property itself, which Bower bought after a statewide search in 2012. “I checked the temperature range between here and Napa, and everything seemed the same,” said Bower, who is 58 years old. “I just had this feeling about it.”

Under the guidance of Henkel and hard work of vineyard manager Juve Buenrostro, who lives on-site and tends to many Happy Canyon vineyards, there are now 50 acres of vineyard, including 18 of the original plantings from the year 2000. That includes the array of red Bordeaux varieties, some syrah, sauvignon blanc, viognier, and sémillon, and a new block of head-trained, triangularly trellised petite syrah.  

The vines cruise across the dramatically rolling property’s many aspects, but Henkel is most excited about a 10-acre section near the top, where the team battled a staggering array of yellow, blue, orange, and red rocks to plant vines. “Dónde está la tierra?” Henkel recalls the crew asking. “Es puro piedra!” (“Where’s the soil? It’s all rock!”) The thinking is that such “soil” causes vines to struggle immensely, resulting in fruit with more complexity and nuance. “It’s a total rock pile up here,” said Henkel. “I have huge expectations for this block. This is the future of the property.”

For the purposes of cash flow and keeping Henkel involved in the entire region, Bower also bought the Westerly brand in 2013. Today, that includes a wide array of bottlings from the county’s numerous appellations, using both estate fruit as well as, for instance, pinot noir and chardonnay from the Sta. Rita Hills on the other side of the Santa Ynez Valley. “We have freedom to play around within that portfolio,” said Henkel of Westerly, which is far from cheap but does offer a more affordable means of seeing what this team is up to.

After three years of anticipation, Henkel is happy to have Crown Point ready to go, and it couldn’t have come any sooner for Bower. “Patience is not my middle name,” he admitted with a smile.

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