MACDONALD 2021

USA, California, Napa Valley

MACDONALD 2021

I recently dropped into the little cottage nestled within Napa Valley’s To Kalon Vineyard in Oakville to taste the current release of MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon—the 2021 vintage—with Alex and Graeme MacDonald.

Minerals & Lasers

The 2021 MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon differs greatly from the 2019 I reviewed last year. (A small amount of 2020 was bottled but not released.) If 2019 is bold, exotic, forward, and opulent, 2021 takes a 180-degree style turn: structured, energetic, tight-knit, and minerally. 

“I see it as all minerals and lasers,” Alex says. 

“It has serious tannins,” I add.

"Napa wines have headed towards instant gratification."

“Your ‘serious’ comment is accurate,” replies Graeme. “We like tannins. I think tannins catch a lot of winemakers out. Powerful wines need tannins. Napa wines have headed towards instant gratification, but I like that this wine needs time. Sure, you can still drink it now, but it’s holding something back. A very pure expression of the site is what we’re after. All that tension in the old vines is in this wine.”

Last year, I wrote an article about the MacDonalds’ story, available to read here. In a nutshell, the MACDONALD label begins with Alex and Graeme’s great-grandparents, who were looking for a retirement property in Napa Valley in the 1950s. They were offered a 15-acre piece of land that was part of the contiguous farmland parcels purchased by H. W. Crabb in the mid to late 1800s, which is now commonly referred to as To Kalon Vineyard. In 1954, they paid $500 an acre for this parcel, planted the land to grapevines, and sold the fruit. Their Cabernet Sauvignon was purchased exclusively by Robert Mondavi for 60 years—first when he was heading up Charles Krug Winery and then when he split to create his namesake winery in 1966. In the gravelly tenderloin of To Kalon benchland, cozied-up to Mondavi’s Monastery Block, this fruit consistently made it into Mondavi’s To-Kalon and Reserve labels.

Four generations later, not long after the Mondavi Winery was sold to Constellation, Alex and Graeme told their family that they wanted to make their own wine from the family’s vineyard. At first, the family was reluctant.

“They weren’t just going to give valuable Cabernet to a couple of young, eager kids with no track record. But when we explained that we intended to buy the fruit, it was a whole different story,” laughed Alex. “In 2010, we used what little money we had to purchase a small amount of fruit from our family for the first vintage of MACDONALD. We only made a hundred cases.”

The MacDonald Vineyard is and isn’t To Kalon.

Established from 1868 to 1899 by H. W. Crabb, the purported original boundaries of To Kalon Vineyard consist of over 400 acres—roughly the size of Chambolle-Musigny. This land is now mostly owned by Constellation Brands (the parent company of Robert Mondavi Winery), who also own the rights to use the To Kalon name, which Robert Mondavi trademarked in 1988. 89 acres of To Kalon Vineyard belong to Andy Beckstoffer, who was granted the right by Mondavi/Constellation to use the name, as can the dozen or so winemakers who buy fruit from his section of this land. Smaller parcels are owned by Opus One (jointly owned by Constellation and Mouton Rothschild), UC Davis, Detert, and MacDonald, none of whom can or do currently use the To Kalon name.

The MacDonald family continued to sell fruit to Mondavi until 2021 but has since decided not to work with them anymore.

With more than a dozen vintages under the brothers’ belts today, the annual production of MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon is still tiny at around 500 cases, but it is enough for them to earn a modest income. Alex runs the business side, while Graeme, who has a degree in enology and viticulture from UC Davis, is the vineyard manager and winemaker. (He is also the winemaker at Blankiet Estate in Yountville.) The wine was initially made at John Kongsgaard’s winery on Atlas Peak, but since this 2021 vintage, they have moved to Thomas Brown’s Mending Wall winery in Calistoga.

"To make great wine, you need to have full cultural and stylistic control."

"This is the first vintage at Mending Wall," says Graeme, “There’s more space there and, unlike most custom crush facilities, I have full rein to come and go there whenever I want. At a lot of other places, you have to present a work order, and they will do the work for you. That wouldn’t work for us. To make great wine, you need to have full cultural and stylistic control.”

MACDONALD Cabernet Sauvignon is available direct-to-consumer via the mailing list if you click here.


Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Christoffer Lomfors

See more work from Christoffer at lomfors.com by clicking here!

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