Rudy von Strasser is a Napa legend; he’s worked there for over 30 years, and played a huge part in founding the Diamond Mountain District, a part of the Mayacamas Range dividing Napa Valley from Sonoma Valley, and famous for its Cabernet. He was also instrumental in having the region designated as an AVA (American Viticultural Area).
Von Strasser first entered the wine business in 1989, but he didn’t start out there. He graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 1980 with a thesis on hard-cider production, quite arcane for the time. His vision was to modernize the cider industry. While traveling the country with the intention of gleaning tips-and-tricks from the wine industry to apply to hard-cider production, he took a job at Robert Mondavi Winery in 1980; while there, he ended up falling in love with wine instead. He enrolled in UC Davis, famous for spawning thousands of winemakers, and graduated in 1985. Blessed by good fortune, a family friend introduced him to Baron Eric de Rothschild at Chateau Lafite-Rothschild and von Strasser became the first American intern at the venerable chateau. After his year was up, von Strasser returned to Napa Valley and worked for both Trefethen in the cellar and then Newton Vineyard as the assistant winemaker under John Kongsgaard. In 1989, immediately after his marriage to Rita, the couple began looking for a vineyard property on which to make their home.
In short order, they located a small block of property on Diamond Mountain that was originally planted in 1970 and was known as Roddis Cellars, but was being used by its then owner the British Gilby Gin family as a corporate retreat. In 1990, the von Strassers bought the estate and began renovating and modernizing the property, including an historic barn. Getting off to a running start, the first vintage was produced that same year from the existing six acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. Located in a large bowl in the mountain, which is also home to Diamond Creek and Reverie wineries, the von Strasser estate vineyard today is planted with 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon plus about three acres of Petit Verdot, Malbec, and Grüner Veltliner at 500 to 1,000 feet in elevation.
Eventually, von Strasser began the task of petitioning the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to acknowledge Diamond Mountain as an official American Viticultural Area (AVA). He enlisted the help of many of his neighbors in the project and doggedly pursued his task. In late May of 2001, the undertaking was completed and the resultant Diamond Mountain Region wines were allowed to use the “Diamond Mountain District” appellation on their labels. The appellation is comprised of only 5,300 total acres, of which just over 500 are now actually under vine. The AVA has been long known for its Cabernet Sauvignons; benefitting from intense sunlight, cool nights, and porous volcanic soil.
Since von Strasser Winery was founded in 1990, Rudy has maintained the role of full-time winemaker. The Von Strasser Family of Wine produces wines under three brands: Rudy, Lava Vine, and von Strasser. Von Strasser continues to be the flag ship, producing single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons. Lava Vine is the “ABC” label: Anything But Cabernet. These “alternative varietal” wines come from hand-selected single vineyards throughout California and Napa Valley. The Rudy wines are made négociant-style. Producing Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and Zinfandel, these wines begin their lives as Lava Vine or Von Strasser wines but then are supplemented by quality “bulk wine lots.”
Now, looking for a change of direction, von Strasser has sold his Strasser Family of Wine tasting room and winemaking facilities on Silverado Trail and is going online exclusively in 2022. At 62, von Strasser, has brought in 38 harvests, 31 of them as sole proprietor, and is ready to pare back. “I was getting a little burned out running my own business. While I am selling my properties, I will retain my brands. I’ve been doing this since 1990 and I’m ready to reduce my risk and my stress. I am looking forward to simplifying my life while enjoying the process of making wine.” In an unusual move, especially for such a high-profile winemaker, a year ago von Strasser joined with Naked Wines, an online wine club based in England that came on the scene in 2006. It is a subscription-based club of 300,000 members called “Angels.” Each Angel pays a monthly fee that goes into their online “wallet” which they can spend on wines from all over the world at a discounted rate.
At four acres, Diamond Terrace was the smallest von Strasser vineyard producing Cabernet Sauvignon. It is located toward the center of Diamond Mountain and just down the road from the original estate.
This Diamond Mountain District Cabernet is the first tier, or “entry-level,” wine in the portfolio. It is made up of the lighter and less tannic barrels, or from lots that are not quite representative of the Single Vineyard tier. This wine typically sees 30% new oak for 18 months.
An opaque dark purple, this wine opens with a nose of racy dark fruits such as cassis and cherry. On the palate, these tend to recede somewhat while remaining rich, and are joined by leather, cedar, floral undertones, and big tannins and fresh acidity. (Of the two bottles I tried, one did have a bit of coconut, considered a barrel flaw and surprising in a wine of this pedigree.) ABV is 14.2%,
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