I remember the first time I tasted Blackbird Vineyards Merlot. It was in Fall 2005, shortly after I joined Vinfolio to direct their domestic wine acquisition program where the mission statement was pretty clear. Make Vinfolio the destination for emerging American wines that nobody knew about. Every once in a while, my CEO would ask me to taste the new brand made by someone he knew. Virtually none of these panned out as something I wanted to offer, but one of them became a legend.
One day he called and told me to come to the San Francisco office to meet with the principal of a new wine brand. As a preliminary I asked him who was behind the wine, the variety and what it was called. I didn’t recognize the name, Michael Polenske who I learned was successful in his myriad business and entreprenurial pursuits and wanted to enter the wine business the right way.
The variety, Merlot, from Napa Valley was of passing interest. There were only a few I considered worth a damn. Then he said it was called Blackbird. I recall that I immediately said something like “Do you mean THE Blackbird Vineyard?” The answer was, “Yeah, he bought the Blackbird Vineyard.” I let that last bit run over me for a few seconds as I thought back to the 1999 Selene Merlot, Blackbird Vineyard from Mia Klein that I ranked highest in 2004. To me, this place was among the Holy Grail of Merlot in Napa Valley along with Paloma.
What came out of the first meeting with Michael impressed me that he was fully aware of the responsibilty he had after acquiring this jewelbox of a property. It was also clear that he didn’t do anything halfway. He knew of my earlier impressions of Selene which used only 55% Blackbird Vineyard fruit. He let me know his would be 100% from the site.
This was the 2003 Blackbird Merlot and there were about 75 cases. After tasting it with him the following week I asked him for two things:
1. Sell it all to me.
2. Then raise the price for the next vintage because it deserved it.
I wrote the first professional review on Blackbird Merlot in October 2005. https://www.blackbirdvineyards.com/the_wine_portfolio/reviews.php#2003, which makes it my longest continuous tracking of any producer. Fittingly, Blackbird was on the cover of pdwr #1.
Blackbird Vineyards is now in its 11th release with the 2013 vintage and continues to broaden the offerings made by winemaker Aaron Pott. The latest are single variety bottlings of 50 cases each of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc and offered as Blackmail. The first professional reviews are below.
93 2013 Blackbird Merlot Blackmail
Napa Valley, 14.5%, 50 cs., 100MR, $100
This is what started it all - The premiere release from Blackbird was the 2003 Merlot. The nose is cedar, plum and cherry with notes of chocolate and hazelnuts and whiffs of earth. The palate is full and supple on entry with black cherry, dense cocoa and licorice with a velvet-like structure. Drink 2017 - 2024.
95 2013 Blackbird Cabernet Sauvignon Blackmail
Napa Valley, 14.5%, 50 cs., 100CS, $100
Shows a beautifully lively nose of boysenberry, licorice, blossoms, fresh currant and herbs. The palate entry offers impeccably sophisticated layering with a firm mid-palate core of currant, herb and blackberry underscored by chocolate - silky and pure. Finishes with firm berry and menthol. Drink 2017 - 2030.
94 2013 Blackbird Cabernet Franc Blackmail
Napa Valley, 14.5%, 50 cs., 100CF, $100
The nose is densely packed with chocolate, plum, spice, wet stone and blueberry. The palate entry is sticky prune plum with a leaner, more refined core redolent of cedar, warm berry, herb and firm tannins that are silkier given time in the glass. Drink 2018 - 2030.
For more information on these wines, go here.
These wines were received as professional samples and tasted over three days at Left Hand Rule Studio in Sonoma Valley.