There is a particular scent to a proper winery cellar. Some combination of dust, mold, and fermenting wine preserved in the rafters, the cracks in the walls, and in the fabric of old oak barrels. It’s reminiscent of earth but not quite dirty. It’s a little bit cold and damp, conditions the wine enjoys much more than people do. For wine people, climbing downstairs into a wine cave is exciting, that specific earthy scent comes with the promise of potential, a chance to peer under the curtain, taste wine as it is becoming. Just like a kitchen never smells so good as when a stew is halfway through an all-day simmer, a great wine cellar offers a taste of the future.
There is a day each year in mid-July, usually a particularly sunny one, when the Liner & Elsen crew drives into the valley to spend a few hours in just such a cave, belonging to John Paul and Teri Wadsworth of Cameron Winery. It’s a tradition Liner & Elsen has upheld every year since 2001, when we tried out a set of barrels for our first Cuvée L&E. The wine has always been a selection from the Abbey Ridge Vineyard near the crest of the Dundee Hills under the direction of Bill Wayne, one of the best vine tenders in the business. With notepads and pens, we spend a couple hours underground, tasting from barrel to barrel, trying out different blends, getting confused about and arguing over acidity while John and co-winemaker Tom Sivilli make bets on what we’re going to choose. Tom generally wins.
Every year, the Cuvée has been a little different, perhaps a little bit sharper and leaner on the palate than John’s own Abbey Ridge Cuvée, because that’s the sort of slow-to-develop wine we ourselves like, and when we’re picking just one barrel, the wine tends to have a more particular personality, perhaps a bit more exposed to the characteristics of vintage variation or the personality of a given barrel.
With the 2015 vintage, we started selecting a barrel of Chardonnay for a white cuvée, LE Blanc. We think John’s white wines might be even better than his reds, and among the best Chardonnay made in the United States. We bugged him for years to let us do a white cuvée. Just like the red, these wines have always been crisp, brimming with clean cut aromas of fruit and the mineral driven soil notes that mark the best Chardonnays.We can’t claim that the L&E Cuvées are the best wines we sell every year. But they might just be our favorite wines each year. Whether you’ve got a decade long vertical of these Cameron Cuvées or the next one might be your first, we hope they’re some of your favorites too.