Laurie Hook is the chief winemaker at Napa Valley’s illustrious Beringer Vineyards—only the seventh in the winery’s 133-year history, and the first woman. A California native, Laurie began her stellar career at a small Australian winery, around the time Napa legend Myron Nightingale was making Beringer’s wine. But it wasn’t until after Ed Sbragia, her direct predecessor, became winemaker, that she joined Beringer. She worked closely with Sbragia for 11 years before assuming the mantle herself. She is energetic, thoughtful and patient. Each of these attributes comes in handy for her, whether she is walking the vineyards to decide if the fruit is ready to be picked, blending various lots to create her prestigious Beringer Private Reserve, or presenting a vertical tasting of that Reserve, which, in this case, begins with the 1993 vintage and concludes with the 2004.
The Private Reserve is the pinnacle of winemaking at Beringer, although there are many single-vineyard offerings that shine, and several tiers of wines for consumers to try. The point with the Private Reserve, Laurie says, is “to make the very best cabernet we can.” For her, it is about “threads, and how they connect. Various vineyards, plots within those vineyards, and each vintage—all pieces of a puzzle—we pull them all together.” The first vintage was 1977, and there have been some classics along the way, 1986 for example.
The 1993 is first up in this tasting, and it is still vibrant, and lovely, offering sweet fruit and good balance. The 1995, with its resounding black cherry notes, and the 1997, settling nicely into its mid-level maturity, set the stage for younger vintages. As we move through ’98 and ’99—powerful, nearly youthful wines only hinting at the leather and herbal notes that will develop with time—Laurie makes a few observations: “In the warmer vintages, these wines can be approachable at quite a young age, but in general they remain tight, only hinting at what they will be in 10–15 years.” She pauses, and adds, “Drinkable is one thing; ideal drinking time is another.”
In a time of cult wines emanating from California, and Napa Valley in particular, the Beringer Private Reserve stands as a testament to the exceedingly high quality of vineyards established long ago. The wines, through the spectacular 2002 and on to the still-quietly-brooding 2004, show finesse and power in equal measure; the wines’ consistent high-calibre over the years make them a very safe, and rewarding, bet. Laurie Hook is continuing in what, for wine in the New World, amounts to a grand tradition.
Photos: Foster’s Wine Estates Canada.