The People

This bottle is part of Forman Vineyards, founded by Ric Forman in 1983 to fulfill a dream of producing, as a sole proprietor, small quantities of classically made Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Forman is founded on a philosophy of winemaking which follows a more traditional approach than a technological one. Ric began his career in the late 1960s at Sterling Vineyard and then at Newton. During his tenure at Newton, he took a trip to Bordeaux, where his viewpoint on winemaking was forever changed – and thus, the dream began. 

Ric’s determination and hard work paid off, and in 1978, he turned a rugged hillside of bedrock (previously used sparingly as an orchard) into one of the most picturesque and truly unparalleled sites in all of Napa. Along with his son Toby, founder of Tobias Vineyards, he remains dedicated to the vineyard and cellar, constantly pushing his winery forward. The Chateau la Grande Roche Cabernet offers an early look at each vintage and an affordable entry point for those searching for a hand-crafted, estate-produced Napa Cab.

The Juice

Chateau La Grande Roche is a brand within the Forman Vineyard family of wines. The name was derived in recognition of the gravel nature of the Forman Vineyard property, which is surrounded by massive boulders (Grande Roche) in a true clos-like fashion. It is 100% estate grown and is generally predominantly made up of Cabernet Sauvignon. However, depending on the vintage, it can also have Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petite Verdot as minority components of the blend. The brand was created in 1984 to ensure that the Forman Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon would consistently meet the exacting standards that the wine maintains. Because of the tight quality specifications for the Forman Vineyard Cabernet, certain lots of wine each year become necessary to isolate and thus go into the Grande Roche blend. 

Grapes are gently handled from harvest through fermentation. Small stainless steel fermentors for red wines and new Burgundy barrels for white seem fitting for the need to pay close attention to detail during the winemaking process.

The wines literally age in the soils from which they grew. The integration of the small stone cellar on the hillside surrounded by a courtyard and in touch with the deep caves below sets a mood that would recall that of a tiny European estate. This wine is treated in the cellar in the same fashion as that of the Forman Cabernet Sauvignon — just not aged in new barrels. Because of the superb quality that this small estate produces, even the Grande Roche Cabernet Sauvignon is always extremely impressive and certainly represents incredible value. Production is limited — ranging from 350-600 cases annually.

The Dirt

Soil or “terroir” and the climate and exposure in which the soil exists are the essence of a wine’s personality. Grape vines are tenacious plants and need to search for their survival to thrive and achieve ultimate excellence of fruit quality. Forman Vineyards is in Napa Valley – namely, the St. Helena AVA.

This maker’s vineyards are divided into three parcels, each planted to the four Bordeaux varieties, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. Below the winery, the “Clos” (enclosure) is deepest in the gravel/sand deposits. Directly above the winery, the steeply sloped plot is composed of more dense and larger volcanic rock, so much so that extensive dynamite explosions were needed for rock shattering to facilitate planting. Further up the mountain lies the 3rd parcel, which is made up of the same pink gravel but is underlain with gray volcanic ash. These locations each contribute their subtle differences to the wine, the whole of which is a synergy of complexity.

Farming is very traditional in a Bordelaise sense. A classical vertical trellis system is used with meticulous hand placement of the canopy to expose the maximum leaf surface to nourish the developing grapes. Each vine is tended to at least 16 times throughout the growing season. Canopy training, suckering, leaf removal, and multiple green grape thinning go on from mid-April through mid-August, all done by hand to assure accuracy and quality judgment.

The Taste

This wine is stunning on the nose, containing scents of flint, blueberry, blackberry, and even pomegranate. The combination of these notes produce the most vibrant and exciting fragrance. The palate comprises hints of black fruit, tobacco, and cedar, with integrated and delicious flavors. Firm tannins and healthy acidity round the tasting experience out and leave us reaching for another sip.

The Spill

While sourced by Forman Vineyards, the label for this wine is Rossi-Wallace. Rossi-Wallace is a collaboration between Ric Forman and his wife, Cheryl Emmolo. Both wine industry veterans and Napa Valley natives, they set out to create their favorite wine (Pinot Noir) in their favorite style (Burgundian), and Rossi-Wallace is the result. Of course, this is Napa Valley and Ric Forman that we’re talking about, so Cabernet Sauvignon was not far behind. The resulting wines are exceptional and represent balanced, pleasurable expressions that meld the best of Napa Valley and Ric’s penchant for Old World wine styles. The name “Rossi-Wallace” is an homage to Ric and Cheryl’s mothers, Anne Rossi and Roz Wallace.

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