Fission Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Fission is a pure mountain wine, with a dark depth of fruit chiseled by the cool elevation of its vineyard.
A wine of texture, with the intensity and sappy concentration we associate with old vines, it builds into powerful tannins that remain refined, almost cloaked by the seductiveness of the fruit and the gently building structure. The name Fission was ultimately chosen to reference the textural and mineral characteristics that the unique volcanic soil brings to this wine.
As you leave the town of Sonoma and head north into the hills of the Mayacamas mountain range that separates Sonoma from Napa, within a mile and a half you are on a narrow, rutted road at the bottom of a valley, sparsely populated, and then you start climbing, and find yourself almost entirely surrounded by forest, scrub and rock.
When you close the car door and turn to look up at the Alta Vista vineyard, it’s like striding across a stage and looking up at the lights and rising rows of an audience. It feels like you are in an ancient Roman amphitheater, a player on stage, with the terraced row of vines looking down on you.
The vines at Alta Vista are fully adapted, they are truly part of the site, following the contours of the hill. They are old — fifty years old — which is exceptional by California standards. They come from a different era, planted on St. George rootstock (also difficult to find nowadays) but we can't argue with the choices made at a time when scientific understanding of viticulture was almost primitive compared to today. Because these vines have still never been irrigated (again, extremely rare in the region), they produce beautiful fruit at twice the age most vines in California have to be replanted. They adapt to the influences of weather, with their deep root systems (20-40 feet down) bringing layers of complexity to the fruit development.
The bedrock of volcanic origin contains more than just basalt, it is also made up of a lot of fractured and decomposed granite. The beauty of the mountain factor is very present in the wine, through its structure, its earthiness, chalkiness, mineral and graphite character, and above all its definition.
Alta Vista is the kind of place where everything feels immediately right. It’s this effortless natural balance that you notice even tasting berries in the fall. Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t always taste good in the field. But it does here. The elevation and poor soils result in concentrated berries, but they are not too small, which would make them too tannic; the tannins are plush and velvety even raw. The clusters are nice. We had the feeling from the start that this vineyard, if listened to and understood, had the potential to produce truly great wine.
Grapes are handled extremely gently, perhaps more similarly to the way many producers handle Pinot Noir. Specifically, the clusters are destemmed with the aim of keeping whole berries, and then go into open top fermenters. Limited punchdowns and pumpovers are carried out depending on the stage of fermentation.
The wine essentially settles and macerates, rather than forcing extraction, and undergoes native yeast fermentation. This approach is entirely dictated by the Alta Visa site. The site has so many expositions, and we believe either has some other varieties (Cabernet Franc) or because of age has Cabernet mutations that behave differently. We want to gently accentuate all these complexities, and the intense fruit and general plushness don’t need further enhancement. Preserving this complexity also leads to far greater aromatic intensity, and more precision in the structure as freshness is retained.
The wine goes to barrels that are 27% new, mainly from two cooperages, and the remainder are 1, 2 and 3 year old barrels. This aging is restrained, in order to continue to maintain the complexity and balance of the wine. And the wine is never racked until final blending before bottling.
This winemaking is about as minimalist as it gets, and the end result is a wine with not only deep and pure fruit, but rich savory and earth tones, and a finishing minerality that is almost saline. That precise and complex aftertaste, defined by far more than fruit flavors, is where you find truly great wines.
We are so pleased by the critical reception to our first releases. We're honored by the scores, but leave those aside to present just the review comments. We have set out to make distinct wines, and couldn't be happier that the comments reflect that objective.
Vinous Media, Antonio Galloni - “The 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon Fission emerges from Alta Vista, on Moon Mountain. A dark, potent wine, the 2019 captures plenty of mountain energy in its savory, earthy flavor profile. Dark cherry, mocha, spice, new leather, licorice and chocolate all flesh out. This is certainly an impressive debut from Mai Errazuriz and Rodrigo Soto.”
James Suckling - “This is a balanced red, showing blackberry and bark with chili and some herbs. It’s medium-to full-bodied with nice drinkability and a succulent, flavorful finish. Iodine, pine needles, slate and graphite undertones. Subtle.”