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Winery to Watch: Scattered Peaks

Robert Whitley on

Scattered Peaks is the pet project of Derek Benham, an avid surfer ("scattered peaks" is a surfing term that describes sets of waves) and a bit of a daredevil in his private life. When it comes to wine, however, Benham is all business.

His company, Purple Wines, has forged a reputation for solid wines at modest prices with brands such as Raeburn, Four Vines and Avalon. The company sources grapes from the Central Coast of California to Sonoma County's Russian River Valley.

A few years ago, Benham decided he wanted to have a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and launched Scattered Peaks in 2015. A couple of years later, in a stroke of genius, he hired longtime Napa Valley winemaker Joel Aiken to oversee the project. Aiken had spent more than a quarter-century making wine at the iconic Beaulieu Vineyards before striking out on his own several years ago.

Aiken's first vintage was 2017. He made a Napa Valley cab ($40) using grapes from one of his favorite appellations, Rutherford, blended with grapes from the nearby Pope Valley (a sub-appellation of the Napa Valley) and a few other spots. It's a beautifully structured Napa cab that's a steal considering the price of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon these days.

But the real news was the launch of a small-lot program with the 2017 vintage, which was off to a great start. The grapes are sourced from two very special vineyards, the iconic Morisoli Vineyard in Rutherford and the Sage Ridge Vineyard near Pritchard Hill, at the base of Howell Mountain. Only 900 six-packs (450 cases) were produced, and the wine retails for $125.

It's a sensational Napa cab that will give the likes of Spottswoode, Stag's Leap, Cakebread and Duckhorn a run for their money. Better yet, plans are in the works to produce a separate wine from each vineyard.

 

"It's a fun project," said Aiken. "They say get the grapes you want and make the wine you want."

When your winemaker's name is Joel Aiken, that's sound advice.

Tasting Notes

Wines are rated on a 100-point scale. Wines are chosen for review because they represent outstanding quality or value, and the scores are simply a measure of this reviewer's enthusiasm for the recommended wine.

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