Kelly J. Hayes: WineInk
I admit, I was predisposed to like the Layer Cake Wines before I even tasted them.After all, they come from the places in the world that produce the wines I love, they are made from what are likely my favorite grapes and they are the work of a winemaker who, in just under a decade, has made bold moves to become an important player in the wine world.Oh, and I love a good layer cake.A little background here. At the Cayman Cookout, a Food & Wine Magazine event similar to, but much more intimate than, our own Food & Wine Classic, there was a tasting of Hundred Acre Wines hosted by Chris Radomski. In 1999, Radomski partnered with a fellow Canadian named Jayson Woodbridge to create a winery in the Napa Valley. Their goal was to produce a great Cabernet Sauvignon. With great precociousness, and what some in the valley saw as an aggressive attitude, Hundred Acre succeeded mightily in their quest.The Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon Kayli Morgan Vineyard Napa Valley 2005 and the Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon ARK Vineyard Howell Mountain 2005 both received 98 points from Robert Parker, along with gushing notes that included words like exquisite, gorgeously proportioned and sumptuous. The wines, selling for more than $200 a bottle, have become cult classics and sell out at first offerings.As the story goes, according to Chris, the success of Hundred Acre led the pair to consider other opportunities in the wine world. They felt that, while it was great to make a wine for the elite, they would also like to try their hand at making global wines that would be affordable enough for everyday drinking.So it was off to Australia, where a patch of Shiraz vines was found and the first Layer Cake wine was born. Jayson says that his grandfather told him, The soils in which vines lived were a layer cake. He said the wine, if properly made, was like a delicious cake layered with fruit, mocha, and chocolate, hints of spice and rich, always rich. That perfectly describes the Layer Cake Shiraz 2006, which was my first sampling of the wines. Dark, big, fruity. It was a mouthful and a half. Not for the faint of heart or those seeking finesse, this wine was made for the time spent round the barbee when picking at a pig is the main event.I loved it. Buoyed but not yet content with their new project, Jayson headed off to the Puglia region of Italy where he sourced Primitivo grapes from 100-year-old vines to produce the Layer Cake Primitivo. Whats that you ask? Primitivo is Zinfandel. It is also Crljenak Kastelanski. In 2001, a geneticist named Dr. Carole Meredith of the University of California at Davis, the wine school as it were, used DNA technology to prove that these three varieties of grapes, Primitivo, the Italian version, Zinfandel, found largely in the Americas, and Crljenak Kastelanski, an obscure varietal from Croatia, are all identical. So effectively Layer Cake was making an Italian Zinfandel. And oh, what a Zin. Big berries on the nose, deep, and again, rich. This was another wine that I could see quaffing in the summer over the grill, perhaps replacing my pork for fowl. What fun.The joys continued with Layer Cake Malbec from Mendoza in Argentina and finally a sampling of the first domestic edition from Layer Cake, a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. With the exception of the Cabernet Sauvignon, which retails for around $30, all of the Layer Cake wines sold for $18 or less. As good as the wines were, to me the story and the concept were even more compelling. How could someone, even someone flush with capital, emerge so quickly and make quality wines from around the world in less than a decade? And make them for two distinct sets of consumers?Though I have not met Jayson Woodbridge, it is my understanding that he is a unique character with an outsized personality as audacious as his wines. He has shown good sense in contracting with some of the best winemakers in Napa (including the ultra-talented Phillipe Melka) and an ability to seek out and work with local vineyard owners around the world.It would seem that Woodbridge has many layers of his own. I look forward to future vintages.
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be designated appellation of Old Snowmass with his wife, Linda, and a black Lab named Vino. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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