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Harlan at Half the Price? – The Stunning Wines of Lokoya

By Karen MacNeil
December 7, 2016

I have been searching for the right word for 48 hours. “Spellbinding” could work. For the wines are definitely that. But I think a truer word would be “pure.” In fact, the purity of Lokoya’s four cabernet sauvignons, all from different mountains in the Napa Valley, is startling. Tasting the wines is akin to watching molecules of flavor slowly line up along a single mythical trajectory. Not a molecule out of place. Everything in immaculate focus. And because the wines are so vividly pure, you can really taste them. In fact, tasting them seems to me to be the taste equivalent of listening to church bells in the mountains.

Lokoya began in 1995 as a project by Jess Jackson and Barbara Banke. Twenty years ago, I associated Jess Jackson with one thing—sweet flabby chardonnay (Kendall Jackson). I’m sure I wasn’t dying to try Lokoya back then. I guess we all have our assumptions and prejudices.

Mine were, as I’ve come to see over the last few years, completely wrong, for Lokoya is one of the great cabernet artisans of the Napa Valley. In some years it’s as good as Harlan—at half the price.

Lokoya is, as mentioned, not a single wine but four different cabernets, each one from a mountain (Mt. Veeder, Diamond Mountain, Howell Mountain, and Spring Mountain). Mountains might bring to mind hard tannin. But that’s not the case here. In a tasting of the wines recently, I found them to be majestically structured and supple, not aggressive or dry. They are made each year by winemaker Chris Carpenter in essentially the same way (only the barrel coopers occasionally differ). Carpenter is an intellectual with an artistic/intuitive streak a mile wide. He could also be on the cover of GQ, but that’s a different story.

We tasted at Lokoya’s new winery home—the former gothically intriguing Yverdon property—on Spring Mountain. A made-by-hand old stone winery set deep into the ridges of the mountain, it’s quite possibly one of the most spiritual sites in the Napa Valley. You can visit with an appointment.

We started with older vintages including the original 1995 Lokoya from Mt. Veeder which was stupendously complex and languorous. One of the great wines of this year for me. Then the 2001 Lokoya Diamond Mountain, 2005 Lokoya Spring Mountain, and 2007 Lokoya Howell Mountain.

If you have (or can buy) any of these you will be happy. But here, let me describe the four 2013s which are definitely wines that are more easily available. I scored them all at 94/95 except the Mt. Veeder at 97.

LOKOYA Mt. Veeder 2013 (Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley, CA) $ 375
Vivid, intense, cool and tight. Reminds me of exquisitely polished marble. Refined and beautifully structured. My favorite of the group. I can imagine this “unfolding” over the course of at least 20 years. 97 points.

LOKOYA Diamond Mountain 2013 (Diamond Mountain, Napa Valley, CA) $ 375
The Diamond Mountain Loyoka is broad on the palate with rich pomegranate, cherry and spice flavors. When young, they have a dramatic entry and then a slow delicious fade out. Superb tannin structure. 94/95 points.

LOKOYA Spring Mountain 2013 (Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, CA) $ 375
Spring Mountain cabernets have a flavor unlike any others in the Valley. Loads of vivid red fruit and an almost salty minerality. Terrific notes of woodland forest and flora. Highly distinctive. 94/95 points.

LOKOYA Howell Mountain 2013 (Howell Mountain, Napa Valley, CA) $ 375
The most “yang” of the Lokoya cabernets to be sure. Born in volcanic, iron-rich red soils, Lokoya’s Howell Mountain cabernet is dense with fruit, luscious, full bodied and incredibly structured. Very hedonistic. 94/95 points.