Wine Reviews: Lake County’s Hawk and Horse Vineyards

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 08-22-2020

California is on my mind and heart these days, as I watch from afar as these fires destroy so much. My thoughts and hopes are with all of you affected by these California fires. Stay safe.

There’s never been a better time to support California wineries, so today I want to shine a light on some interesting wines from Lake County, which has some special sites and exciting vineyards. These wines still don’t get nearly as much attention as wines from its neighboring counties, but that just means there is much to explore. I’ve tried to highlight different Lake County producers, and this week, I’m excited to dig into an old favorite: Hawk and Horse Vineyards.

Credit: Hawk and Horse Vineyards

After an exhaustive search for a site in the North Coast, David Boies settled on the El Roble Grande Ranch in Lower Lake, California, in 1982. It was an abandoned horse-breeding facility surrounded by 900 acres of wilderness. But the high-elevation (1,800 to 2,200 feet), red volcanic soils, pristine nature and access to water, showed potential for growing great grapes.

Co-owners Mitch and Tracey Hawkins took over daily ranch operations and planted the vines in 2001. Today, they have about 18 acres of grapes, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with about an acre apiece of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Petite Sirah. The winery still houses some horses and cattle, and is home to many red-tailed hawks (hence the name). The vineyards have been certified organic since 2004 and biodynamic since 2008.

I’ve tasted this Cabernet Sauvignon a few times over the years, and found it to be a consistently exciting and dynamic wine, showing structure, pretty fruit, and some unique and complex earthy, spicy tones. It seemed like a wine that could age, but I never had the chance to test that out, until now. In addition to the other wines in this tasting report, the winery is also selling a trio of library releases (which includes the 2008, 2009 and 2010 vintages) for $330. While that’s not cheap, if these wines said Napa on the label, I think folks would call this a “value.” Tasting these aged wines was an eye-opening experience that really allows the taster to understand the intricacies of this special place.

These wines were received as trade samples and tasted sighted:

2008 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet SauvignonUSA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $110
Light purple color. Aromas of mulled cherries and plums, still lively, aged but by no means tired, with notes of anise, cocoa, charcoal, tart. Velvety, smooth tannins (still some dusty grip) with medium acidity. Black currant, roasted sweet plum fruit, nuanced and aged but still juicy. Integrated and balanced with elements of pine tar, fallen leaves, cedar and cocoa powder. Complex, interesting, and not done yet. Includes 2% Merlot, aged 18 months in 50% new French oak. (90 points IJB)

2009 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet SauvignonUSA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $110
Deep purple color. Aromas of mulled blackberries and red currants, dark and saucy, with anise, graphite, lots of tar, some mocha and leather. Full-bodied but fresh on the palate with structured, suave tannins and medium acidity. The tangy blackberry and spiced currant jam fruit is lovely, and accented with leather, coffee beans, anise cookie, fallen leaves. Still vibrant, the acidity is great, the fruit is waning and allowing secondary notes to take the forefront, but it’s still in a great place right now and will evolve well over the next five years. All Cabernet aged 13 months in 100% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2010 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet SauvignonUSA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $110
Medium purple color. Nose of black currants and blackberry with smoky earth, menthol, tar, sooty but lively with dark chocolate and anise – gorgeous aromatics. On the palate, this is lively and balanced, tannins still grippy, fresh acidity, along with plums and mulled currants. Lots of underlying mineral, graphite and rocky earth tones, with dried leaves and soy. Wow, this has some Left Bank signatures but clearly California, too. I’d love to see this in three or four years. Really well done, holding up great. All Cabernet aged 21 months in 90% new French oak. (92 points IJB)

2015 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $75
Medium purple color. Aromas of plums, dark currants, laced with smoky earth, leather, tar, fallen leaves, with notes of iron and menthol. Full-bodied, structured and suave with fresh acidity. Deep, tart fresh fruit (blueberry, black currant, plums) with complex notes of charcoal, pencil shavings, clove and anise. Deep but fresh, especially after tasting the older wines, I realize just how long this vintage will probably last. Hold or decant. Includes 10% Petit Verdot and 6% Cabernet Franc aged 23 months in 80% new French oak. (91 points IJB)

2016 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Block Three USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $50
Deep purple color. Nose shows rich plums, prunes, violets, saucy blueberries, with graphite, vanilla and coffee. Full, smooth, fresh, impressive balanced, with roasted but tangy fruit (fig, blueberries, black currants), along with concentrated notes of mint chocolate chip, anise, charcoal, dark chocolate. Forward, dark and concentrated, but shows freshness underneath, and significant complexity. I’d hold onto this for a few years. Includes 5% Petit Verdot, aged 25 months in French oak. (90 points IJB)

2015 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Petite Sirah USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $65
Deep purple. Nose of deep, tart currants, along with plums, smoky earth, graphite, tobacco and ink. Full-bodied, built solidly, but there’s some freshness as well. Dark plums, saucy blueberries, fleshy but vibrant with lots of iron, pencil lead, charcoal, balsamic glazed mushrooms, grilled steak. Smoky and deep but also fresh – this would be great in a few years, as those savory elements come out even more. All Petite Sirah aged 20 months in French oak. (90 points IJB)

2014 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo USA, California, North Coast, Red Hills Lake County
SRP: $50/375ml
Medium purple color. Aromas of sweet figs, roasted plums, mixed with inviting elements of toffee, dark chocolate, vanilla, also earthy, roasted herb tones – lovely stuff to sniff. Plush and rich on the palate (19% alcohol) with smooth tannins, moderating acidity really helps balance out the sweetness – well-integrated. Flavors of sweet figs and saucy plums and blackberry glaze, suave, delightful fruit. Notes of caramel, espresso, roasted nuts mix so well with these black tea, charcoal and graphite elements. This is a delicious, complex, all Cabernet Franc dessert wine. (90 points IJB)

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