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Tasting Wine at Caymus Vineyards in Napa Valley

Caymus Vineyards is one of Napa Valley’s best-known wineries. Its fame comes not from a fancy tasting room nor shocking price points but simply from the consistently high quality of their wines. Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon wines are the equivalent of blue chip stocks — or what blue chip stocks used to be. You can count on the Cabernet Sauvignon from Caymus to meet or exceed expectations every year.

Neither Caymus Vineyards' top-of-the-line Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley nor the “regular” Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley have been awarded less than 91 points by Wine Spectator since 1997, a vintage which that magazine panned region-wide. It's the only wine to have been named their "Wine of the Year" twice, and also has two #2 and one #3 placements. One can argue, and many do, that Wine Spectator is not the ultimate arbiter of quality. Yet, few would suggest that the Caymus wines' scores are undeserved. But you don’t have to take Wine Spectator’s word for it anyway. Unlike many of the top-scoring Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon  wines which you can’t taste unless you buy a bottle — if they let you buy one — you can taste Caymus wines at the winery.


Tastings at Caymus Vineyards are by appointment and party size is limited to ten people. That just makes your experience better. There are no crowds to deal with and you get personal attention. The atmosphere at Caymus is quiet and relaxing. When the weather is good, tastings take place at a picnic table in their flower garden. If there’s rain, tastings are at a picnic table shielded from the wet by a vine-covered pergola. Feel free to bring a picnic lunch as well.

Caymus Vineyards’ selling strategy is equally open. Their primary wines are found in most fine wine shops and top restaurants. You can also just drive up to the winery and buy the wine. No appointment is necessary for a purchase-visit. Nor is there an allocation list. If Caymus has the wine you want in stock, you can buy it. Caymus Vineyards offers more than just Cabernet Sauvignon too. They have a Napa Valley Zinfandel and sometimes Nap Valley Sauvignon Blanc. These are available only through the winery.

Caymus is also behind one of California’s most popular bottles of white wine, though it sells under a different brand and many people aren’t aware of the connection. That wine is Conundrum. Conundrum is a white blend, the exact contents of which are never disclosed. That’s probably a good idea, because the wine has inspired a number of copycats.

While the specifics aren’t divulged, you can safely assume that any vintage of Conundrum will include at least some measures of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Monterey County Chardonnay and Monterey County Viognier, plus some Central Coast Muscat Canelli. Portions of each are fermented in stainless steel. The rest goes into a mixture of new and used oak. The final blend, which retains a hint of sweetness, is a wine that's rich but refreshing with a complex range of juicy fruit aromas and flavors — plus Viognier’s signature honeysuckle note. Conundrum pleases both crowds and critics. It is afordable and also goes well with a wide-range of foods. It is therefore found at many restaurants.

Caymus Vineyards is still owned by the Wagner family which founded it in 1972. Chuck Wagner, who was co-founder Caymus Vineyards with his parents, continues to oversee the winemaking and viticulture. Over the years, the family has expanded its holdings. Chuck’s son Joe Wagner is responsible for winemaking and vineyard operations at Meiomi, which offers a single Pinot Noir which is a blend of grapes from coastal vineyards in Sonoma, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties. Joe Wagner has the same responsibilities at Belle Glos where he makes three single-vineyard Pinot Noir wines. Charlie Wagner, Joe’s brother, handles the winemaking and viticulture at Mer Soleil in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Mer Soleil produces two Chardonnays. One of these is oaked. The other, called Silver in recognition of the stainless steel and concrete tanks in which it is fermented, is unoaked. When conditions allow, Mer Soleil also makes a late-harvest, botrytis Viognier.

See our Wine of the Day review of the 2007 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley.

2008 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley
Medium-plus ruby with pigmented legs. This wine has a lovely nose of black currant, blackberry, christmas spices and violets. The body is medium-plus with reassuringly strong, slightly chewy tannins which are nicely balanced by juicy black fruit and cassis. The alcohol is high but not out of step with the wine. Oak and a complex range of spices add interest. Released June, 2010. 15.2% alc., $59.95. Drink now through 2018. Highly Recommended.

2007 Caymus Zinfandel Napa Valley
Made from grapes coming from a vineyard near the St. Helena farmers' market, this Zinfandel is medium ruby in color with pigmented legs and an enticing nose of oak, cherry, blackberry, chocolate, dark spice and licorice. It's a nearly full-bodied wine owing to high alcohol and medium-plus tannins. The flavors are consistent with nose — chocolate, blackberry, dark spice and oak — persist into a moderately long, smooth finish. Released June, 2010. 15.5% alc., Available only at the winery. Drink now through 2015. Highly Recommended.

2008 Conundrum
Pale lemon-green with peach, white flowers/honeysuckle, tropical fruit and baking spice on the nose. The wine is nearly full--bodied and it's 1% residual sugar highlights the flavors of ripe tropical and stone fruit is low enough to enhance, rather than limit, it's food-friendliness. Released September, 2009. 13.5% alc., $20. Screwcap closure. Drink now through 2011. Highly Recommended.

2008 Meiomi Pinot Noir
While blends don't deliver a sense of specific terroir, they can deliver some well-balanced, delicious, and complex wine. This one is 65% Sonoma County, 20% Monterey County and 15% Santa Barbara County. Medium-ruby with aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry, cola, vanilla, nutmeg, cardamom and oak. Medium-plus body and alcohol with integrated tannins a shade less than medium and a long finish. 13.9% alc, about $25. Drink now through 2014. Highly Recommended.

2008 Mer Soleil Silver
Sixty percent of this Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel. The remainder was fermented in concrete. The wine is pale gold in the glass with aromas and flavors of lemon, liimestone and peach. The medium-plus body shows some texture on the tongue along with medium-plus acidity. $25. Drink now through 2011. Recommended.

To make a tasting appointment at Caymus, call (707) 967-3010. There is a $25 per person tasting fee, but you get to try Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon, Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and either the Sauvignon Blanc or Conundrum, depending upon availability.

The hours for purchasing wine are 10AM to 4PM, daily. No appointment is necessary for purchases.

Caymus Vineyards is located at 8700 Conn Creek Road in Rutherford, CA 94573. For further information and a map to the winery, see our winery listing.

Wines reviewed above were provided by the winery and tasted in the garden there.

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