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Ad Vivum’s 2021 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Is Its Best Vintage Yet

Ad Vivum’s 2021 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon Is Its Best Vintage Yet

Like that of many winemakers, Chris Phelps’ name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, or if it does, it’s because wine lovers often mistake him for the person behind the label that his son Josh jokingly refers to as “the other Phelps.” Most recently the man in charge of the grapes, tanks, and barrels at Francis Ford Coppola’s Inglenook, Phelps’ esteemed career includes directing winemaking at Dominus Estate, Caymus Vineyards, and Swanson Vineyards in Napa following an early stint at Pétrus in Bordeaux. The recent announcement of his retirement stated that he will be focusing on his family brands, Ad Vivum, Coil Wines, and Grounded Wine Co. alongside Josh.

While Coil’s North Coast Pinot Noir and Chardonnay seem like a well-kept wine world secret and Grounded has widespread exposure thanks to its accessible price points and Josh’s presence on social media and wine events, Ad Vivum really hits the sweet spot with the perfect combination of insider status, provenance, winemaking expertise, vineyard sourcing, and limited quantities. Ad Vivum 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon is made with grapes from Sleeping Lady Vineyard, a historic site in the south of Yountville that was first planted around 1870. According to Chris, the idea of making his own wine was inspired by Josh, who gives his father full credit for choosing the vineyard, citing the fruit source as “the most crucial component.”

The 17th vintage of this wine (they skipped 2020 due to smoke damage), Ad Vivum 2021 has a gorgeous nose of blackberry, pencil lead, and freshly ground coffee. It is full on the palate, offering sumptuous tannins and complex notes of mocha, violet, and sage leaf backing ripe dark berry flavors that endure into a gloriously long-lasting finish. It is drinking magnificently right now but will continue to evolve with grace for another 30 years.

“At Sleeping Lady, soil, drainage, exposition, superb farming, everything comes together in one place,” The elder Phelps tells Robb Report, “We could not make this same wine anywhere else.” The perfect conditions of the season also helped to craft this expression. “The weather was significantly warm, but there were big diurnal swings,” he says. “The cool nights really helped preserve acidity, flavors, and color.” Picking at perfection avoided the danger of making a wine that was over-ripe and lacked freshness, and the warmth of the season called for “restraint” in the winemaking process, which involved fermenting 25 percent of the crop in barrel and the balance in stainless steel. It was then aged in mostly new French oak for 20 months before bottling, with only 2,400 bottles made.

Chris compares this release to their 2019 and 2016 vintages, “for sheer generosity of flavor and seamless, silky structure,” and to 2015 for its “power and concentration.” His winemaking partner Josh is genuinely not boasting when he says that his father “continues to refine the wine style with each passing vintage.” With Ad Vivum 2021, the proof is in the bottle.

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