A winemaker with a great perspective 

Last week, I wrote about value wines from 2009. It’s a bummer that many of us have had to reduce our wine budgets, but one thing we can rely on is clean and safe drinking water. That has never been true for Haiti, and the Jan. 12 earthquake has driven home the plight of this impoverished nation.

Every once in a while, I veer off course from the usual format of this column and write about an individual winemaker or winery of note. There has never been a better time to honor Patrick Campbell, one of California’s top cabernet sauvignon makers for nearly 30 years and a true humanitarian.

Campbell purchased the Laurel Glen Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain in 1977. At the time, he was living in a nearby Zen Buddhist community and working as a vineyard manager. Four years later, he released his first vintage, the 1981 Laurel Glen Cabernet Sauvignon, which, though beyond its peak, is still drinking well.

While Napa Valley garnered most of the attention in the 1980s, Campbell and others pressed on in Sonoma, confident that eventually they would be recognized — and they were. Tasting through the Laurel Glen cabernets of the mid-1980s, especially the ’85 and ’86 vintages, is an ethereal experience.

By the 1990s, Campbell branched out into zinfandel territory with !Za Za Zin and Reds, a field blend. Both are cheerful and well-priced. He also ventured a bit further, all the way down to South America. He started out with the Terra Rosa cabernet sauvignon and has added a torrontes and several malbecs.

His latest wine, Chevere, is a bit special. The current release, a 2007 cabernet sauvignon from Chile’s Central Valley, is very tasty with cassis, chocolate, dried herbs and a nice balance of acid, tannin and fruit. For $9.99, you will be hard-pressed to find a better cabernet made anywhere.

What makes this wine a little different though is that since its inception, a portion of the proceeds ($2 a case) have gone to the Lambi Fund, whose mission is promoting “economic justice, democracy and alternative sustainable development in Haiti.”

After the earthquake, Campbell released a statement saying that all of the profits from this wine would go to the Lambi Fund, at least for the next two months.

As much as I applaud what Campbell and businesses are doing to help Haiti and others who suffer from great misfortune, I cannot get behind wines that don’t pass the Pamela test. Luckily, all of Campbell’s
do, with flying colors.

Here are three of my favorites:

Tierra Divina malbec, 2006: This is the newest wine in Campbell’s lineup. Composed of fruit from vines more than 70 years old from two vineyards, this wine is uber-concentrated. With a deep core of blackberry, cherry and cassis fruit and a good mound of terroir — it is, at present, one of the best Malbecs to be found. Suggested retail: $15

!Za Za Zin, 2007: With a melange of mocha, raspberries, ripe strawberries, vanilla and white pepper, this zinfandel is often overlooked but it is as charming as they come and can be enjoyed by a wide range of palates. Suggested retail: $17

Laurel Glen Counterpoint, 2005: Made entirely from Sonoma Mountain cabernet sauvignon, this is the Laurel Glen cab’s little sibling. That said, it is still an intricately woven wine with bittersweet chocolate, blackberries, a hint of licorice and Bordeaux sensibilities. Suggested retail: $30

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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