One of the older estates in Oakville, Cardinale was founded in 1982 close to the legendary Robert Mondavi Winery. The estate enjoys something of a cult following in the U.S. thanks to the vision and talent of Christopher Carpenter who took over as head winemaker in 2001.
Carpenter started out working in the medical field and bartending by night before making a fortuitous career change and enrolling in the prestigious viticulture and enology program at UC Davis. Following his training he honed his skills at a slew of top estates including Domaine Carneros, Domaine Chandon California, and Tenute Antinori in Italy before making the move to Cardinale in 1998.
All of the grapes Carpenter uses for Cardinale are sourced from the nearby Mayacamas and Vaca mountains including the top appellations of Diamond Mountain, Spring Mountain, Howell Mountain and Mount Veeder. The exact composition varies from year to year dependent on which subregions have performed the best, capturing a snapshot of the vintage across Napa Valley with each bottling.
Grapes from each plot are vinified separately giving the winemaking team a palette of as many as 40 different lots to work from during the blending process. The grapes are carefully sorted by hand and then fermented using wild yeasts found naturally in the winery and on the grape skins. From this top quality juice Carpenter creates a single Cabernet Sauvignon-based wine each vintage which is aged in 100% new French oak for 18-20 months.
The result is a lavish Napa Cabernet with plenty of power and structure which responds exceptionally well to a couple of decades of cellaring. Depending on the nature of the vintage, just 2000-4000 cases of Cadinale are produced each year with most quickly snapped up by collectors based in the US.
Cardinale typically performs well with top international wine critics like Robert Parker and his Wine Advocate team; the 2016 vintage was awarded 97 points by The Wine Advocate, the 2015 scored 96 points, and the 2014 vintage achieved a near-perfect 98 points.