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Email me: apj@wine-people.com

Growing Diamonds

Interview with Rudy von Strasser of
von Strasser Winery

(April 16, 1999) THERE'S A NEW KING ON THE MOUNTAIN. It used to be that the words "Diamond Mountain" automatically made wine lovers think of the venerable Diamond Creek. But they've got powerful company now.

      Starting in 1990, Rudy and Rita von Strasser have been quietly making some of Napa Valley's most beautiful Cabs -- full of brambly, lush, raspberry-scented California fruit, with lead-pencil overtones that bring to mind Bordeaux.

     Best of all, it doesn't matter when you drink 'em. Unlike the wines from neighboring Diamond Creek, which typically need years to tame their tannins, the von Strasser Cabernet Sauvignons are supple and delicious when young. Yet they're also decidedly built to last. For example, the 1991 is just now approaching peak and (if I'm right!) will sit on the plateau for 15 more.

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RUDY VON STRASSER in his Diamond Mountain hillside vineyard, beside a Petit Verdot vine. The fruit from this block of vines supplies the core of the amazing von Strasser Reserve.

     Up until lately, von Strasser Cabs have been sort of an insider secret, but I've got a feeling the jig's up this year. First Wine Spectator gave a major tout to the 1995 Diamond Mountain Cab. Then, just this March -- at the mobbed MacArthur Spring Barrel Tasting -- the unworldly 1997 von Strasser Reserve made jaws drop. (Click here for the notes from that tasting.)

     To crown it all, Diamond Mountain is now in the process of becoming an American Viticultural Area. This means that every bottle of wine made from Diamond Mountain grapes will be able to include the designation "Diamond Mountain" on its label -- and more eyes than ever will suddenly turn to this tiny region.

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What's the scene on Diamond Mountain? Click here to see more photos.

     Today I spoke with Rudy von Strasser about all these things and many more. He's a very thoughtful and articulate guy -- there's a lot to learn here!

     You may want to read this interview in several sittings, so I've broken it up into bite-sized sections. You can read it all the way through or hop to the parts that catch your interest.

Click on any heading below to jump to that section:

1. How and why a new AVA happens

2. "I was a New York hippie who wanted to make hard cider. And then..."

3. The story behind the new von Strasser Reserves

4. What makes a wine ageable?

5. Hillside planting restrictions -- good or bad for Napa Valley wine?

6. What’s so great about unfiltered wine?

7. How do you tame those famous Diamond Mountain tannins?

8. The 1998 vintage...and coming soon, the Diamond Cartel!

PART 1: How and why an AVA happens

APJ: Tell me how the Diamond Mountain AVA is happening. Were you behind it?

RvS: Yes. I started working on it, believe it or not, back in 1990, when I first bought this property. I called the BATF and got them to send me the information I needed to put it together.

"In the beginning, there wasn’t a lot of interest from my neighbors..."

     In the beginning, there wasn’t a lot of interest from my neighbors. Al Brounstein [proprietor of Diamond Creek] was a stumbling block.

     He felt he already had a name for his winery that was associated with Diamond Mountain. He felt an AVA would just let many more people ride on his coattails. By not doing it, he felt the gate would stay closed.

     But I think we all came to realize that the gate was opening no matter what...

CONTINUED on next page. Click here to go to there...

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