Napa’s Wizard of Oz Winery Makes Cult Cabs Worth the Price  

Source: Scarecrow Wines
"Old men," otherwise known as vines more than a half century old.

Maybe you’ve had it with wallet-emptying, soulless Napa Valley cult cabernets that aren’t worth their three-digit price tags. Me, too, but I’m not giving up on the truly good ones, like Scarecrow, whose origins lie in a historic Hollywood story and a dusty vineyard in Rutherford with stumpy 69-year-old vines called `old men.’

I met the winery’s proprietors Bret Lopez and his wife Mimi DeBlasio in New York recently over lunch and bottles of the not-yet-released 2012, their 10th vintage. Sips reminded me just how superb this red -- named for the mindless scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz -- can be.

Lopez, a well-known commercial photographer, was all in black, fiddling with the Marc Jacobs tassel bracelet circling his wrist as he shared the winery backstory. His grandfather Joseph Judson Cohn, a New Yorker who went to work for Louis B. Mayer at age 19, ended up a mogul at MGM Studios, where he produced Ben-Hur, Mutiny on the Bounty, and The Wizard of Oz.

In 1942, Cohn bought a large estate in the Napa Valley, planted vines, and for decades the grapes disappeared into famous wines like Inglenook. Lopez inherited the estate with his two sisters when Cohn died at age 100 in 1996.

Buying Out The Family

The sisters wanted to sell, so in 2002, Lopez joined with director Francis Ford Coppola, owner of neighboring Inglenook, to buy the estate for $33.6 million, beating out bids from the Rothschilds of Bordeaux’s Mouton-Rothschild. Lopez got one third, including the large Victorian house and 25 acres of vines. ``I told Mimi we’d have to make wine or we’d get killed by taxes,’’ he says. The vineyard’s fame helped him get great hands to help: Top consulting winemaker Celia Welch dropped a client to make wine from what she calls `magic vines.’

Photographer: Elin McCoy

Bret Lopez and Mimi DeBlasio. Close

Bret Lopez and Mimi DeBlasio.

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Photographer: Elin McCoy

Bret Lopez and Mimi DeBlasio.

Scarecrow’s flavors unfold in layers -- juicy cherries, dark notes of savory cedar, hints of rose petals. The scented, silky-textured cab is rich and deep, with the bright impressions and lingering tannins that promise longevity.

In February, Lopez and DeBlasio were in happy shock at the Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction when a Los Angeles retailer bid $260,000 for a 5-case lot of their one-of-a-kind 2012 Toto’s Opium Dream, Scene III, made from Scarecrow’s oldest vines. Wine Warehouse is offering it for $5,400 a bottle.

That makes the regular 2012, to be released in March at $285 a bottle, seem like a bargain. At $150, the lighter, almost-as-good second wine, 2012 M. Etain (French for “Tin Man”) is a steal.

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