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Optima Winery - Northern California Wine Region


California Grapevine, gives the Optima 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon its Highly Recommended seal of approval.

During the past decade an emerging group of talented, energetic, entrepreneurs have been quietly remolding the shape of the California wine industry. These savvy independents of the wine world have been creating their wines utilizing the facilities of existing wineries that custom-crush for winemakers who are not inclined to ante-up the huge investment. As a result, more and more winemakers are breaking away from established wineries, and creating their own labels of small production, ultra-premium wines.

Optima Winery is a classic example of this new breed of winery that is reshaping the dynamics of the industry. Owners Mike Duffy and Greg Smith shared the same dream when they met playing softball in the early 1980’s. At the time, both were winemakers for other wineries—Mike at Balverne Winery and Greg at Lytton Springs. Both had similar goals they wanted to achieve. The more they talked, the more they realized they each had areas of expertise that would allow them to make a reasonable go at creating their own label.

In 1983, Mike and Greg started Fitch Mountain Cellars. The name was derived from a mountain peak that looms over the eastern side of Healdsburg, close to both of their homes. While maintaining their current winemaker jobs, they moonlighted in the evenings and weekends to make small quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay.

While exploring for grape sources to make their 1984 production of Fitch Mountain wines, they were fortunate to secure a small quantity of extremely high quality Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc grapes. The source vineyards all had well-established track records for growing grapes of exceptional quality. Mike and Greg knew they had something special. Knowing these grapes would produce a significantly higher quality wine than their Fitch Mountain grapes, they decided to bottle a new wine under a different label. The name they chose was “Optima,” which seemed to embody the feeling they wanted to portray——the best, the finest, the foremost.

Armed with these high quality grapes, Mike and Greg set out to make a wine worthy of its new name. They made just 400 cases of their first vintage in 1984, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel. The wine world took immediate notice. High praise by wine writers and consistent ratings in the ‘90’s’ reflected the highly successful debut of Optima wine. Amazingly, the ‘84 vintage was followed by even higher critical acclaim for the ‘85 vintage. These guys were on a roll!

Over the last ten years Mike and Greg have quietly (not much money available for marketing) carved out a mini-legacy for making some of the finest Cabernet Sauvignon in California. Virtually every Cabernet Sauvignon since their first vintage in 1984, has been scored consistently in the ‘90’s’ by the Wine Spectator and other industry reviewers.

In 1987, they introduced an ultra-premium Chardonnay to the Optima line. About 1,500 cases are made each year, all from fruit grown in the Carneros region. The Chardonnay is barrel fermented, then undergoes a secondary 100% malolactic fermentation. The wine is then sur-lies aged. The result is an exceptionally rich, toasty oak Chardonnay that rivals the best made in northern California.

Very limited quantities of three different Pinot Noirs are also crafted each year. Their Russian River Pinot and Carneros Pinot each reflect their own region’s unique characteristics. A third Pinot is made with grapes blended from both regions. All three wines are under the 500-case production level and will be sold primarily winery direct.

After fifteen years of following their dream, total production has climbed to 4,000 cases. Mike and Greg aren’t worried much about ever owning a huge winery with vineyards and crushing equipment. As long as they can continue to buy the best fruit available and use custom crushers, they’re content to let someone else worry about the huge overhead. They will concentrate on making wine, and enjoy the fact that the wine world thoroughly approves of their efforts.



To Platinum Club Wine Club Members:

The 90s have been very good times for us in the wine business. We’ve been blessed with a string of excellent vintages here in the Sonoma County. This 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, in my opinion, is possibly our finest ever; for sure our best in the 1990s.
This rich, complex wine is extremely good now and will continue to improve over the next 7-10 years.
We at Optima hope you enjoy the wine now and over the years to come.

Sante, Greg Smith Co-Owner

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