A Sonoma First


Last week I had the pleasure of leading a tasting of the first vintage of the Keating Family Vineyard 2020 Quail Run. The vineyard is located within the Sonoma Valley AVA, a few miles from the town of Sonoma and adjacent to the Moon Mountain AVA. This “estate wine” (all grapes come from the Quail Run vineyard) is one hundred percent Cabernet Sauvignon, aged twenty-two months in new French oak, and was bottled just several days earlier.

  • The tasting (shown above) was held at the vineyard. Adding to the festivity, the 2022 harvest was completed the previous day and vines laden with grape bunches adorned the table.

It’s often said that older vines make “better” wine – so I was curious how Quail Run’s four-year-old vines would do. The science of vine aging is complicated (a polite word for really boring), with good arguments on either side, but some experts believe that vines can produce their best wine during their early years. Skeptical about young vines producing good wine? There’s no better example than the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V. that won the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris – the 1973 was the winery’s first vintage, and the vines were only three years old.

  • Just for fun, one of the wines that we used in the tasting was the 2019 Stag’s Leap S.L.V. (We, of course, made the pilgrimage to Stag’s Leap Cellars the following day to conduct further "research.")

We tasted Quail Run blind along with three highly regarded California Cabs to get an unbiased reaction to the wine and see how it stacked up against other premium California Cabernets. (Otherwise, with the winemaker and vineyard owners sitting at the table, it would have been hard to get anything other than flattering responses.) We didn’t declare winners or losers -- these were all very nice wines. But when my Wine Concepts co-conspirator Marisa revealed the wine identities, one Cab clearly came in last, and Quail Run was highly regarded by everyone, with some declaring it their favorite.

  • Winemaker Ken Wornick summed it up: "I think the best story of all is how Quail Run, the 2020 vintage no less (just bottled days before), stood up to three old, famous, and formidable Sonoma and Napa wines - 2018 Repris, 2014 Stone Edge Farm, and 2019 Stag's Leap!" Ken further explained that while 2020 started out as a spectacular growing year, the coronavirus pandemic and devastating fires starting in August made it a challenging vintage.  Fortunately, the Quail Run vineyard did not see appreciable smoke until after the fruit was picked, so smoke taint shouldn’t be an issue.
  • Fortunately, in the "Judgment of Sonoma" the winemaker and the owners rated their own wine highly!

The bottom line. The 2020 Quail Run Cabernet Sauvignon provides more evidence that young vines can produce excellent wines. It was better than we expected for a first effort, and we’re adding it to our cellar. Quail Run is bright purple in color and displays aromas of dark fruit and spice. What struck us is that even at this stage the palate was well-balanced and had pleasant, moderately grippy tannins. The dark fruit was accompanied by notes of chocolate, and it had a medium, very pleasant finish.

  • The wine is ready to drink now, and undoubtedly will improve in bottle over the next several years as the tannins soften and it integrates further. It will be interesting to watch this vineyard evolve – we’re expecting great things.
  • Unfortunately, only 100 cases were made this year so it’s almost impossible to find. The winery is in the process of setting up retail sales through its website, and Quail Run should be available on the site by the holidays.