Focus: Lawrence Fairchild wines poised for California Cult Cabernet status
The success of Lawrence Fairchild is defined by the superiority of products he creates.
I’m fortunate in that I have the opportunity to experience a lot of fantastic wines regularly. Many are drop dead gorgeous, some would even qualify as epic. On rare occasions I get to taste the wines that have the feel and presence of an instant classic. However, what is perceived as an overnight success, often comes from decades of hard work and thoughtful dedication.
I first experienced Fairchild Wines at the Premiere Napa Valley, Napa’s ultimate insider’s wine event. The wine poured by Fairchild during that event was particularly striking. It took me by surprise and remained in my thoughts long after the weekend ended. It exhibited a rare combination of old and new world.
It offered a rendition of fresh, sassy, glorious fruit intricately woven into an old wise soul; a tale of multidimensional delineation, oozing with style and class.
Lawrence Fairchild came from humble beginnings, growing up on a farm in Nebraska. He later graduated from University of Nebraska with a degree in economics. His career path took him to the House of Representatives International Affairs department. He then moved to San Francisco in the 1980s and began a 15 year stint of a series of small start-ups. He focused primarily on investment research publishing, service oriented companies, semi-tech ventures.
In the early 90s, Fairchild caught the wine bug, which slowly mutated from a hobby to a full-time pursuit, complete with a house and a vineyard acquisition. Lawrence is a thoughtful and exceptionally tenacious man. For years, he scouted California wine countries, with a focus on Napa Valley, for a perfect location that would be well suited for carrying out his vision of producing world-class wine. In 1999, Fairchild planted a two acre Cabernet vineyard on the north side of St Helena, above the picturesque Lake Hennessey. He named it “Sigaro” which means “cigar” in Italian. Why? Lawrence enjoys a good cigar while walking his vineyard.
His first commercial release was in 2005. What an introduction to the wine world it was! Deep, floral, with gobs of lip-smacking wild berries and plush tannins, deftly balanced and impossibly stylish, it was a spectacular début.
His original wine inspiration came from Burgundies. He still remembers how 1990 Domaine Dujac Echezeaux tasted all those years ago.
His vision for his brand however is classic Bordeaux, combined with California’s generous, opulent fruit. He hired a renowned vineyard manager, Jim Barbour, to tend to his young vineyard and a highly sought-after winemaker, who originally came from France, Philippe Melka, to implement his vision. Fairchild’s wines are plush, yet elegant, showing silky, sensuous tannins. They are far more hedonistic than the famed first-growths, yet possess laser-like focus, solid acidity and great minerality, European elegance meets American largesse.
Barbour is to vineyard management what Bono is to music: a rock star. He farms organically and only works with clients who share in his philosophy of low production, high quality vineyards. He continually improves viticultural practices on his client’s vineyards, from canopy management to irrigation regimes. Fairchild speaks passionately about the improvements he has seen in a short few years. His vineyards are farmed by individual blocks, a philosophy that Fairchild adheres to religiously. Ripening, acid development and tannin management play key roles in his grape growing strategy and harvest timing choices. His average yields are 1.5 tons per acre, a miniscule amount that yields a couple of hundred cases of one of the most compelling Napa Valley Cabernets.
Lawrence produces three bottlings, Sigaro, from his estate vineyard, G.III and “Stones” for which he sources the fruit from some of the most coveted, hardest to procure spots in Napa Valley such as To Kalon, Beckstoffer Georges III and Stagecoach Pritchard Hill vineyards.
Philippe Melka works in close partnership with all of his client, blending decisions are made during a multi-week exhaustive collaborative process. Fairchild and Melka have an easy friendship, facilitated by Philippe’s quick wit and sense of humor. Their collaborative style is built on the a foundation of enormous mutual respect and Fairchild’s unwavering commitment to excellence. His attention to detail and businesslike approach are evident. He spares no expense and is involved in every decision concerning his vineyard and his wines, from planting to marketing.
Despite being in the business world most of his life, Lawrence is exceptionally hands on. Given his agricultural background, he isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty. Interestingly, like any farmer his biggest trepidation every year comes from the uncertain nature of weather.
Like many winemakers, he is an avid cook and loves to make French country dishes such as bouillabaisse and braised lamb shank. His choice of music leans towards Italian classics such Bocelli and Pavarotti.
When asked who of the famous people, living or not, would he like to have a meal with, he came up with a couple of surprises. His choices were Stephen Tyler and Ronald Reagan! Imagine the three of them, sipping a glass of Sigaro Cabernet while enjoying Fairchild’s lamb shanks!
Lawrence’s measure of success is defined by the superiority of products he creates. His goal is to provide a spectacular experience for each and every time a customer drinks his wine. I believe he’s clearly reached and exceeded this lofty goal. He set high standards for himself. He believes in five or so vintages he will be in a far better place with his estate vineyard. Although entirely logical, given the quality of his current offering, it’s mind-boggling to imagine such a feat.
Fairchild is sold direct to consumer, via mailing list. The word on Fairchild’s wines stellar reputation is spreading quickly. Grapevine is a powerful platform and people “in the know” are jumping on the mailing list. I advise you to do the same.