Being part of a winemaking family in $180,000+ per acre Napa County, even a relatively new one like 11-year-old Stewart Cellars, has got to be pretty great when you're handed $150 bottles of the really good grape juice, not so hot when Dad stops footing the dinner bill. But in the case of James Stewart, a teenager when his father, Michael, plopped down the big bucks to open a winery (with his eye on making those high-dollar cult Cabs), it appears those lean 20-something grape years actually helped shape James into the more inventive business mind of the family.
James is the brains behind Slingshot, one of the most affordable, quality Napa Cabernets on the market right now. Or at $20, affordable in comparison to what James' father and other winemakers charge for their celebrity winemaker-blessed bottles (Dad hired cult winemaker Paul Hobbs to make his $45 to $115 bottles).
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Instead, the younger Stewart focused on buying up neighbors' grapes at bargain basement prices, as well as gathering up leftovers from the family's top vineyards that weren't deemed worthy of those high-priced cabs. With them, James launched two new labels, including Slingshot, as offshoots of Stewart Cellars (where he also serves as general manager).
As for how those bargain Cabs taste, so far Slingshot winemaker Stephen Test, formerly at Merryvale, has swayed more towards the moderate end of Napa palettes with recent releases, meaning those tannins aren't lingering around on your tongue for what seems like hours, nor are his wines in-your-face oak numbers. That distinct oak and smoke presence is here (these are Napa Cabs, after all), but Test seems more enamored with the plums and dried figs of the grape world. Which basically means these are impressively balanced Napa wines that go down even easier when you realize you can taste through the 2005, 2006 and the just-released 2007 Slingshot Cab for less than you'll spend on a single bottle of his father's signature 2005 Cab. Wonder who picks up the family dinner tab now.
Slingshot Cabernet retails for about $20. Select local retailers still have the 2005 and 2006. The 2007 was recently released, so you may need to pester your favorite wine shop for a bottle (K&L Wine, Hi-Time, and Green Jug are good places to start as they have carried Slingshot's earlier vintages).