Lava Cap Winery: A High Elevation Bordeaux Style Paradise in the Sierra Foothills

By Published On: July 18, 2023

Credit: Lava Cap Winery

El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills is home to Lava Cap Winery, a hidden gem that combines nature’s beauty with exceptional winemaking. Founded in the 1980’s by UC Berkeley professor David Jones and his wife Jeanne, along with their son Charlie, Lava Cap has flourished under their dedicated stewardship. Today, Charlie continues the family legacy as the vineyard’s viticulturist, while the third generation of the Jones family brings fresh perspectives to the winery.

Lava Cap’s success can be attributed to their visionary approach and scientific exploration of the soil and climate conditions. Guided by David’s expertise in geology, the vineyard discovered the ideal foundation for growing Bordeaux-style grape varieties. Meticulous evaluations revealed crucial factors that contribute to the vineyard’s suitability for producing premium Bordeaux grapes. The optimal amount of heat throughout the growing season, comparable to Oakville in Napa Valley, ensures the grapes ripen fully with exquisite flavors and essential acidity. The unique composition of the rocky, ash-laden soil with minimal topsoil allows for exceptional drainage and compels the vines to search for sustenance in the rocky terrain.

Situated at an elevation of nearly 3,000 feet above sea level, Lava Cap enjoys warm yet temperate days, consistently 10-15 degrees cooler than the valley floor below. The nearby towering mountains contribute to cool nights as cool air cascades down, creating a refreshing environment for the vineyards.

Lava Cap’s focus on Bordeaux varieties aims to highlight the classic characteristics of each grape while showcasing the expression that emerges from their elevated vineyards and volcanic soil. They use minimal new oak during fermentation and aging to preserve the essence of the grapes, allowing the natural flavors to shine through. The wines exhibit real fruit character, vibrant natural acidity, and a robust tannin structure.

Emmett, Nolan and Charlie Jones. Credit: Lava Cap Winery

Lava Cap’s Cabernet Sauvignon is highly regarded for its ability to age gracefully. The cooling impact of their elevated vineyards helps the grapes retain natural acidity, providing a backbone for the aging process. They employ 100% French oak, using second and third fill barrels to minimize flavor impact and avoid harsh wood tannins. In contrast to some Napa Cabernet Sauvignons, Lava Cap’s Cabernet Sauvignon offers a differentiating profile with dusty red fruit-driven flavors, showcasing a vibrant and brighter expression.

Cabernet Franc, influenced by the unique soil composition, is another notable wine at Lava Cap. It is typically the first grape to be harvested, ripening to a darker profile compared to their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The wine exhibits dried leaf characteristics without the herbaceous characteristics often associated with the grape. Balancing ripeness is crucial in producing high-quality Cabernet Franc, achieving optimal phenolic ripeness without veering into pruny flavor territory.

Lava Cap markets their Bordeaux-style wines by focusing on exceptional quality while keeping them reasonably priced. They aim to get their wines in front of consumers, allowing them to experience the quality firsthand and make their own judgments. This strategy has proven successful, especially on the East Coast and in the Midwest, where they have developed a strong following, particularly in states like New York. While drawing inspiration from classic Bordeaux wines and vibrant Napa wines of the 1980s, they also find inspiration in Bordeaux-based wines from Tuscany’s Bolgheri region. Nonetheless, Lava Cap strives to create wines that reflect the unique climate and soil of their location, emphasizing their compelling story.

Lava Cap offers a welcoming and enjoyable visitor experience. Guests are greeted with warmth and can choose a seated tasting for a nominal fee, which is waived with a bottle purchase. Alternatively, visitors can bring a picnic and purchase a bottle to enjoy in the winery’s picturesque gardens. It’s not uncommon to encounter the fourth generation of the Jones family, who actively participate in extending warm hospitality, making Lava Cap a truly family-friendly winery.

The wines featured in the Wine Recommendations section were provided by the winery for the purpose of review. The selection and tasting of these wines were independently conducted. No compensation or incentives were provided for inclusion in the story.  As always, the top priority is to provide readers with informative reporting.

Wine Recommendations

Credit: Lava Cap Winery

2020 Cabernet Franc- This wine showcases an exquisite equilibrium, poised to be uncorked and savored at this very moment. The palate is imbued with a luscious tapestry of flavors, dominated by the succulent essence of black cherry and black currant, tantalizingly enhanced by a subtle hint of pepper and spice. A gentle presence of tannins bestows a touch of structure, an unequivocal masterpiece hailing from the cherished terroir of the Sierra Foothills.

2020 Cabernet Sauvignon- entices the senses with a captivating display of dry and dusty allure, accentuated by a bright acidity delight, as the flavors gracefully unfold, revealing layers of blackberry and raspberry. The velvety texture lingers, a testament to the well-integrated tannins that ensure a satisfying conclusion.

2020 Merlot- it reveals an impressive fruit-forward character, enthralling the senses with its richness. An abundance of blackberry and licorice floods the palate while the dark, sweet spices present in this wine add a delightful dimension, further enhancing its already remarkable flavor profile. The soft and velvety texture, courtesy of its fine tannins, lends an exquisite touch to the overall experience. 

About the Author: Joe Campbell

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Located out of the Sierra Foothills of California, Joe Campbell provides color commentary as well as insight within the wine industry both from the lifestyle consumer and business segments of the industry. He can be reached via email at : .