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A trip through the galaxy of Napa Valley

Spaceships were not part of the deal when Mitch Cosentino and Paul Scotto teamed up. 

But the dynamic winemaking team behind J. McClelland Cellars and The Lost Chapters has a relationship that Scotto said reminds him of those from some of his favorite films. 

“I’m a huge Star Wars fan,” Scotto said. “He’s like my Jedi Master. I’m just in training when I’m working with him. I love to taste and blend wines with him – that’s where I learn the most.”

While Cosentino joked he probably owns pants as old as Scotto, they’ve produced a series of excellent wines that could fly off the shelves at a light speed pace.

Winemaker spotlight

John McClelland was a veteran of the California wine industry, but he never had his own label. As a longtime friend and contributor, the project stands as an homage to the late McClelland.

It’s been a venture with a wide-ranging impact, as it has broken conventional distribution norms and has been a celebration of life and a testament to a lifetime spent in the wine business. 

“When J. McClelland first came out, it was a January release, and we had some habits to break,” Cosentino said. “Consumers are programmed by release dates. There are many wineries that have the same release date every year. With this project, we evaluate everything and determine when wines are ready to be released.”

Ready right now is The Lost Chapters Pinot Noir 2017 ($35). They’ve tapped into Carneros fruit and have a medium- to full-bodied red with cherry, tobacco and cherry cola flavors. There are all kinds of spice notes, but cloves and anise stand out.   

Even though he’s most familiar with Bordeaux varietals, Cosentino has made Pinot since 1984. He’s worked with fruit from appellations across California and said he’s always looked to develop new vineyards. 

Because of the challenges Pinot provides in the vineyard and cellar, Cosentino said that when it’s “done properly, it’s not a big production varietal.”

“With Pinot, I want to make what it is,” Cosentino said. “Not what it is not. If it looks like a Cab and tastes like a Cab, then it’s not a Pinot. I want to be true to what the vineyard has given.”

The J. McClelland Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2016 ($50) shows off the finest attributes of the growing region. Currant, white pepper, tobacco leaf, gun metal and turned earth notes provide a cornucopia of flavors seamlessly tied together by refined tannins. It’s a hedonistic wine that’s not overly lavish with its presentation. 

Releases might not come sequentially by vintage year, but rather when the team feels the wine is at its best. 

“That’s a challenge,” Scotto said. “A casual buyer might worry that a bottle isn’t good or has been sitting there too long if it has an older vintage year on it. But we’ve done really well with hand-to-hand selling at wine shops.”

With small lot production – just 200 or 400 cases in most instances – there’s an additional challenge when it comes to inventory. With value brands the Scotto family produces, that’s never a problem. But, with J. McClelland and The Lost Chapters, supply might not always meet demand.

“It’s always an interesting discussion when to release a vintage,” Scotto joked about the times he meets with his brother regarding the business side of release dates. “Even if we are out of something, there’s really no rush to get the next things out. Our hope is people develop a following and are willing to wait it out a little longer for wines that are done right.” 

The Scotto family has had plenty of time to do wines right in California, over 50 harvests, which they first honored back in 2011. Today, 50 Harvests Meritage 2015 ($60) is a throwback Bordeaux blend that honors their time spent in the business. Well balanced with elegant blueberry, currant and semi-sweet chocolate morsels, it’s a wine where Old World quality is charmingly embraced.

“With the Meritage, we want a composite of Bordeaux varietals to make a statement and be true to the heritage and history of the place,” Scotto said. “We pick specific barrels based on our tasting and have an open mind; we know the blend can change from year to year.”

As for years, Cosentino can rattle off Napa’s top vintages back to the 1970s. He knows the producer, the vineyards and whips off a few tasting notes as well. 

A Jedi Master indeed.

• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at

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