14th Annual Varietal Seminar,
“All Hail the King - Cabernet Sauvignon”
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John Skupny next introduced, “Origins and Appellations of the Napa Valley”. American Viticultural Area (AVA) history really began in the late ‘70’s, was codified in 1979-1980 with the very first appellation Augusta, MO and the second Napa Valley, CA. Presently, there are 30 or 40 AVA’s in US, of which 13 are in the Napa Valley (with as many again now being proposed for CA alone). The federal appellation process seeks to define a higher truth in labeling wine based on the concentric circle idea. In California and the Napa Valley in particular, if you appellate your wine, say, Rutherford, it must be subordinate to Napa Valley, a circle within the circle. Six appellation presentations followed:
Chimney Rock Winery,
Stag’s Leap District
Doug said while there were Cabernet vines planted years ago on the old Cole ranch, Stag’s Leap doesn’t have an old history. When Nate Fay was thinking of planting vines in the 1960’s, he asked Bob Mondavi who said ‘go’. Stag’s Leap District is a small region on the Valley’s east side, five miles from Trancas Street in Napa. It is three miles long, ending at Yountville Crossroad, and from a 400’ elevation on the east side to the Napa River on the west. There are 1,100 to 1,200 acres, mostly in Bordeaux varietals, excepting Robert Mondavi (Sauvignon Blanc), mostly going to red Bordeaux varietals with the focus on Cab. There is a lot of evidence that Stag’s Leap is unique--at the Paris tasting by Jim Spurrier in 1976 when Warren Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars won then and again in 1978, and when the tasting was repeated ten years later and Clos de Val came in first. Again a Cab from Stag’s Leap District had won. In Berlin 8 or 9 years ago, Shafer Hillside Select was singled out. The Wine Spectator’s 100 has 5 from Stag’s Leap--5% of the list and 40% of Stag’s Leap District’s total membership!
What makes Stag’s Leap District wines special is hard to define. In 1991, Ann Noble and Debbie Elliot-Fisk of UC Davis were commissioned to find if it was the land (test pits) or the wine (test lots). Their findings? Indefinable! Doug feels it’s not soil-based, but more a micro climate effect. The geological formation holds the afternoon sun, reradiating that heat in the evening. The heat summation profile is more like that of Rutherford. Soil does affect vine vigor, but more how that particular vine grows in that particular area. At the end of growing season, with senescence of the leaves, the fruit should be ripe. In Stag’s Leap in 1998 it was really cool (maybe too cool). Most years fruit ripens late, but fully. Sugar accumulation balances the maturation process in the leaves and fruit. Tannin structure is soft.
Rudd Estate Winery,
With the Oakville appellation Charles thought he might reestablish myths or even start some new ones! The Oakville appellation is about half way up the Napa Valley. It is about five miles wide west to east and two miles long north to south, and up to 400’ in elevation; roughly ten square miles and 3,000 or 4,000 vine acres. Most vines are at 120200’ elevation. Climatically, the beginning part is warmer, past the Yountville constriction from Stag’s Leap to the Veterans Home outcropping at Domain Chandon. The dynamic of daily warming and cooling is consistently warmer on average than Stag’s Leap and the hillside AVA’s, and warm is good! It ripens grapes. Charles feels there is more benign flowering weather in Oakville in the springtime, when it is foggy.
East to west there are distinct areas. The western bench and hills from alluvial fan debris which are on a gentle slope--your legs and heart rate on a bike’ll tell you where. You can coast from Far Niente to what was The Nest (formerly Pometta’s) on Oakville Grade. Heading east, soils are of strong volcanic origin, with a 50’ rise and red soil on the corner of the Silverado Trail and Oakville Crossroad. These soils are well-drained, rocky, with mechanics not unlike in the middle of Oakville and the western slopes, contributing weights, richness, ripeness. Excellence with Cab is abetted by well-drained soils on the flat and gravel streaks (Groth) from the old Napa River.
Frog’s Leap Winery,
‘Ah, Rutherford’, sighed John, ‘where no one has to worry (no longer from Lodi)’. Niebaum, Tchelistcheff, Daniel--wonderful traditions, and history, unique to Oakville and to Rutherford. Rutherford has 3,000 vine acres, the size of Medoc, and is the sister appellation to Oakville. It runs three miles from Oakville north to Zinfandel Lane, and from Skellinger Lane west to Lakoya Road, from 400’ elevation on the hills down to the Napa River, at 121’. There are 111 vineyard owners. The area is dominated by alluvial fans from 5 million years of Napa Valley geological history and its fractured Franciscan sediments, from Conn Creek on the east to well-drained, gravely loams on the west--Cab loving. 80% of Rutherford is planted to red Sauvignon varieties--Cab, Merlot, and the others. Right along the Napa River it is in Sauvignon blanc, especially, where it is warmer.
John stressed Rutherford’s unique character. The appellation was granted in 1991. In 1994 the Rutherford Dust Society was formed. At its first meeting, ‘What is Rutherford?’, everyone was asked. ‘We were drinking from Oakville Grocery coffee cups! We started with a library of wines. At first it was like grange meetings. Now you can read our oral interviews on the web site. Rutherford Dust Society came together to preserve and protect the heritage of Rutherford. Now we’ve got the 4H, the fire department, the river conservation group all working on it, too. Appellations are more than just the soil, the climate. They are about the histories, the traditions, the ways of always doing it. They help develop that sense of place.’
The Hess Collection Winery,
The Mt. Veeder appellation, established in 1988, starts in the western hills, on the Napa/Sonoma County line, from Carneros above 400’ elevation (Mt. Veeder at 2,670’ is the Valley’s second highest peak. Atlas Peak is 2,660’ and Mt. St. Helena 5,000’+), just past Trinity Road on Oakville Grade. Of its 15,000 acres, 1,000 are planted to Bordeaux varieties. Pinot is rare. In the 1970’s Chardonnay was planted. It had a Chablis-style steely, flinty quality which may be popular today, but not then. Malbec does very well. Mayacamas Vineyards is the oldest in the appellation. Sunset Magazine coined “boutique” for it while Randle was working there. Exposures run the full gamut because of all the nooks and crannies. Exposures change within a vineyard block. The climate is Region II near Carneros, III near Oakville, and III in high Western exposures. There are 20 different soils, generally the unlifted sedimentary clays of San Pablo Bay to 800-900’.
Mt Veeder was an active volcano, which blew out its eastern side. These Sonoma volcanics are very rocky red, with iron. Mountain wines have the reputation of being tannic--why Randle learned pigage, a French technique, in which the cap is gently punched down to reduce tannins.