Monday, August 14, 2017

Mastering Napa's Mountain Appellations

Spanning 500 to 2,600 feet in elevation, the appellation is 5,000 acres. Less than 10 percent of that acreage is planted to grapevines; most is steep and forested. Sedimentary and volcanic loam soils are the norm, typified by high drainage and low fertility.
NewtonCainKeenanBarnettSmith-MadroneTerra Valentine, Spring Mountain Vineyard and York Creek Cellars are among the longstanding adventurers here. Lokoya now bases itself here in a grand tasting estate that surrounds its Yverdon Vineyard at 2,100 feet above sea level.
Newton Vineyard is accessible from a different road behind St. Helena. It has a square mile of hillside property that dates back to 1977 and is focused on Cabernet Sauvignon.
“Complex and textural would be my summary,” says Newton Vineyards’ Mann of the Cabernet here. “Spring Mountain has an incredibly diverse combination of soil types, aspect, slope, altitude, varietal mix, planting density and vine age. Within one vineyard, depending on the site, you may have four weeks difference in ripening from one plot to the next, planted to the same variety.”
West-facing slopes can be barren and dry, supporting low scrub and live oak, and winemakers must be careful not to let fruit cook in these areas. An adjacent east-facing slope 100 feet away can be cooler and more humid, supporting oak and redwood trees. Slopes are often too steep and cool to ripen red grape varieties.
“The wines are rather intellectual and red-fruit based, with an alluring textural and savory structure, and can be incredibly complex,” Mann says.
In addition to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux reds, the land is planted to such varieties as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sémillon, Petite Sirah and even traditional Port grapes like Touriga Nacional, Tinto Cao and Tinta Roriz.
Smith-Madrone’s Stu Smith and his brother, Charlie, settled on Spring Mountain in 1970, intrigued by mountain grapes. They were preceded by Stony Hill, which set up shop in 1943 off Highway 29. Around 1952, it added a commercial winery to the property, planting Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sémillon, varieties the family still tends.
Fritz Maytag, of the appliance and blue cheese family, resuscitated Anchor Steam Brewing in San Francisco before he bought 320 acres on Spring Mountain in 1968. On the site, he created York Creek Vineyards, the winery with the Port varieties, blending them with Petite Sirah and Zinfandel and bottling them in fortified form. The winery’s labels feature the 24 native trees on the property, from madrone to buckeye.
Cain Vineyard & Winery is nearby, where longtime winemaker Christopher Howell makes Cain Five, Cain Concept and Cain Cuvée, all Cabernet Sauvignon-based blends. Terraces face north, south, east and west, with a focus on the five classic red Bordeaux varieties.