Exploring the Terroir of Napa Valley Sub-Appellations

Last week we had the pleasure in taking part in an exploratory “terroir” tasting of Cabernets from six of the 16 appellations in the Napa Valley.  While the concept of terroir comes to us from France, arguably there is no better place to explore it and taste it in the glass than here in the Napa Valley.

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Terroir is an imprecise concept of how the geography, geology and climate of a specific grape-growing location can affect the resulting wine.  The relatively tiny Napa Valley, just 1/8 the size of Bordeaux and only 30 miles long by 5 miles wide, offers winegrowers a dizzying array of elements that create vastly different terroir from one appellation, and even one vineyard, to the next.

Our tiny valley has 100 different soil variations and fully half of the world’s soil orders. With five mountains surrounding the valley and volcanic knolls throughout, as well as the Pacific Ocean sitting 30 miles to the west, the valley contains micro-climates of valley and hillside vineyards facing all different directions, some cooled by ocean fog sneaking in, some much warmer.  Vineyard soils can be alluvial, volcanic, clay, loam or other.  Add the winemaker’s influence into that mix, and what you have is a concoction of almost infinite variables influencing a wine’s terroir.

Tasting Cabernet Sauvignons from various Napa appellations side by side is an entertaining, always-educational exercise that I highly recommend for anyone interested in wine.  The six wines we tasted last week, every one of them an exceptional and delicious wine, spanned a wide variety of flavors and profiles:  some showed red perfumey fruit, others deeper black fruits, some tannins were gripping and powerful, others were velvety.

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At Amici in addition to our Napa Valley blends, we love to create vineyard-specific wines that allow people to explore in-depth the characteristics of the sub-appellations of Napa Valley.  From Spring Mountain to Rutherford Bench to Oakville, we have an exciting array of vineyard-specific wines in the bottle and in the barrel now.  Each one has its own distinct personality, an expression of its terroir, waiting to be expressed when the cork is pulled.

Special thanks to those involved in this tasting: it was organized by the Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma (CANVAS), led by the Napa Valley Wine Academy, and hosted at the beautiful Alpha Omega Winery.  

Spring in the Vineyards

The vines are letting let us know that spring has officially arrived.  Stirring from their months of dormancy, they’re optimistically sprouting verdant new growth and seem to be basking in sunny, warm days.

Budbreak on a Rutherford Bench vine.

Budbreak on a Rutherford Bench vine.

Inside the winery, barrels tower floor to ceiling and front to rear, and it feels like we’re bursting at the seams after the blockbuster 2012 harvest.  Yields across California were the largest on record last fall, and that had winery staff across the valley (including ours) scrambling to find space for load after load of perfect grapes coming in.  Tastes from the barrels of the 2012 vintage haven’t disappointed:  these young wines are showing a delightful intensity and depth of flavor.

Assistant Winemaker Bobby has finished up the racking on the 2012s and now he and Joel can turn their attention to working on the 2011 blends, purchasing new equipment and all of the good stuff that comes with preparing the winery for the 2013 harvest.

The rest of us at Amici are busy getting ready for our Spring 2013 new releases and looking forward to sharing some seriously good stuff with our friends.  Spring is in the air!

Harvest 2012: Nearing the Finish Line

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The photo above was our view this morning as we harvested Cabernet from the beautiful Oakville Ranch vineyard, 1400 feet above the valley floor. While the fun chaos of crush season is still in full swing around the winery, we’re close to wrapping up harvest in the vineyards. Every day this week brings a new vineyard and a new adventure: Atlas Peak came in earlier this week, today was Oakville Ranch, tomorrow we’ll harvest Morisoli Vineyard, and Sunday brings Old Toll Road and Spring Mountain. While we’re still enjoying days in the 80′s now, current forecasts call for a storm to move in on Monday. We’ll get all the grapes in before the rains, and smiles are all around as we couldn’t be happier with the vintage. Every single vineyard reached optimal ripeness and, true to predictions earlier in the summer, crop yields are very large. Flavors from the grapes are explosive, so everyone is anxious to try the 2012 vintage wines as soon as possible. Could this be Napa’s benchmark vintage? Time will tell!

Nearing Sauvignon Blanc Harvest

Sauvignon Blanc harvest in Napa Valley is only days away!  Winemaker Joel Aiken takes us into the vineyards to tell us how he knows when it’s time to make the call to pull in the grapes.

Nearing

 Blanc Harvest

Harvest 2012 Update: Verasion

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Verasion in the vineyards is well underway! Verasion is the process of grapes ripening and sugar levels rising and from this shot taken in the Morisoli Vineyard on Saturday, you can see that the cluster is almost completely colored up. The photo shows an example of what is a typical cluster for this year, large and healthy-looking. Note that even though the cluster is fairly large, there is still plenty of space between the berries for air movement and for filtered sunlight to get in which helps color development. According to Joel, it looks like this season is about two weeks ahead of last year at this point, and the weather forecast is for continued warm and sunny days. Stay tuned for more harvest updates here as we head towards Harvest 2012!

2012 – A Blockbuster Vintage in the Making?

I know, I should have my wrist slapped for writing a title like that in June, with the entire summer growing season and the fall harvest still ahead of us. It’s just that, after two consecutive vintages of unpredictable weather, everyone around Napa Valley is looking for a perfectly predictable season, something that we sometimes take for granted growing grapes here in California compared to, say, France.

 With an assortment of odd weather phenomena during 2010 and 2011, from June rains to cool summers to early fall rains (all interspersed by periods of our typical beautiful warm weather) those vintages truly tested the mettle of winemakers here in the valley. Those with experience were successful when making the gut calls on when to pull in the grapes and when to let them hang to further ripening. We felt fortunate in 2010 and 2011 to have a winemaker with 27 consecutive harvests in Napa Valley under his belt, but let’s just say Joel had a bit more hair in 2009.

 If grape growers and winemakers are ready for a good harvest, it seems that the vines are in agreement. One look at the clusters on the vines today, and you can see something noticeably different from the years past: huge clusters point towards yields significantly greater than those of recent years. Having produced low yields for several successive vintages, the vines have extra energy stored and look like they want to use it.

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So far, Mother Nature is cooperating for Vintage 2012. We started off with a dry winter, but thanks to several drenching rainstorms in March and April, the vines got a deep soak and reservoirs are full. The summer growing season is progressing as it should, with sunny skies and warm but not hot weather (a primary indicator of this year’s normalcy is that Auction Napa Valley, held the first week of June, was warm and sunny, not wet and muddy like 2011).

Sometimes “typical” and “predictable” are welcome terms. Here’s to 2012, and the hopes that it goes down in the books as one boring year. So far, so good.

Budbreak

And we have budbreak! It’s been a wet spring, the vines are happy, and the new growing season in the vineyards has begun. This shot was taken between storms that brought hard rain, thunder and lightening. Very exciting weather for the Napa Valley.

 

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