September 15, 2018
CALISTOGA — I opened one of our last bottles of 2015 SB the other night and poured it for my wife Kim. She asked, what’s this, something new? I had to agree. It tasted vibrant and alive. And then we enjoyed it with some pesto pasta. For that 2015 vintage, we had contracted with a grower to buy a couple tons of Oak Knoll SB. But the crop was unexpectedly short and another contracted buyer of the same block, threw their weight around and threatened legal action if they didn’t get their contracted allotment. So we were SOL. Which is fine I guess, except that we found this out roughly one week before expected pick date. So I scrambled to find a replacement. Miraculously, a small family vineyard in the same appellation, just a mile down the Napa River was looking to sell some of their SB. I say miraculously, because over the years as SB vineyards get tired and must be replaced, they consistently get replaced with Cabernet Sauvignon. Because that’s what makes business sense. And so every year there are fewer and fewer acres of Napa SB available. Which is unfortunate since Napa grows some of the most fabulous SB in California.
So we were stoked to get this vineyard. And the only reason this is really a story is because normally I would not have chosen to buy fruit from this vineyard. The soil was just a touch too rich and fertile. It held a excessive amount of water on a normal year. But this wasn’t a normal year. It was what turned out to be the last year of a five-year drought. Discounting my natural disinclination toward a vineyard like this, and because we were up against a tight deadline, I made an agreement with the retired couple who owned the property and prepared to make the wine. Now what generally happens in an overly fertile vineyard is that the fruit tends to not ripen beyond the greener, more vegetal flavors. With SB you can get bell peppers, jalepeno peppers, and general skunkiness. So I was hyper vigilant. It was kind of an ugly vineyard too, which means you have to try even harder to ignore what you see and focus only on what you taste. And luckily, what I tasted was delicious. We fermented the wine in 10 different containers—stainless steel barrels, and neutral french oak barrels, and even some stainless steel kegs—employing five different yeast strains with the aim of fleshing out the most balanced and layered aspects of the vineyard. And like magic, it seemed to work out.
That’s what is really so intellectually fascinating about opening that bottle of wine with pesto on a weeknight. It’s got all that back story for me. Sleepless nights went into the decision making of choosing that vineyard and holding out for the optimal pick date. And then one day you just open it and drink it and say to yourself, wow that was an amazing journey. Did we finish a whole bottle already?