Stewart Vineyard is in Carneros, Napa’s cooler, southern section, and that’s my source for Sauvignon Blanc, Albariño, Chardonnay and Merlot. My Cabernet Franc grapes come from Truchard Vineyards, which is also in Carneros, the region that is ideal for all those varieties.
Stewart Vineyard in Carneros is the source of some of my finest grapes. The consistent quality that emerges each year is stunning. The Merlot, Albariño, and Sauvignon Blanc are topnotch. All the variables that influence grape quality—clone, soil, temperature, cultural practices, have combined to make it a unique and special property. When I was offered the first tiny crop of Chardonnay in 2009, I had no idea of the style of wine that would emerge, but given my experience with Stewart, I was optimistic. I was not let down!
When it realizes its potential, Merlot offers one of the most pleasurable of all red wine experiences, and so many seem to forget that some of the most highly regarded and sought after wines in the world come from Pomerol and Saint-Émilion, the land of Merlot. Our crusade has been made easier with the magnificent grapes coming off the Stewart Vineyard in Carneros. Thirty-five years of winemaking experience has provided me with this insight: you know you are growing the right grape in the right location when it performs year after year. I can say this unequivocally about Stewart Vineyard Merlot. Even in the most difficult vintages it has consistently delivered, and it is typically the “go-to” wine in the barrel room because it tastes so good right from the start.
Cabernet Franc is a finicky grape. But after all my years of winemaking, I think it is precisely those challenging varieties that have the potential to produce some of the most exciting wines in the marketplace There is a buzz these days about Cabernet Franc as more people tune into this variety that can display a spectrum of flavors and profiles. I firmly believe that Cabernet Franc and Merlot need the coolest parts of Napa Valley to capture the aromatics and varietal characteristics that define these varieties. Northern Carneros is perfect, and even though the risks are high in vintages that are late-ripening, they are worth it. Cabernet Franc is extensively planted in the Loire Valley in France as well as in the right bank vineyards of Bordeaux. Lighter and less tannic than Cabernet Sauvignon, it is more approachable in its youth, a virtue for sure in California. Its great attraction for me is its wild and complex nose of cedar, lavender, and herb. I am easily taken in by its exotic aromas.
I produced my first Cabernet Sauvignon in 1981 as winemaker for Mount Veeder Winery, which at the time was one of the cutting-edge wineries elevating Cabernet production to a new level. Needless to say, Cabernet is now king in Napa Valley, due largely to the passionate innovators from decades past. In the years that followed, we had the luxury to observe and work with Cabernet from numerous regions. In 2011 we connected with two outstanding vineyards—both certified organic—that we believed had amazing potential to create a wine in our “signature” style. Howell Mountain needs little introduction. Located in the northeast corner of Napa Valley, the resulting red wines from the region are typically powerful, muscular, and intense. Although many choose to bottle 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon on its own, I think it best serves as the backbone of a wine and needs to be finessed a bit. Let me introduce Taplin Road, southeast of St. Helena, just off the Silverado Trail. Joseph Phelps and Heitz are legends in Napa Valley. They are on Taplin Road. Nestled between them is my eastern hillside vineyard—clone 341—offering grapes with wonderful charm, elegance, and volume, the perfect foil to Howell Mountain.