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.
Albariño has grown on the northwest coast of Spain and Portugal for centuries, resulting in wonderful foodfriendly wines known for their enticing aromatics, vivacious crispness, and intriguing complexity. If ever a wine begs for food, this is it. It has gained in popularity in the States in the last few years, and for us to have one of the few domestic versions produced in this country is both exciting and noteworthy. As a result of unanticipated developments at harvest in 2009, there was no home for the Albariño grown on the property, and suddenly it was being offered to me. Considering that aromatic whites are among my most favorite wines, I could hardly say no. Although not the first Albariño planting in the United States, Stewart was the source of the first commercial release of the variety in 1999.
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.