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Winemaking Viticulturist of Napa's Salvestrin Touts St. Helena's Benefits
— An Interview with Winemaker Rich Salvestrin —
The face of the Napa Valley has changed dramatically over the last generation. During that time, scores of new wineries have been established and the resulting growth in commerce and tourism has been staggering. But in the midst of all this bustle and boom, there persists a number of small, family owned and operated vineyards whose history stretches long before Napa earned a starring role on the world stage of wine. Salvestrin Winery is one such property, having been in the same family for nearly 80 years. After having tasted its current releases at the 2008 St. Helena Press Tasting event, I made a mental note to learn more about this regional stalwart. Months later, true to my intention, I sat down with owner, vineyard manager, and winemaker Rich Salvestrin, and listened first hand to him share his experiences at the helm of this seasoned vessel navigating its way through a sea of change.
Salvestrin is uncommon in its commitment to offering the consumer a taste of Napa for prices well below what we're used to seeing for a great deal of single-vineyard, estate-bottled wines produced in the valley. While much of that stems from the fact that its land has been in their family long before the region's property values began to soar, the Salvestrins are driven to crafting solid wines to be enjoyed regularly. And as we often hear in the domain of wine production, quality begins in the vineyard. All the more salient, then, is Rich's fervor in tending the very land that was passed down to him, making him an archetype for the modern gentleman farmer. With wines as charming as his disposition and lucid as his gaze, he has managed to place a very prominent and personal signature in vinifying the very fruits of his labor.
Extending Deep Roots: the Strengthening of a Family Business
NM: How would you describe the Salvestrin philosophy? What is Salvestrin all about?
RS: It's a winegrowing lifestyle. The Salvestrin family has been living on the property and growing grapes here for 77 years, and what we've evolved to processing the fruit that we grow rather than just selling it all (although we still sell some of it). It's about making wines that tell part of the story of our lifestyle and are enjoyable expressions of what we do on a daily basis. We try to find balance in our lives, we try to find balance in ourselves, and we try to find balance in the wines. So it's all about balance. We strive to make wines that we can enjoy and that go well with food, and we hope there's enough fans out there who have a palate similar to ours!
NM: How long have you personally been making wine?
RS: My first commercial vintage was 1994, but it wasn't something I did on my own. We had been selling grapes to several wineries, one of whom was Rombauer, who bought Cabernet and Merlot from us. We decided that we were going to make a couple of hundred cases of our own wine, so we kept some fruit and crushed it up at Rombauer with the help of winemaker Greg Graham. I learned the ropes, selected some barrels, and got my feet with the whole process of going from grapes to bottle. I mean, we'd made wine here [at Salvestrin] before, for our own use, but 1994 was the first real commercial vintage. But, really, my training is in viticulture — I have an Agricultural Science degree from Fresno State — and I grew up in a vineyard, so my passion and what I was trained to do is grow grapes.