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ES: The way the Oakville East project has evolved, it has grown substantially, but it can't get over a maximum (someday) of 2,400 cases. Whereas a lot of people who have wineries in Oakville make an Oakville wine plus a Napa wine — there are a lot of people who buy grapes. I basically have the only co-op in the Napa Valley, in that my growers and myself are all bonded together. Not only do I buy all the fruit, but hopefully someday, if we ever make a profit, there will be an opportunity for the growers to share in the profitability. And that's why we've grown from 5 tons to 30 tons in only five vintages. I'll say that by adding all that tonnage, I now have access to the oldest combined vineyard in all of east Oakville: our youngest vines are eleven years old and the oldest are twenty-two. When you start putting that together, there's nobody else up here who has 30 tons of an average of seventeen year old fruit.
Showcasing the Varietals
NM: And how does all this translate into the bottle?
ES: Two things. One, we'll continue to make Cabernet and that will end up, probably after '09, somewhere around 18% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot, plus a little bit of Merlot that I'm going to get this year for the first time from my friend Cal Showket, who's also on the mountain. And then, also for the first time, I'll have enough of the old vine Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot to do an Haut-Brion type of blend; something with a 65/35% blend, with maybe a little bit of Merlot. But the Cabernet Franc here, all by itself, is as dense and wonderful as the Cabernet Sauvignon — it's a pretty awesome glass of wine! So, who knows? Someday, if we actually have too much and the blends don't work, we'll probably make 100 cases of the Cabernet Franc. But right now, our plan is to make two wines going forward (after the '08 vintage). The second wine is called Core Stone, which tells the same story as Exposure but focuses on the actual rocks, the 'core stone' of the Vaca mountain.
NM: How will this second wine, Core Stone, be different from the first, Exposure, in terms of the location of its vineyards and its placement in the wine market?
ES: It's hard to answer that because I've only made it twice now. I made nineteen cases, of which ten went to Premier Napa in 2008. I've been using Premier Napa as my vehicle to test this [new] wine. The varietals, more and more, will be the Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, which are actually the oldest vines on the hillside — they'll be over twenty years old when we first bring that product to market. It will be positioned as probably the highest end of Napa Cabernet pricing, as a limited release piece of art, so I would expect it would be somewhere around $200 a bottle. With it, I think we're going to get some of the truest expression of Cabernets Franc and Sauvignon and Petit Verdot that you can get in the Napa Valley. There are very few places in the valley that grow outstanding Cabernet Franc. Arguably, one of America's 'first growths' was always Dalla Valle Maya, from which we'll be different, but still with some of the same grape sources — it'll all be eastern hillside with no other Napa grapes in it. There'll be a bit of a difference in taste, but basically it stays true to what Oakville East is, with all eastern hillside fruit.
NM: Going through this whole process, how much of the decision-making has been centered around the varietals themselves versus the overall terroir of the eastern hillside?
ES: The easiest answer to that is Sara Gott. Because when Sara was at [Joseph] Phelps, she was very much a part of the original Bacchus production from their fruit source on the hillside. So she already knew what the fruit on the hill was capable of. That's why, when I asked her if she would take on this project, it took her only 30 seconds to say "Yes!" As for the varietal mix, we knew we had Cabernet [Sauvignon] and then I planted a little bit of Cabernet Franc. But I had no idea that in 2005 I would get almost twenty tons of old vine Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Cabernet [Sauvignon]. So, that gave us the opportunity to solidify our blend to where we really like it and can do it every year exactly the same way. And then have the extra fruit to be able to play a bit with what we think will be one of the stellar wines in the valley, which will be the Core Stone once it's brought to the marketplace. But that'll be very rare; we won't make much — probably a couple of barrels to start with and if it really grows we'll maybe do a couple of hundred cases someday. But no more than that, because we wouldn't want to take too fruit away from our main product, which is the Cabernet [Sauvignon].