It’s been too long since our last local interview, which is why we were excited to recently have the chance to catch up with Anna Monticelli, winemaker at Piña Napa Valley. Read on for Monticelli’s thoughts on the Howell Mountain AVA and more…
CB: Piña produces single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. Talk to us a bit about the advantages, as well as the challenges as a winemaker, of such a focus.
Monticelli: Here at Piña Napa Valley, we primarily produce single vineyard designate 100% Cabernet Sauvignon varietal wines. This is very exciting for me as a winemaker because I am able to really see the effects of the vintage and terroir expressed in the wine. When you blend different vineyards, regions or varietals together, there are so many more factors you need to consider when comparing wines. You can learn so much when using the same medium.
These factors that are advantageous from one perspective can also be my biggest challenge at times. When making single vineyard single varietal wines, I have fewer blending tools. As a product of the vintage, wines are different every year and can sometimes benefit from blending different vineyards or varietals together. Therefore we have to really focus our efforts in the vineyard during the growing season to make the fruit quality in each individual block as amazing as we can.
CB: You’ve got an upcoming release–the 2008 Howell Mountain Buckeye Vineyard Napa Cabernet. What can you tell us about the ’08 vintage in general and the new release in particular?
Monticelli: The 2008 growing season started with below average winter rainfall, which primarily fell in early winter, for the second year in a row. This predicated smaller than average berry size and lower cluster counts. The combination of an early bud-break and freezing spring temperatures that continued for weeks on end between mid-March and mid-April had devastating effects on many vineyards in the Napa Valley. Some say this was the worst spring frost in Napa Valley in the past 30 years. Some of the young shoots were affected in our D’Adamo and Buckeye vineyards but our other vineyards amazingly escaped unscathed.
During bloom, the extremely hot temperatures coupled with high winds made for a poor berry set. Although this greatly decreased our yields, we benefited from loose medium sized Cabernet clusters.
During the summer there were many wildfires here in Northern California. Many winemakers and viticulturalists worried about the possibility that the grapes could be tainted with smoke flavors. Thankfully, not only were our Piña vineyards unaffected, but I haven’t heard of any Napa Valley vineyards with this problem.
The 2008 vintage was approximately 1-2 weeks earlier than average. We had two heat-waves back to back at the beginning of harvest (end of August/early September). This resulted in some shriveled berries and very rapid sugar accumulation. These heat waves were also a contributing factor to the extremely low yields. Here at Piña Napa Valley, our grape yields were down approximately 40% lower than average.
After the initial heat waves, the weather remained very mild and temperate ensuring optimum slow ripening and extended hang time conditions. It rained on October 3rd into the 4th, but the amount of rain was very small and the good weather before and after the rain resulted in no negative effects on the crop.
We picked the Buckeye vineyard on October 9th, 17th, 27th and 29th.
The resulting 2008 Buckeye wine possesses aromatics of boysenberry, black currant, mocha and crushed rock. The palate lends a firm fine grained texture, great purity and ripe fruit. 2008 was a great vintage for the Buckeye Vineyard.
CB: Can you paint a picture of the Buckeye Vineyard up on Howell Mountain? What about it makes it ideal for growing Cabernet year-in and year out?
Monticelli: In 1996, the Piñas bought a 5.91-acre property on top of Howell Mountain which is now called “Buckeye.” With a Southwest exposure, it is planted to 100% Cabernet Sauvignon in 5×8 and 4×4 spacing stretching across the different contours of the vineyard. The vineyard extends across a partially terraced hillside and a protected natural bowl and the slopes vary, going up to 18% in some places. This vineyard is almost within sight of a ranch homesteaded by the Piñas great-grandfather Charles Glos in the 1880s. The vineyard is farmed sustainably, with owl houses and raptor perches. Cover crops include rose clover, crimson clover and Blando brome. There is quite a diversity of soils within the vineyard, from Aiken loam to Boomer Forward Felta Complex.
This vineyard produces wines very characteristic of the Howell Mountain appellation. They are very mineral and earth driven yet balanced with dark berry fruits and fine grained tannins. This vineyard sits at 1,400 feet elevation and can be very challenging in a late ripening year. However the grapes always produce a beautiful wine that strongly reflects the vintage in which it was grown.
CB: Thanks Anna!