Brief Napa reports: Saintsbury
For my next visit I was off to Carneros, the cooler-climate bit of Napa at the south of the valley, where the influence of breezes from the San Francisco bay are more keenly felt. This is where Pinot Noir and Chardonnay thrive, and Saintsbury was my destination.
David Graves (above) was waiting for me when I arrived, and we had a broad-ranging discussion and tasted some nice wines. David and his business partner have been making wine here since 1981, and have established a good reputation.
The vineyard is planted in a lyre system, which works well for Pinot Noir. 'It's like a giant bonsai project', quips David. They've stopped tilling the vineyards because they want to avoid compaction, and they use straw and compost, too. Irrigation is now managed much more carefully using pressure bombs to look at water stress in the vines.
There's a huge solar panel array (above) next to the vineyard that generates 85 kw/h. It cost $991 000, but with subsidies from the state and a complex sale leaseback financial arrangement, it's not that much more expensive than the original electricity costs. And it powers the winery completely. 'I obsess about sustainability as it relates to climate change,' reveals David.
Saintsbury is best known for Pinot Noir, but also makes some fantastic Chardonnay. The Brown Ranch 2006 is particularly impressive, showing restraint, complexity and minerality. Beautifully expressive, this will age well.
The Garnet Pinot Noir 2008 is one of the wine world's great bargains at $20. Made since 1983, it is a selection of the lighter, fresher lots that enter the winery, and shows lovely fruit.
The Carneros Pinot Noir is a bit more meaty and dense. All the Pinots here show a family resemblance, but the single vineyard lots also show some site differences. They're rich an d fruit-forward, but elegant with it. I found it hard to choose between the Lee Vineyard, Toyon Farm and Stanly Ranch, but they are all superb wines. I was less taken by the outlier: the Anderson Valley (Mendocino) 'Cerise', which is fresher with bright herby cherry fruit, but lacks the smooth elegance of the Carneros wines. Perhaps my favourite wine is the expressive yet powerful Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2007.
2007 is the first vintage made since the winery was expanded, with 12 new open-top fermentors adding to the capacity for making small lots.
David's theme is that while terroir is important winemakers should have a point of view. 'Any winemaker worth their salt is trying to construct a point of view and present it to the drinker,' he argues. 'Winemaking is an amazingly human enterprise.' I agree with him.