The new names to know in Napa
From personal passion projects to collaborative winemaking, the latest wave of innovative producers in Napa Valley is taking the region’s wine scene in a new direction. Elin McCoy meets them
Meet the innovators who are driving change in the Napa Valley. Elin McCoy reports
EVERY TIME I’M in the Napa Valley, I play the ‘What’s new?’ game, picking up hot tips from winemakers, while hanging about in wine bars, at the annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction, during dinner parties to which someone brings a new discovery, and by checking the by-the-glass list at Press Restaurant in St Helena, which has its finger on the valley’s pulse.
Starting a new label in a region where the prices of top grapes and vineyard land keep skyrocketing isn’t an easy proposition, unless you have millions to spare. That’s why high-priced Cabernet, which can promise the best return on investment, has taken over.
There are several new estates making excellent and very expensive Cabernets, such as Alejandro Bulgheroni, named for its billionaire founder. But many of the most interesting new names in Napa are the side-brands of restless young winemakers who craft wines for others as a day job and buy grapes for their own personal projects. Some of them source fruit from other, less expensive regions, like the Sierra Foothills and Lodi, as Eton-educated Jack Roberts and his wife Johanna Jensen of Keep Wines do.
I’ve focused instead on new names that use Napa Valley grapes for most of their cuvees, highlighting only wineries that have already released at least one vintage. That meant leaving out Pym-Rae winery on Mount Veeder, owned by the Tesseron family of Bordeaux’s Château Pontet-Canet, which will release its first Cabernet next year.
I could have picked many others, but those listed below offer a glimpse of where Napa seems to be going. Some wineries champion grapes other than Cabernet, others embrace organic and biodynamic viticulture, and still others consciously look back to an earlier era in the valley for inspiration.