Sunday, March 12, 2017

The vineyard and wines of Eisele Vineyard (Calistoga, Napa Valley)

The quality of the Araujo wines, and the repute of the estate, was of such that Artemis Domaines (owners of Chateau Latour and Chateau Grillet, among other labels), made the trip across the ocean and, unbidden, made an offer for the estate. In this post we will examine what Artemis Domaines bought and what they have done to date to begin putting their stamp on the estate.

The estate is located to the east of Calistoga and is surrounded by the Palisades Mountain Range, a situation which affords protection from the north winds while still allowing cooling by the westerly breezes that make their way through the Chalk Hill Gap. The nights are cool, resulting in meaningful diurnal temperature variation and its beneficial effect on the fruit.
The underlying soils are volcanic cobbly soils which have been washed down from the Palisades and deposited as an alluvial fan by Simmons Creek -- the waterway bisecting the property -- and its tributary. There are gentle slopes between the creek bed and the foothills, the result of long-term gravitational and weathering effects upon the deposited rocks.
Intense storms during the winter months contribute to soil deposition but the creek dries up during the summer months leaving the vines dependent on depth-resident ground water. The stony subsoil facilitates the efforts of the deep roots to get at this water. Irrigation is only utilized when necessary.
The map below shows the configuration of the Eisele Vineyard.
Vineyard map (


Sonia, Ron and Bev
The vineyard is divided into 13 blocks and 40 sub-blocks reflecting “the nuances of soil and subsoil.” The varieties planted in the vineyard are as follows:
·       Cabernet Sauvignon – the best Cabernet Sauvignon is sourced from the plots around Simmons Creek. Lees complex wines are made from the younger vines in the eastern part of the vineyard.
·       Cabernet Franc
·       Petit Verdot – Fully ¾ of the vineyard is devoted to the production of the three Bordeaux varieties
·       Syrah – first planted in 1978
·       Sauvignon  Blanc – both Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Musque planted on the eastern side of the property
·       Viognier – Initially planted for co-fermentation with the Syrah, in some years there is enough product to make a varietal wine.
Vines average 25 years of age and are farmed according to biodynamic principles. The estate uses its own herbs and preparations from the vineyard.
With the purchase of Eisele Vineyard, Artemis Domaines gained responsibility for harvesting and production of the 2013 vintage. They, obviously, were responsible for all aspects of the 2014 vintage. We will first examine the production parameters to determine any changes between these two vintages. This assessment will also allow us to get a full inventory of the wines produced by the estate.
Cabernet Sauvignon Estate – In both 2012 and 2013 the wines were made with 100% Cabernet Sauvignon fruit. The winemaking schema employed included: vigilant sorting; slow fermentation with gentle extraction; and barrel-aging with a careful choice of toasts and origins tailored to each vineyard block.
Altagracia – The Altagracia exhibited significant changes in its varietal composition between 2012 and 2014 with the Cabernet Sauvignon percentage increasing and Merlot and Malbec losing their place in the blend. Cabernet Sauvignon went from 71% in 2012 to 81% in 2014 while both Merlot and Malbec went from 6% and 4%, respectively, in 2012 to zero in 2014. The winemaking schema was the same as for the estate Cabernet Sauvignon.
Sauvignon Blanc – The Sauvignon Blanc is generally a blend of Sauvignon blanc (lean, gravelly structure) and Sauvignon musque (slightly exotic flavors). In 2013 this wine was made from 100% Sauvignon blanc while the 2014 and 2015 versions had 68% and 78%, respectively. In 2012 the mix was 75% musque and 25% blanc. It appears as though Eisele Vineyard tried a 100% Sauvignon Blanc in their first year and then thought better of it subsequently.
Beginning with the 2013 vintage this wine was subjected to extended elevage on lees with fermentation and elevage in a combination of stainless steel, French oak, and cement egg. In 2015 the fermentation percentage distribution was: concrete egg, 20%; used oak, 42%; stainless steel, 18%; and new oak, 20%.
Syrah – The Syrah is whole-cluster-fermented in small tanks and aged for 21 months in 50% new French oak. The wine had 1% Viognier in 2012 but was 100% Syrah in 2013.
Viognier– These grapes are whole-cluster-pressed and fermented with native yeasts. The wine is aged sur lie with batonnage in 50% stainless steel and 50% used oak.
After our vineyard walk we came into a beautifully appointed cellar cave for a tour and tasting. We were to taste the 2012 and 2013 vintages of the Altagracia and Estate Cab and the 2015 vintage of the Sauvignon Blanc. The red wines had been opened two hours prior and double-decanted.

There were marked differences between the two vintages of the red wines. The 2012 Altagracia exhibited chocolate, toast and red fruit on the nose with a savory herb note and oak on the palate and finish. The 2013 exhibited greater elegance, was less weighty on the palate, mineral, lean, and focused. This sense of increased elegance and a fine-boned character was also a characteristic of the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The year 2013 was an exceptional vintage in Napa but I have no doubt that the new aging regime contributed to some of the differences that I observed between the two vintages and, in so doing, made a great wine even better.
The Sauvignon Blanc was reminiscent of a Semillon on the nose. Creaminess, lime, and a burnt character on the palate. Ranks among the best Sauvignon Blancs in the Valley.

A stellar day indeed.
©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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