Location, Location, Location: A Tour of Montesquieu Winery’s Vines in Napa and Sonoma

December 1, 2010, by: Lisa Duff Khajavi

It’s no secret that for the past five vintages, Montesquieu Winery has been blessed with access to some of the greatest vineyards in Napa and Sonoma.  We’re constantly scouring Napa and Sonoma for terroir to die for, adding a few blocks of vines to our portfolio each year.  That ongoing search is led by winemaker-consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, our winemaker Hélène Mingot, and our Founder/President Fonda Hopkins, who together possess over a half-century of experience in growing, making, tasting and selling wine.  It’s a formidable team, and one that seeks always to evaluate vineyards by listening to the land with an ear tuned to the melody of great terroir.   

What qualities characterize a site with the potential to breed the kind of singular, transcendent quality we try to craft in our Montesquieu wines?  Let’s begin to answer that question by reviewing the line-up of vineyard blocks that we chose to work with in 2010.

Our Cabernet Sauvignon up high at Ink Grade Napa Valley

Ink Grade (Napa AVA)

Where Angwin, Howell Mountain and Pope Valley meet is a beautiful 1400-ft elevation parcel that produces some of the most distinctive Cabernet Sauvignon our team has found to date.   This plot has some of the first vines planted in Napa after the phylloxera devastation of the early 1990’s.  With vines now reaching 20 years of maturity, our fruit is gorgeous and well-developed.  Iron rich red clay and volcanic ash soil lacks nutrients and has difficulty retaining water which stress the vines to produce small berries with deep structure.   Struggling builds character!
Howell Mountain AVA

This unique parcel is planted at an unusually high vine density, similar to top vineyards in Bordeaux and rare in Napa Valley. Our Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc grapes love the cool uplands – generally situated above the fog-line – which give sought after “mountain” characteristics to the wines.  This site gives wines with rich tannins with excellent acidity for aging.  Predominantly volcanic soils, shallow and infertile make the vines struggle which is great for depth and complexity.

Stagecoach (Napa AVA)

What was once a mountain wilderness full of sagebrush, chaparral and huge boulders, is now some of the finest vineyard land in Napa.  Stagecoach offers rugged, high-elevation terroir (our blocks sit almost 2,000 feet above the valley) with well-drained, rocky, volcanic soil and panoramic vistas off of Soda Canyon Road.  Our Merlot and Cabernet Franc from here are glorious, yielding exquisite, refined styles.

High Elevation Cabernet Franc

Cabernet Franc grapes at Stagecoach Vineyard

Atlas Peak AVA

Here we have a cool, mountain-influenced parcel above the fog line with basaltic, red volcanic soil.  Limited water retention makes irrigation management tricky, which our team micro-manages with a delicate and sensitive hand, resulting in stunning Merlot.   Summer temperatures are rarely above 90°F, so the grapes are able to reach optimal ripeness without dehydration or raisining.

Red Hills (Lake County AVA)

When our team saw the Red Hills Vineyard in Lake County for the first time, they immediately fell in love with the dramatic rocky, deep volcanic soil, full of obsidian.  The high elevation (2200 feet!), early-morning sun exposure, long steady daylight, and favorable climate create the ideal conditions to grow Cabernet vines that struggle mightily against mother nature so as to produce fruit of great character. This is without a doubt the up-and-coming AVA to keep an eye on!

Desnudos (Sonoma Valley AVA)

This certified organic block of vines farmed by Sonoma legend Phil Coturri produces Merlot grown near the base of the Mayacamas mountain range in Sonoma Valley.  Warm temperatures, good constant breezes and excellent drainage characterize the microclimate, and biodynamic principles guide all of the farming practices, resulting in naturally-grown fruit of intense purity.

Charlie Smith (Sonoma Valley AVA)

The Nuns Canyon section of the Mayacamas mountain range is home to this ancient red-rock gravel soil, which yields very fine, small berries.   This beautiful terraced, certified-organic vineyard produces vibrant, energetic styles of Cabernet Sauvignon!  Farmed by the iconic and sensitive Phil Coturri.

Phil Coturri and Stephane Derenoncourt Napa Valley

Kindred Spirits Phil Coturri and Stéphane Derenoncourt in Sonoma

At Montesquieu Winery, we consider it an honor to be able to work with such a strong set of unique and exciting vineyards.  We believe that winemaking is an art, and a portfolio with this wide range of terroirs gives our team a diverse palette with which to paint vibrantly.  We’ll keep you updated with developments in our vineyard blocks and with new additions for next season – who knows what 2011 will bring?!


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