by Michael Havens
In 1983 I was introduced to an off-path area of Napa Valley, in the north of what later became the crossroads of the Carneros and Napa Valley AVAs. It rests on one of the last southerly arms of the Mayacamas Range following a small creek, known locally as Congress Valley. The volcanic formation of the land eons ago, followed by alluvial deposits of a great inland sea, set the stage for this complex site. As uplift exposed the ridges to incoming Pacific storms, over millennia the alluvial clay was weathered away on the upper slopes but remained on the lower sections. That provides the perfect soil grouping for two varieties that had increasingly captivated my palate: Merlot (which loves the cooler clay soils) and Cabernet Franc (which loves the lighter volcanic material). From these grounds I have for the last 37 years focused on refining a specific local expression of graceful red wine.
I have been fortunate to work with these varieties at several famed vineyards in this mini terroir: Truchard, Hyde, Beau Terroir, and Hudson, among others. Here the soils are matched by the special microclimate. Situated where the rolling hills of the Mayacamas foothills first begin to rise, Congress Valley enjoys the regular, mid-afternoon breezes that cool the coastal valleys. These breezes reach Carneros first, offering a strong marine influence with frequent fog to moderate the diurnal temperature fluctuations, while the slopes provide an aspect that allows full ripening.
All wine starts in the vineyard, but great wine starts in a great site cultivated with sensitive vineyard work. So I work closely with our vineyard team throughout the growing season to ensure that all vineyard practices align with my goals for the final wine. All soil work is organic, tilling in compost and cover crops to provide a living biome for the vine roots. And since the soil and climate are well-matched to our varieties, only the lightest touch is needed in tending the vines (shoot thinning early, cane lifting later, rarely any hedging, leafing, or green fruit drop).