In 1993, I found what I thought would be the perfect spot for growing the varieties I had come to love from Bordeaux’s Right Bank. Standing on a western-facing slope in Southern Napa Valley’s western foothills, I imagined how the afternoon sun, morning fog, and complex soils could produce the best Cabernet Franc and Merlot in all of California. I was so convinced I bet the plot’s owner, Doug Hill, that it would produce the finest expressions of these two grapes he’d ever taste. Doug took the bet and planted the vineyard block for me, naming it Beau Terroir Vineyard. I initially used the fruit for my eponymous winery’s cuvee “Bourriquot” beginning in the mid 1990s. Today that same block is being repurposed exclusively for Cave Dog, my single red wine. Needless to say, it’s an era of new beginnings for old friends.
Beau Terroir first charmed me with its geological complexity. Located on the Napa side of upper Carneros, the vineyard rests on one of the last arms of the Mayacamas Range. 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 storms, over millennia the alluvial clay was weathered away on the upper slopes, but remained on the lower sections. Thus today Beau Terroir’s slope provides perfect soils for Cabernet Franc on the upper volcanic soils (tufa), and for Merlot below on the clay interlaced with large igneous rocks.
The site’s magnificent soils are only matched by its special microclimate. Situated where the rolling hills of the Mayacamas foothills first begin to rise, Beau Terroir 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.
Doug Hill farms Beau Terroir following the guidelines outlined by the Napa Sustainable Winegrowing Group. To keep the terroir as beautiful as its name implies, Doug and his vineyard team plant a cover crop between vineyard rows during vine dormancy to protect and reinvigorate the soils. In the early spring, they thin the vine shoots to create circulation between grape clusters. By mid-spring, they plow the cover crop into the soils to replenish organic material in the shallow topsoil and eliminate water competition for the vines. The cover crops also help in limiting yields, although Beau Terroir’s vine age naturally accomplishes that, yielding 2.5 to 3 tons per acre for the Merlot and 1.5 to 1.75 tons per acre for the Cabernet Franc. Green harvesting is done when necessary at 50% veraison. I typically harvest the Merlot in late September and the Cabernet Franc by mid-October.
All wine starts in the vineyard, but great wine starts with a great site cultivated with great vineyard work. So I work closely with Doug and his team throughout the growing season to ensure that all vineyard practices align with my goals for the final wine.