2020 Napa Valley Albariño
Twenty-three years ago I started something: Albariño in the New World. Right here on a plot of tough soil in southern Napa Valley in 1997 I established a small plot of Albariño vines with budwood that originated from the Morgadio estate in Rias Baixas, Galicia. Those vines produced the first New World bottles of the variety with vintage 1999. I’ve made Albariño from this vineyard every year since (except for 2008, when I was working in Spain), first under the Havens Wine Cellars brand, then more recently with my friend Morgan Twain-Peterson under the Abrente label. Since 2016 this fruit has become Cave Dog Albariño.
With only half of a “normal” year’s rain, 2020 provided hints of its challenges from the start, of course on top of the pandemic that dominated our world. An early bud-break in our warm Spring pushed the season ahead of the average schedule, so when forecasts for the third week of August showed a massive heat wave approaching, we saw the need to act decisively. The verdict to schedule the picks for our Albarino was then made more urgent when the Hennessey Fire broke out in St. Helena on August 17. While the smoke from this fire was going high into the atmosphere, we were concerned that changing conditions might push it closer to the ground any time. So we made our Albariño harvest the earliest ever, in the early morning hours of August 19. This included both the mainstay, Stewart Ranch, and the small amount we took from Hudson Ranch, with the single row of Arneis from there as well.
The fermentation of this special juice, slightly lower in sugar than the usual, was pretty and consistent, as I’ve come to expect with this vineyard and the QA23 yeast, native to Vinho Verde and Rias Baixas. The resulting wine, at 12.3% alcohol, is both elegant and energetic, showing the lively fruit inherent in this grape grown in Carneros, Napa Valley.
The 2020 Albariño has an initial note of sweet tropical fruits, guave or pineapple, but there is already a sea air note that complexes that. Its natural acidity is bright, as usual, but the core fruit offers a balance that makes it luscious. As I’ve said for years, I think this wine pairs with a wider range of foods than just about any I know of. The challenges of year 21 making this wine from this vineyard make the pleasure in the glass all that more satisfying.