Beautifully functional, aesthetically pleasing, and somewhat understated, Ovid is a standout from the modern era of exquisitely designed Napa properties. Every single detail here has been considered, evaluated, and refined, with the goal of crafting the best wines possible.
From 1,400 feet up in the Vaca Mountains, the views from the winery deck and crush pads are stunning. It’s an area that some call “Alta Oakville” (Oakville proper reaches to 1,000 feet), or Pritchard Hill, and it’s home to some of the heaviest hitters in Napa. Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Oakville Ranch, and Phelps’ Backus are all below, and David Arthur, Brand, and Chappellet are just down the road.
This area was created eons ago by landslides that swept down from the mountain peaks, resulting in benches and fans of red volcanic rock soils that only dissipate as you get away from the foothills and closer to the Napa River below. What was left behind — where Ovid now lies — was basically rock. According to winemaker Austin Peterson, the U.S. Geological Map simply lists their location as “rock outcroppings.” It is so rugged that nothing bigger than scrub oak really survives here. Over the ages, a meager 2.5-3 feet of reddish volcanic soils formed through erosion and decomposition.
It took all of 1999 to haul away enough rocks for the vineyard at Ovid to be plantable. In the end about 50,000 cubic yards were removed from 15 acres of land! In 2002 David Abreu started planting, beginning with Cabernet Sauvignon, and followed by Cabernet Franc and one block each of Petit Verdot and Merlot. The cleared rocks and tailings from the winery and cellar construction were leveled and became orchards that now have various nut and fruit trees — almonds, nectarines, peaches, apples, plums, cherries, and more. The vineyards are certified organic, and the orchards too are farmed that way, but not certified. As Peterson says, “We’re just a pig and a cow short of being a complete farm.”
Construction on the winery began in 2003, and the first vintage made on site was 2005. The winery was completed one year later. The cellars are designed for minimal manipulation of the grapes, must, and wine. Small custom stainless steel and concrete fermenters, inspired by visits to Bordeaux’s Right Bank, were designed to handle specific parcels of the blocks. While the 15 vineyard acres are divided into 17 blocks, there can be as many as 40 separate micro-picks during harvest — an effort to bring all grapes in at optimal levels of ripeness.
There is no formula for winemaking here other than a few basic parameters. Everything from the percentages of new oak and fermentation lengths to the frequency of pump overs and punch downs is dialed in vintage by vintage, block by block, as well as by varietal and tannin profile. The Ovid Napa Valley is the estate’s flagship wine, a blend of all four Bordeaux varieties planted in the vineyard. Excess fruit from certain lots goes into the Experiment cuvée, which sees much more Merlot and Petit Verdot than the Napa Valley. In 2012, there were two Experiment bottlings, the V6.2, with 19.5% Petit Verdot, and the L2.2 with 27.3% Merlot and 72.6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Hexameter is a Cabernet Franc-dominant blend, made only in exceptional vintages, and Loc. Cit., the fourth wine in the Ovid lineup, is a site-specific bottling (Loc. Cit. meaning “in the place cited” or “from the same place”), made only in great vintages in tiny quantities.
Ovid is a fascinating estate, and Austin Peterson seems to have a great understanding and grasp of what the property is all about and how he wants to allow that expression to occur in bottle. The wines are certainly large-framed, powerful, and dense, yet there is a tension and nerve — perhaps the stony, crushed-rock texture? — that keeps the wines focused and detailed on the palate. As good as the wines are now, it seems that as the vineyards mature and the team continues to experiment and learn, they will only get better.