Bill and Olga Keever
Keever is a great little winery owned by Bill and Olga Keever, more in the mold of a top-notch, Burgundian family domaine than a Bordeaux château. The estate, situated on loamy, well-drained soil, covers a minuscule 6.5 acres on the western edge of the valley near Yountville. The Keevers purchased the property — formerly an equestrian facility — in 1999 with the intention of growing and selling a few grapes. They hired the talented Jim Barbour to plant and manage the vineyards, and the first crop was produced in 2002. It was Jim himself who bought the grapes that year, realizing, along with his winemaker at the time, Heidi Peterson Barrett, that this wasn’t your average Cabernet Sauvignon.
Olga and Bill thought that if the fruit was good enough that these two were interested, maybe they should try to do something themselves. They floated the idea by Jim, who not only thought it was great, but also set about suggesting a short list of winemakers he thought would be a good fit. After several rounds of interviews, Bill and Olga decided on Celia Welch. She has been at the helm ever since.
The first wines were made at Laird Studio, but the Keevers decided they really wanted to be able to control the process from grape to bottle, so they built a winery facility on the property. It was completed for the 2006 crush — a small but state-of-the-art facility, with everything gravity-fed and designed by Celia (who makes her Corra wines here, too), to allow gentle handling of grapes from start to finish.
On this scale, everything is hands-on, with no detail escaping scrutiny. The fruit is carefully selected and harvested into small plastic lugs, weighed, and matched to tiny custom stainless-steel tanks. The grapes are then gently removed from the lugs for primary sorting, gently destemmed, and then moved to a second sorting table. Finally, the clean, perfect, whole berries go gently by gravity to tank with no pressing. Fermentation and maceration is about four weeks long, after which the wines go to barrel — about 90% new oak depending on the vintage.
With over a decade under her belt here, Celia Welch now has this excellent little domaine pretty well dialed in. The wines are deftly crafted and beautiful with elegance and no lack of depth or richness — definitely worth seeking out.
Area Under Vine: 6 Acres
Terroir: We feel our vineyards are very special. That doesn't make us unique in the grape growing business because we all love our dirt! We are enchanted by our vineyards because they really are nestled into the hillsides and are growing in loamy, well-drained soil that's more rock than anything else. One of the vineyard managers suggested that we were engaging in hydroponics farming - rocks, water and roots but no soil! We were severely restricted as to how many acres of our property we could plant because of the sloping hills that make up much of it. The first one and one-half acres that we planted soon after buying the property had been horse corrals and a riding arena and those flat surfaces had been cut into the hillsides long ago when such undertakings were not regulated or monitored. It's a different story today and we were required to submit an erosion control plan for everything else we wanted to plant. Ultimately, we were allowed to plant another three and one-half acres when we had wanted to plant seven. The vineyard blocks wind in, out and around our property, tucked here, there and everywhere possible. It makes for a wonderful walk starting at the top at about 300 feet above the valley floor. Separating our older blocks from the newer ones is a wildlife corridor (30 by 100 yards) that spans our property. It allows deer to move from a neighboring farm to the south across our property to a large stand of oak trees at the north end. The walk down is a relatively easy and interesting stroll but the walk back up is a definite cardio workout! In addition to the six acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, we planted one-third of an acre of Cabernet Franc but we just recently planted it over to Sauvignon Blanc. We plan to make an estate Sauvignon Blanc to complement our rock-star red, the 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon consists of four clones and two different rootstocks. Each was chosen specifically for the block(s) where it is growing. We are very pleased with the planting decisions made by our vineyard management company, Barbour Vineyards, and the wonderful fruit that is being produced. The best news of all is that it is only going to get better!
Napa Valley is the most famous wine-growing area in the U.S. It begins at the base of Mount St. Helena in the north and tapers off some 30 miles to the south into the floodplain where the Napa River enters San Francisco Bay. From Mount St. Helena to the city of Napa, the valley is defined by two north-south ridgelines of the Coast Range Mountains.
The bulk of grape growing for Napa wines takes place on the valley floor and on the gentle slopes adjoining the floor, the best-known example probably being the Oakville Grade. The floor ranges from less than a mile in width in the north to about 3 to 4 miles across in the south. The hills to the west of the valley floor are part of the Mayacamas Range; they contain key appellations such as Mount Veeder, Spring Mountain, and Diamond Mountain District. With the exception of Howell Mountain, the hills on the eastern side of the valley are not nearly as important or as well known.
From its earliest days, Napa Valley has been the home of some of California's most famous wine estates. Today, the valley boasts upward of 36,000 acres planted to Napa wine grapes and some 250 wineries, most of which offer high-caliber, often expensive Napa Valley wines. With some notable exceptions, the best California Chardonnays, Cabernets, and Merlots come from Napa; these varieties make up two-thirds of the vines in the region.
Because of its huge size, Napa Valley is home to varied microclimates that support many different kinds of wine grapes. For example, the cool Carneros region by San Francisco Bay yields good Chardonnay and Pinot Noir; and at the other end of the valley, the warmer Calistoga area can produce perfectly ripe Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and monster Cabernets, but it usually overcooks Pinot Noir and other heat-sensitive varieties. On wine labels, the term ""Napa Valley"" has included all but the most outlying and inhospitable lands of Napa County.
It is remarkable that an industry essentially less than a half-century old could capture the attention of the American wine-buying public to the degree that California has. Powerful consumer interest in California wine is driven by two major factors. The more obvious reason is that California's best wines, which come from grapes grown in a benign climate featuring endless sunshine, very warm summer days, and generally dry harvests, and wonderfully fruity, full, and satisfying, and rarely too austere or tannic to be enjoyed from day one.
California is blessed with an extraordinary range of soils and microclimates, allowing for the successful cultivation of many varieties. In at least three out of four years, the best sites produce healthy, ripe fruits that are the envy of European producers in more marginal climates. The other reason Americans buy so much California wine is that California is the home team. Clearly, a high percentage of domestic wine drinkers are more comfortable buying American wines (and not just wines of California) than imports. Then, too, foreign bottles are generally identified by place name, rather than by the more familiar varieties that American wine drinkers have come to know and enjoy.
Moreover, in much of North America, outside the top 15 or 20 largest metropolitan markets, consumers have limited access to imported wines even if they wanted to buy them.
For many, Napa Valley is California wine, and Cabernet is king in Napa Valley. Meanwhile, the Burgundy varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Noir have gravitated to cooler areas, generally closer to the Pacific, such as the western stretches of Sonoma County, the Anderson Valley in Mendocino County, and the Santa Maria and Santa Ynez valleys within Santa Barbara County. Syrah vines have yielded interesting wines in a range of styles all over the state, in regions as disparate as Mendocino County, the Sonoma coast, Carneros, Paso Robles, and Santa Maria Valley. Very good Zinfandel similarly comes from multiple growing areas, although to date the age-of-vines variable has been almost as important as geography. Zinfandel, though its roots are in Europe, is a true California original and the only California wine imitated abroad. It's also a variety of which there are still significant plantings of very old vines, in some cases dating back to the end of the 19th century.
Cabernet Sauvignon Facts
Full, tannic wines with notes of blackcurrant and cassis
Grilled red meats, stews, hard or rich cheeses
Cabernet Sauvignon has been the flagship red grape of the California wine industry for decades, and its popularity shows no sign of abating. Napa Valley is the heart of Cabernet Sauvignon production and is clearly an ideal region for creating world-class wines. If any Cabernet-based wine is capable of giving Bordeaux a run for its money, it's Napa Valley's examples. However, due to the extremely high cost of purchasing and developing vineyards in California, and the cachet of Napa Valley on the label, this has largely become a category for the well-heeled wine lover.
At their best, Napa Valley's Cabernets are characterized by fruit notes of cassis, black cherry, and licorice and sweet oak notes of chocolate, mocha, cedar, and tar. Today, most of the best wines are aged entirely or almost completely in French oak barrels, which tend to produce somewhat more refined wines than do most American barrels. (These latter barrels often introduce exotic and pungent suggestions of scotch, bourbon, tar, coconut, and dill.) But the use of expensive French oak is no guarantee of a good bottle: too many wines today, due to high crop levels or insufficiently ripe fruit, do not have the stuffing to support their oakiness and can quickly be dominated or even dried out by their wood component. The best California Cabernets mellow and soften with five to ten years of bottle aging, developing more complex and less fruit-dominated notes of tobacco, leather, and earth, with mellower wood tones. Compared to the top Bordeaux, however, many California Cabernet Sauvignons merely endure in bottle rather than truly become more interesting. There are no shortage of quality producers, even if these wines are rarely values. And it remains to be seen if today's outsized showstoppers, made from superripe grapes and undeniably impressive on release, will reward extended bottle aging or will turn out to have been best suited for drinking in their youth.
Many wines labeled Cabernet Sauvignon contain small percentages of other so-called Bordeaux varieties -- chiefly Merlot and Cabernet Franc but also Petit Verdot and even Malbec (varietally labeled wines in California must contain at least 75% of the variety named).
Cabernet Sauvignon also flourishes in Washington State, Australia and even Chile. In Washington, prices have been creeping up at the high end, with some producers aiming to compete with cult wines from the Napa Valley. Consider Chateau Ste. Michelle and Woodward Canyon. In Australia, look to the Coonawarra and Margaret River regions. Chile can reveal excellent bargains to those who know where to look: Montes makes a strong range of quality bottlings, as does Casa Lapostolle.
As Cabernet Sauvignon is bold and assertive on the palate, it pairs best with foods like grilled red meats. Taken together, the proteins and fats in the food neutralize some of the stronger tannic qualities of the wine, leading to a harmonic combination that enhances both partners.