Vineyard 7 & 8 sits on a stunning 40-acre estate high on Spring Mountain at an elevation of 2,000 feet. Past the vineyards, forested vales stretch out in all directions while Mount St. Helena looms large to the north. Weezie and Launny Steffens purchased this beautiful property in 1999 after a long search for just the right site. The name 7 & 8 draws on Launny’s background in finance and the couple’s shared interest in numerology — the number “7” represents luck in Western culture, and “8” stands for happiness in Eastern culture. Today, Weezie and Launny’s son, Wesley, runs the property, acting as general manager and assistant winemaker to Martha McClellan.
The vineyard at 7 & 8 was planted in 1980 by the previous owners of the estate. They hired Ric Forman and David Abreu to put in eight acres of Wente clone Chardonnay, and Andy and Fred Schweiger to plant another eight of Cabernet Sauvignon. There was no winery on the property at the time and all the fruit was sold under contract to other wineries in the area. In order to buy the property, Weezie and Launny Steffens had to agree to uphold the contracts until they expired. While this delayed their ability to make an estate wine, it allowed the Steffenses to ease into the business. They began by soft launching with a Cabernet labeled “7” and a Chardonnay labeled “8,” made from fruit purchased from nearby Spring Mountain Vineyards and, as it became available, fruit from their own estate vineyard.
During 7 & 8’s infancy, Weezie and Launny’s son, Wesley, worked at the French Laundry in Yountville. Fresh out of culinary school, his goal was to become a chef, but when he got wind of a two-month internship at Harlan Estate, he decided to switch gears. Two months quickly turned into four years and saw Wesley work his way up to cellar master. It was a pivotal time in which he learned from some of the best in Harlan winemaker Bob Levy, and his wife, Martha McClellan, who made the Levy McClellan wines at Harlan. As Wesley puts it, “It was my onsite master’s degree.”
Around the same time, things were beginning to come together at 7 & 8. In 2006, the grape contracts were expiring, and the onsite winery was in its final stages of construction. Ready to take the reigns after four years at Harlan, Wesley came home to oversee the project and launch the estate winery. His first move was to bring in Luc Morlet, a friend of McClellan’s, to make the wines. Luc came on board officially in 2007 and made the first estate vintage that year from the property’s original vines. The team then began to expand the estate and also replant some of the existing parcels, pulling four of the eight acres of Chardonnay and replacing them with Cabernet. Recently, they planted an additional four acres — mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a little Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot — to bring the total to 20 acres.
After launching the estate vineyard, 7 & 8 continued to purchase fruit from other growers. The contracts with Spring Mountain Vineyards lasted until 2011 but it was a fateful accident in 2006 that catalyzed the only contract agreement 7 & 8 maintains today. Ironically it all happened right next door. The Atchley Vineyard is a superb site just below 7 & 8 which historically sold its grapes to other wineries off the mountain. In 2006 however, a truck filled with grapes overturned on its way down the steep and winding Spring Mountain Road prompting Wesley to offer to buy all of Atchley’s fruit, and save them more trips down the mountain. This made sense for both parties so they entered into a long-term lease that allowed 7 & 8 to manage and farm Atchley like an extension of itself. The Correlation cuvée is the product of this neighborly partnership, a wine that reflects the character of the 7 & 8 and Atchley vineyards’ Spring Mountain terroir, and is a 50/50 blend of grapes from both.
In 2013 Wesley made a change to the winemaking staff, replacing Luc Morlet with longtime friend and colleague, Martha McClellan. McClellan finished the 2012s and 2013s (which were still unblended due to the longer barrel aging regimen at 7 & 8), and started fresh on the 2014s.
Wesley has great admiration for both winemakers though his time spent with McClellan at Harlan factored heavily into his decision to bring her in. When asked about the differences between them Wesley replied, “They are two of the very best, so it’s an apples-to-apples comparison,” adding, “they share many of the same philosophies of nonintervention and focus on the vineyard.”
Despite the change at the helm, the winery seems poised to continue its recent success. While I didn’t get to taste the 2013s, the beautiful 2012s plus a few barrel samples of the 2014s suggest that the winery is in good hands. Already in the top flight of Napa wineries, it will be fun to watch (and drink!) where 7 & 8 goes from here.