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!