Everyone loves the Napa Valley. As soon as you mention you live there people are jealous. Why would anyone leave? On top of it I live in Yountville, a culinary Mecca. How could you leave?
I’m leaving the Napa Valley and here are the reasons:
- To make wine from varieties like tannat, vermentino, roussane, marsanne, malbec, sangiovese, tempranillo and a diverse group of other compelling varieties.
- To ferment with indigenous yeasts, crush by foot, co-ferment and to distain new oak.
- To have a vineyard you can control and farm in a sustainable way in harmony with nature.
- To work with a distinct terroir with granitic soils similar to Sardegna, Hermitage and the best Cru Beaujolais. To grow grapes in a region that while the buds are breaking the surrounding peaks of the Siskiyou Mountains are still capped in snow.
- To make wines with moderate alcohol levels and crisp, bright acidity.
- To be a pioneer in an emerging AVA.
- To have the freedom to work with any variety you believe in and to have grapes that don’t cost so much you can’t take the risk to make wines from them to see if they are magic in your soils.
I am not running away from the Napa Valley, which is a beautiful place, but I am very truly running towards something.
I fell in love with wine in the 1970s and turned it into my life’s work. It was a very long time ago in a world that bears little relationship to the wine world today. Working with wine as something serious was new. There were very few people doing it and we were all friends even though we were competitors. I am running toward that feeling again. Once more I want to feel that energy and intensity. I want to feel the electricity that only comes from being on the edge looking down into the unknown. I want to make a difference and I have decided to make a difference in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.
I got into wine with a passion and I intend to end my life in wine with that same passion. Over the last few years I realized I could not reach that passion in the Napa Valley. Now, moving forward you will be more likely to find me up to the waist crushing grapes or out in the vineyard worrying about frost or other endless concerns than in an office in front of a computer. What you will find is someone more fully engaged with grapes, nature and making wines in a natural way. You will find someone doing what they believe in.
Instead of being able to eat at the French Laundry in Yountville, I will be able to grow fruit and to make wine in the spirit of what Thomas Keller demands from those who would sell produce to The French Laundry. I believe it will be a greater achievement to grow fruit of such quality than to just make a reservation and eat at The French Laundry itself. To simply eat or drink is like watching TV, a passive experience, but to grow something is to be part of life. For this reason I may be leaving the Napa Valley, but it is not to get away, but to run towards this goal. I want to make wine from fruit that is so compelling that Thomas Keller will feel that he must have it on his wine list. In the Applegate Valley I believe I can reach for this goal. I don’t know if I can achieve it, but I believe the soils and weather there can carry me towards this dream.
So I am going to swing for the fences and leave the security of the Napa Valley for an adventure in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon. In a breathtakingly beautiful place in a remote valley surrounded by the massive peaks of the Siskiyou Mountains I am going to devote my life to making wines that will mean something. Wines that will grab your attention and make your palate sit up and take notice. Wines that will make you ask where they came from and what is it about this wine that makes it so exciting. Wines that mean something.
From now on you’ll find me at Troon Vineyard just outside of Grants Pass in the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon. Planted in Zinfandel in 1972 by Dick Troon, the mantle of ownership is now with his friend Larry Martin. We are going to take this historic property into the future as one of the Northwest’s premier estates.
So I am leaving forward. From the Napa Valley into a brave new world. I feel a wonderful lightness in my soul and excitement for the future. Once again I feel about wine like I did three decades ago. What a wonderful gift.