Why Napa is shifting fast from blended wines to single vineyard expressions
Napa, once a region that closely followed a Bordeaux wine-blending approach, is now mimicking Burgundy with a single-vineyard focus – and it’s a trend gaining momentum, according to Jean-Guillaume Prats.
Prats, who is president and CEO of Estates & Wines – the wine division of LVMH, which includes California’s Newton Vineyard – said that the famous US wine region was narrowing its focus in an interview with the drinks business last year, before it was announced he would be leaving the company to join Château Lafite.
Speaking to db, he observed that Napa was moving from an attempt to isolate AVAs and sub-AVAS in its wines to bottling single vineyard expressions – a positive development that he said had been instigated by Bill Harlan, with his Bond winery, founded in 1997 to identify the ‘grand crus’ of Napa.
He also said that the demand for the great wines of the region was stronger than ever before, further fuelling a focus on isolating the traits of specific sites.
“Napa is hot,” he stated, “And it was very Bordeaux-like, but it is moving to a more Burgundian approach,” he added.
“The AVA and sub-AVA are becoming more important, and so too is the vineyard, there is clearly a sense of recognising the terroir, and expressing that in the wine, which was probably not the case 20 years ago.”
Having said that, he credited the approach to Bill Harlan, who he described as “an extraordinary visionary”, who, began the move to bottling single vineyard expressions with his Bond project.
Furthermore, Prats said it made sense to focus on site specifics in Napa, because “you do find substantial differences in expression and style”.
As a result, Newton Vineyard has increased its focus on expressing the characteristics of individual sites, and this time last year released three single-vineyard wines, bottled to capture the traits of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in Napa AVAs Spring Mountain, Yountville and Mount Veeder. 1,000 cases have been made of each wine, starting with the 2014 vintage.
Acknowledging that such an approach is costly for producers, and complex for consumers, he nonetheless stressed that it was a positive development.
“In Napa there are not many wines below US$50 because the cost of farming is extremely high – so you see Napa positioning itself in the upper tier and therefore at the sophisticated consumer who desires different expressions and styles,” he said.
As a result, he forecast more wineries moving away from creating blended expressions. “I do believe that this trend [towards single vineyard bottlings] will continue, and it only started 10-15 years ago with Bond and Colgin Cellars.”
Since Prats was interviewed by db, LVMH announced its decision to buy a controlling share of cult Napa estate, Colgin Cellars, proving the company’s belief in the strengthening demand for the top end reds of Napa and the desire for single vineyard expressions – Colgin bottle wines from three specific sites: Tychson Hill, Cariad and IX Estate.