Andesite Vineyard is one of the smaller commercial wine producers in the Napa Valley – with 2 planted acres of vines they typically produce only around 150 cases. Jo Ann and Charles Howard have lived in the Mayacamas Mountains above the town of St. Helena since 1984. At the time they moved here there were only 2 or 3 families in the area even making wine commercially. Their vineyards are in the heart of the Spring Mountain Appellation.
For many years Jo Ann and Charles watched the development of new vineyards on Spring Mountain and the addition of small family wineries in the region. Their hillside plantable acreage was home to walnuts rather than grapevines. Noticing that their grove of walnuts was not looking very healthy, one day Jo Ann called the county for information. She was looking for advice about improving the health and look of the walnut trees. The county official told her he couldn’t help in that regard, but that she should strongly consider planting a vineyard in their place.
Eventually the Howard’s decided to take the plunge, made a bit easier because their caretaker at the time had plenty of experience working in vineyards. The Howards planted each of their 1800+ vines by hand. Charles enrolled in the viticulture and winery technology program at Napa College to learn more about their new vines. As it were, the viticulture program was in the midst of replanting their own vineyard so the field work during class was the perfect tie in to his own vineyard.
The first acre was planted in 2001 entirely to Merlot – which is a varietal choice that was strongly influenced by one of their top Merlot producing neighbors, Paloma Winery. A second acre was planted in 2004 entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon. The intent was to plant the vineyard and then sell the fruit but they never actually sold any grapes. Their first commercial vintage was in 2006.
Andesite Vineyards produces one wine each year, a cleverly titled wine called Mervignon – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from their vineyard as well as a small percentage of Cabernet Franc sourced from elsewhere in the valley. Charles does much of the vineyard work himself including harvest and picking decisions. He selectively hand picks fruit that is ripe – this may mean just one half ton bin at a time which he then trucks down the mountain to a winery in the southern part of the valley where their wine is actually made. Their harvest often lasts several weeks because they only pick on a vine by vine basis, focusing on what is phenologically ripe.
This rather wooded and hillside appellation is all about elevation and location. The Andesite Vineyard is at 2000 feet. Due to their unique geography and elevation the vineyard sees climatic influences from both the Napa County side as well as the Sonoma County side. The maritime influences from the ocean and neighboring Sonoma County certainly affect the growing season here.
There is a seasonal creek that divides each of their 1 acre vineyards and Charles describes the weather in this creek at times like standing in the middle of a cold stream. The air flowing close to the ground in this depression is cold but merely a few feet above the ground its noticeably warmer. Other times in the mornings nearly all of Napa Valley is covered in fog but their vineyards are in sunshine and the air is much warmer than at lower elevations. In part, these differences in temperature help make Spring Mountain unique and contribute to the complexities of the wine produced here. The growing season is very long with ripening often several weeks behind the valley floor.
The 2007 Mervignon is a blend of 47% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon (estate fruit) and 9% Cabernet franc from Napa Valley. “Mervignon” is the result of a “name the wine contest” for friends and family. Andesite is a “nod to terroir” and a direct reference to the commonly found igneous volcanic rock in this area. The 2007 vintage is a dark wine and shows a ripe but elegant nose with dominant notes of juicy blackberry, black licorice and as the wine opens, some cedar box aromas. The bouquet is very lively. The palate is rounded, smooth upon entry and slightly dusty. The tannins start mid palate; but their presence is more in the background through to the finish. The finish is long both in alcohol and flavor. This wine is 15.6 % alcohol.
With only 150 cases produced annually the wine is very selectively distributed. In the valley you can find it on the wine list at Brix Restaurant in Yountville and Cole’s Chop House in Napa. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.andesitevineyard.com