Hayfork Wine Company focuses on one variety – one wine from the same block of the same vineyard each year. The wine is Cabernet Sauvignon and the vineyard is the historic Lewelling Vineyard located in St. Helena. This is one of the oldest continuously owned and family farmed pieces of land in the Napa Valley; a little history is in order. John Lewelling came to the valley in 1864, built a house in 1870 (still there by the way) and planted vineyards along with prunes and walnuts. He built a winery (no longer used as a winery) and actually owned a wine warehouse in St. Helena along with Napa’s winery pioneers Charles Krug and the Beringers.
Phylloxera hit in the late 1800’s and the family switched to growing mainly walnuts. They even installed a dehydrator and other small orchards around the valley would bring their walnuts to them. This lasted until the 1970’s. Cabernet Sauvignon was first planted on site in 1972. After realizing how well this variety grew on the property over the years the family continued to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and today this variety comprises about 95% of what is grown in the vineyard. The original planting of this variety lasted well over 30 years until 2008 when production dropped to the point that it was removed. Eighty vineyard acres are planted including smaller amounts of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The vineyard is located on alluvial soils that have drained down from the Mayacamas mountains over the centuries, bench-land if you will.
Hayfork is run by the husband wife team of Erik Dodd and Haley Wight. Erik helps manage Lewelling Vineyard as well as another 500 acres up and down the valley for his father in law, Doug of Wight Vineyard Management. Haley is Hayfork’s winemaker – she grew up on the property – spending one’s formative years in agricultural settings are invaluable. To quote from Hayfork’s website, she says, “As a child I roamed my family’s ranch with a sense of freedom most children today are denied. I explored creeks, climbed trees, picked berries and walked through vineyard rows searching for arrowheads. I was grateful to know the land, but in my innocence did not realize how quite fortunate I was.”
Haley’s wine making experience in Napa came at Terra Valentine as well as Ballentine. Today she focuses her efforts on Hayfork and also makes the wine for Lewelling Vineyards’ own label. As Erik admits, he considers Hayfork privileged to be able to source fruit from the Lewelling Vineyard. Top producers in the valley have and currently source from the vineyard including Caymus, Viader, and Beaulieu. Today there is even a waiting list for fruit from the vineyard.
The 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon is blended with 5% Merlot (also grown at the Lewelling Vineyard). At the time of this review this wine had not yet been released. 75% New French Oak was used in the aging – the wine making style is classic in nature using small lot fermentation and relying mostly on management practices in the the vineyard along with the harvest date. The wine shows a dark ruby color in the glass. The bouquet changes nicely as it breathes – there are notes of vanilla, brown chocolate and fruit including black currant and red cherry. The wine has a soft mouth feel until mid palate where it gains in complexity and shows nice flavor and nuances of cedar. Both dusty fruit and oak tannins (not huge tannins) linger for some time and anchor the very long finish.
The 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon like the other wines we have tasted from the Lewelling Vineyard has an appealing earthy characteristic to the nose. It is quite dark in the glass with bold berry fruit flavors on the palate. Dusty tannins linger for some time on the finish complemented by just a nuance of cocoa powder. Like the previous vintage, this was bottled unfined and unfiltered.
The name “Hayfork” has several meanings for a variety of reasons. Its a play on Haley’s name, is also a reference to the tiny town of Hayfork in the Trinity Mountains of Northern California where the family spent quite a bit of time fishing – as well as a tribute to their farming background. The first vintage was released in 2006.
With only 300 to 500 cases currently produced (depending on the year) as expected distribution is rather selective. Having the luxury of owning the vineyard and additional blocks to source from, they can expand their production as needed and have done so over the past few years. You can find the wine locally at Backroom Wines in Napa and V Wine Cellars in Yountville as well as direct through their website. Visit: www.hayforkwine.com