Marketta Winery produces small quantity premium Napa Valley wines handcrafted by long time French and American winemaker Marketta Fourmeaux. Marketta first came to California as an exchange student for one year in the 1960’s and then returned to California where she lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for several years. She came to the Napa Valley in 1980 after the famous Paris tasting of 1976 – the French government wanted research on Napa wineries and a report back on her findings. She decided not to return to France since she fell in love with the Napa Valley and instead opened her own winery – which was located on the steep slopes of Mt Veeder for many years until it was sold in 2007. Her original introduction with Mt. Veeder was in the early 1980’s when she was making the Chateau Potelle wine at Hess Collection.
After selling Chateau Potelle she began researching custom crush facilities for making her own wines but quickly realized it made most sense from a wine making perspective to have full control of her wine making operations. She already owned a home near downtown Napa (an old Victorian that dates from 1887) and below the first floor was a 3.5 foot tall ‘crawl space’. Needing to be near her wine (and having a perspective of how small wineries operate in Burgundy) led her to excavate under her house entirely by hand – shovel by shovel with dirt and rock carted away in wheel barrels. The excavation was a year long project – ultimately she secured a bond to produce wine commercially ‘under the house’ in this residential neighborhood.
We have visited a number of “garagiste” wineries in the Napa Valley and Marketta’s winery is one of the top three that we’ve seen.
She designed it from scratch to be a fully working winery (on a micro scale). While small, the winery functions well – there is space for barrels, several stainless steel tanks, a press and even an area to hand label each bottle. Her ‘crush pad’ is on the ground floor outside the winery with a ‘trap door’ that opens into the winery where her grapes can then be processed. Despite being a fairly ‘new’ winery – walking into this cellar feels like walking back in time – with old medals and awards hanging on the walls, the use of old recycled wood and even old metal frames dating from the 1940’s of an old plate and frame wine filter.
This is the third winery Marketta has developed in her wine-making career – the first was Les Jamelles in Languedoc, southern France followed by Chateau Potelle in Napa’s Mt. Veeder appellation. At each winery her production has decreased – in France she made about 100,000 cases annually, at Chateau Potelle over 25,000 cases and now she is focusing on only several wines including a Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a red blend from a vineyard on Mt. Veeder. Her first vintage dates from 2007 and total production as of our latest update is only 200 cases.
Minimalistic winemaking is key to Marketta’s winemaking style. As she says, “the less you manipulate the grape, the more you bring out the site specific characteristics” – terroir if you will. And natural fermentation using indigenous yeasts is an important component of this style of winemaking. This type of winemaking certainly takes more “babysitting” as she says – it is more time intensive and detail oriented. However with more than 25 harvests under her belt she has been able to overcome the challenges created by natural fermentation.
Rather than the common 7-12 days of fermentation that occurs after inoculating with commercial yeast, Marketta’s wines sometimes take up to 2 months to finish their primary fermentations. Marketta has noticed that fermenting her wines with true natural yeast result in different flavors and characteristics – flavors that have long been sought out by her consumers. And this is especially true with each barrel – it is its own entity with its own unique flavors and characteristics.
She was trained in a classic style of wine making in France and has developed “her” style of wines over the years. Marketta is not in wine making to follow fads, trends or gimmicks – she follows her own style. There are a number of vintners in the valley fermenting using native yeasts; Marketta says true natural fermentation is fairly difficult. The most important aspect of natural fermentation is that a winery needs to be in a “neutral” location – meaning it is not subjected to additional yeasts from commercial fermentations or is nearby other wineries. New barrels are needed (for both fermentation and aging) and cleanliness is critical in the winery.
Similar to styles of cooking – length of time makes a difference and allows the flavors to integrate and develop additional complexities and nuances. Nothing is done quick here. Once the wine is in the bottle it is aged for significant more time before it is released; take for instance her Sauvignon Blanc – most vintages are typically several years younger then Marketta’s releases. Most of her current releases are 6 and 7 years past the vintage date including her Chardonnay (which is built to age longer then many quick to market wines of this varietal).
During a recent visit we sampled two vintages of her Sauvignon Blanc; both wines were sourced from Pope Valley in eastern Napa County. She planted this vineyard and has overseen its management and development – she has worked with its fruit for a number of years prior to making wine under the Handmade by Marketta label.
The 2007 vintage has benefited like all of Marketta’s wines from additional aging. The bouquet is elegant and initially shows notes of tangerine, citrus blossom and as the wine opens an enticing honeycomb aroma emerges as well as fainter notes of pineapple. This wine is rounded, yet retains a nice crispness. Additional aging has helped the wine develop complexities and nuances in both the bouquet and the palate. It is a very balanced wine.
Of the two wines, the 2009 vintage is a good choice for pairing with food (Marketta recommends clam pasta). This vintage is of course younger but it also has a higher acidity. The bouquet is clearly different from the older vintage; notes of Meyer lemon, orange peel and citrus blossom show along with a flinty characteristic. The mouth feel is clean and crisp with a smooth finish.
Marketta’s efforts over the years speak through her wines but it is always nice to be Internationally recognized as well. In 2008 she was awarded the Medaille de L’Ordre du Merite Agricole by the French President and Government (a past recipient was Louis Pasteur). Her wines are available direct through her website and mailing list as well as select restaurants in the Napa Valley. Her production is so small that she focuses her very limited distribution locally. For more information and to join her mailing list visit: www.markettawinery.com
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