Olivia Brion is run by Napa wine veteran David Mahaffey with his focus being Pinot Noir as well as sometimes Chardonnay. David has been making wines in the Napa Valley since 1980 and has also taught winemaking at Napa Valley College. All vineyard sources for this wine come from one of Napa’s older (dates from 1988) but generally least well-known sub appellations. This appellation is Wild Horse Valley, is located within mere airline miles of the town of Napa and is one of only two sub appellations in the Napa Valley to encompass parts of two counties (the other being Carneros).
David was instrumental in getting approval for this sub appellation. This appellation is also one of Napa’s coolest – often cooler than even the noted “cool king” Carneros. During a recent visit to their Heron Lake Vineyard in the middle of summer it was windy, clear and fairly cold even during late morning/early afternoon. What differentiates this site from some of the lower south valley sites is the elevation of the vineyard is around 1300 to 1400 feet and as a result sees more sunshine hours than lower in the valley which is often blanketed by fog in the summer months. What also contributes to the vineyard’s colder location is its fairly close proximity to the San Pablo Bay. All fruit for their wine is sourced from this one vineyard – about 10 planted acres on a 1000 estate ranch, much of which is steep and unpalatable and not even serviced by roads. One well-known winery in St. Helena sources fruit from this vineyard for their wildly popular unfiltered Chardonnay. Due to the cool growing climate this area is ideal for growing Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
David’s philosophy is of course that winemaking starts in the vineyards and he describes his vineyard management as not being farmed, rather it is gardened organically. He lets the fruit ripen to peak perfection and opens up the canopy to allow for even ripening. The real art of a winemaker is in the blending and David excels at this. All the wine making is conducted with as little machine intervention as possible with much of the work done by hand.
As of mid 2009 Olivia Brion has moved into a new gravity-flow, solar powered, completely green winery dedicated to both their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – their first crush at their own winery after 28 years will be in 2009. It is rather difficult to have an appellation association when you are the only winery in the entire 3000+ acre Wild Horse Valley appellation! Despite sometimes hearing the city noises of Napa off in the distance the vineyard is surrounded entirely by native vegetation and it is a challenge to spot any homes in the distance in all directions. The location feels quite remote but in actually isn’t really.
David’s philosophy is to create a wine that is not a huge typical Napa Cabernet high alcohol, fruit dominated wine, but rather a wine that yes, has ripe California fruit characteristics, but is lower in alcohol with a Bordeaux type structure (open top fermentors and a moist humid cave in part help the wine lose alcohol). As a result he can pick at optimum ripeness but not have to worry about the higher alcohol levels based on his specific winemaking. As David says, Pinot Noir is a graceful wine, just not at 15% alcohol. Yes, we agree! Earlier in his career, David was instrumental in designing what is now an essential piece of equipment for many wineries, the wine ozone machine used for controlling contamination, treating barrels and sanitizing applications. At the time of his invention this type of machinery was unheard of in the wine industry. Today, it is available through one company only (Carlsen & Associates) and many of Napa’s wineries use this in their wine production.
We tried the 2006 Pinot Noir. If there ever was a perfect Pinot this is a good candidate and after tasting the Olivio Brion Pinot’s you have to wonder why isn’t there more Pinot Noir coming from the Wild Horse Valley Appellation. This wine is dark ruby in the glass showing wonderful fruit aromas, hints of white pepper and floral notes including dried rose petals. The palate is intense in flavor, juicy on the entry yet smooth on the palate. Raspberries and red cherry with soft notes of dried cranberry anchor the body on this lively very well balanced wine. There is almost an earthiness and or minerality component present especially towards the finish. The finish is smooth, clean and of great length.
The 2007 Pinot Noir shows a variety of Asian spices on the nose and as the bouquet opens it reveals an alluring floral component including violet and lavender. The palate shows plum, raspberry and a hint of white pepper. Both vintages have great natural acidity which make these wines perfect for enjoying with a meal especially rich French food (you can find their Pinot at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville).
Olivia Brion also makes an extremely small production of a unique non vintage port-styled wine (Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Viognier) called Lord Nelson “Victory”, named after a famed British naval hero. Non vintage wines are fairly rare to come by in the Napa Valley. As David says, “its no trick to make sweet wine”; however the expertise comes into play when making a “sweet’ wine that is complex both on the bouquet and palate. This is a rich extremely dark, almost black wine in the glass. It will stain your teeth (albeit very temporarily), warm you up (not as temporary), and based on the structure, fruit and acidity has significant aging potential. It shows tremendous concentration of black fruit and dark chocolate as well as an almost wild or earthy component similar to what you may find in some Charbono wines.
Olivia Brion can be found in select very high end restaurants nation wide as well as at some of the wine shops in the Napa Valley. On the bottles of wine both David and the grape grower’s names are listed under their mutual title of “Fabulist”. Wondering who Olivia Brion is and wondering why you cannot find any information about her online other than in relation to this winery? You would do well to look up the world Fabulist. Visit: www.oliviabrion.com
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