Somnium Wine was founded by long time race-car driver and wine enthusiast Danica Patrick. Her career has in part been about breaking racing barriers for women. Her win in the 2008 Indy Japan 300 is still the only win by a woman in a IndyCar Series. Her final races were the Daytona 500 in February 2018 and the Indy 500 in May 2018.
She visited the Napa Valley in 2006 and was impressed by her winery experiences and related hospitality and also by the premium wines she tried. One of her visits was to Quintessa where winemaker at the time, Aaron Pott stopped by to introduce himself. He ended up walking Danica and her friends to the back of the property where one is always greeted with bucolic views overlooking their vineyards and picturesque pond. They started discussing race cars (a topic that Aaron is well-versed in) and then the conversation invariably led back to wine. Aaron offered his expertise should Danica every decide she wanted to own a slice of the Napa Valley.
Like the world of wine, one must presume the world of racing is a fairly tight knit community. Danica also had another connection in the Napa Valley – Rico Abreu (vineyard manager David Abreu’s son) is a professional stock car racing driver who has already enjoyed some success in a short career to date. When Danica was ready to begin another chapter in her life, she called Aaron and instructed him she wanted to purchase “an A ++ site” in the valley. With Aaron and David Abreu’s help they located a rugged and extremely rocky western facing site on the slopes below Howell Mountain. The site had never been developed for vineyards. Danica first saw the property in 2008 and purchased it in 2009.
While the uppermost elevation of the site is around 1375 feet (only a few feet below the Howell Mountain sub appellation) the views from this hillside perch on a clear day are as spectacular and even more intimate as any on the higher western facing slopes of Howell Mountain.
The site is 24 acres of which only 6 acres are planted to vine – separated into unique blocks. The vines were planted between 2011 and 2016. This was not an easy site to develop – several years were dedicated to preparing the slopes to be planted – including removing some 50 tons of rock; a number of impressive rock piles surrounding parts of the vineyard are testament to their efforts. Much of the rock was even ground up and redistributed within the vineyard. The majority of the vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon but small blocks of Cabernet Franc and Petite Verdot are also grown on site.
The vineyard is farmed organically and should be certified CCOF by 2019.
Farming is challenging due to the rocky environment and at times steep slopes as well as the logistics of accessing each of the separate blocks (none are contiguous). As expected in such a rocky environment, the yields are somewhat small – usually around 2.5 tons/acre. Pina Vineyard Management planted the vineyard and has overseen the vines since their inception.
The first wine made for Danica by Aaron was in 2010 from purchased fruit from the acclaimed Stagecoach Vineyard. Only a barrel of this wine was made – mostly for friends and family and for gifts in the racing world. The first wine from the property was from the 2013 vintage – only a barrel was produced and never released. The first official release was from the 2014 vintage – and subsequent vintages have all been 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon. Total production on a good year is around 950 cases from the property.
Somnium also produces a rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon – their 2017 vintage sold out in about an hour – only 50 cases were produced. Subsequent vintages will be slightly higher production. Plans call for additional wines – perhaps a very limited bottling of Cabernet Franc and fruit for a 2017 Sauvignon was sourced from a premium vineyard in Knights Valley (slightly to the north of the Napa Valley). Like with another producer Aaron consults for on this variety, the Somnium Sauvignon Blanc is aged in amphora clay vessels made in Italy.
After leaving her prior position at Terra Valentine Winery, Napa Valley native and now General Manager Tracy Smith was planning on moving to Oregon. However her neighbor is Aaron Pott and after he heard that Tracy was planning on moving out of state and was in between jobs – he approached her about possibly working with Somnium. She came on board in 2016.
The label is creatively designed. Somnium in Latin means “to dream” – one of Danica’s key philosophies in life. She followed her dream and encourages others do the same. The red dot above the ‘i’ in Somnium refers to a sense of place – being somewhere and enjoying that particular moment and place. And the catchy curvy line refers to the pathway that one follows in life – this path never follows a straight line – life is about twists and turns and unexpected events. Or one could look at the line as a racetrack or even representing the windy road leading to the vineyard site.
The 2014 Somnium Cabernet Sauvignon is dark ruby in the glass – almost purplish. Shows an elegant ripeness on the bouquet with mostly darker fruit, black fig, blackberry and wet stone. As it breathes, hints of cedar box, baking spices and mocha show. It is an inviting bouquet. A noticeable density of fruit frames the mid palate leading to an appealing texture anchoring the finish. While showing rich fruit – the wine is very well balanced – perhaps an Aaron Pott trademark. Textured but fine-grained tannins linger softly along with fruit completing a satisfying and supple finish. Drinks beautifully in its youth.
Somnium wines are available via an allocation list. Tastings can be arranged by appointment and are held at a premium St. Helena winery (where their wines are currently made). A permit was issued to drill a cave on site – eventually they may do so and move their wine making on site. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.somniumwine.com