The Vineyardist is one of those rare historical properties within Napa that often fly under the radar. Vineyards on site date to the late 1870′s and the story begins with a Dutch Shipping captain by the name of Lorenz Petersen. He made a small fortune from the shipping industry but promptly lost nearly all of it in the stock market during a financial crisis that is known as The Panic of 1873. This crisis came about because of less demand Internationally for silver.
Lorenz and his wife took $2000 that he fortunately had not deposited, moved north and purchased property on what is now Diamond Mountain in 1879. At the same time he built a sturdy gorgeous Victorian home (still standing). Despite losing a fortune in the market, $2000 was still a lot of money back then.
Lorenz began to plant a number of wine grapes, with varietals that were popular in those days – often called “mixed blacks” or field blends. Alicante, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel were planted among others. His first vintage was from 1884. Wine brokers would make the trip up to his property by train from San Francisco – taste through his wines and then buy casks on the spot. The barrels were shipped back to San Francisco on the train (in those days ran all the way to Calistoga) and then sold to those who bottled it under their custom label.
The wine production shut down by 1919 (as most productions did in the valley with the onset of Prohibition) and eventually the vineyard blocks were converted over to walnuts and prunes.
Fast forward to year 2000 – Dirk Fulton and Betty Kukkola purchased the property, hired noted winemaker Mark Herold (incidentally, Mark’s first Cabernet Sauvignon project since he sold his own brand, Merus) and vineyard manager, Jim Barbour and soon began to plant vines. While there are 80 acres on site, only five of which are currently planted in vine. There are four unique blocks – two of which are planted in the exact same footprints as the original plantings. The Vineyardist focuses on merely one estate wine each year – a 100% varietal Cabernet Sauvignon from two Cabernet Sauvignon clones.
Much of the property is a “rockpile” and the vines have to really struggle to grow here. There are a number of soil types on the property – much of which is volcanic and extremely rocky.
Their first vintage was from 2004, however each vintage from 2004 to 2008 was never released. With high standards for quality and wanting to wait until the vines reached greater maturity, both Dirk and Betty decided it was best to hold back these vintages from commercial production.
As a result, their 2009 vintage was the first released to market. Less than 400 cases were made of this vintage with even smaller productions to follow for the next several years. Each clone is fermented and aged separately until the final blend is created. The wine is aged in all new French oak.
The 2009 vintage is dark and aromatically shows a nice vibrancy in the glass – showing ripe blackberry, black currant and cedar notes – as the wine opens more influence of the oak shows including a vanilla, similar in aroma to a cream soda and a smokiness. Mineralites and even notes of graphite show in the background as the wine continues to evolve in the glass.
The palate is all about the vineyard’s well managed mountain fruit – and the integrated tannins anchoring the pleasing finish are a testament to this. Notes of vanilla, more in the background linger delicately. This wine has brings both power and finesse to the bottle – power in the fruit and finesse in its structure.
This wine holds us well after it has been opened. As it breathes there is less influence from the oak on the bouquet – the nose becomes more elegant over time.
General Manager Roy Piper speaks of a renaissance of sorts for Diamond Mountain. It was a region that was especially hit hard with Phyloxera in the 1980′s and often replants in the 1980′s and early 1990′s were on rootstalks and clones that were not necessarily optimum for this region’s terroir.
The name is a tribute to their properties’ history – wine brokers referred to those who grew grapes and made wine not as vintners as today, but as a “vineyardist”. Because there was a winery on the property the estate is grandfathered in with an existing winery bond. The wines are currently made at a winery in the southern part of Napa but plans are in the works to build a new winery on site.
This part of Napa is somewhat of a Banana belt and remains relatively frost free during the winter months. We have personally seen or heard about several avocado trees growing in this part of Diamond Mountain as well as on the Sonoma/Napa County line nearby. The elevation is around 1100 feet and is typically slightly cooler than the valley floor during the summer months. The property benefits from a gap that runs through the Mayacamas mountains in this part of Diamond Mountain (the same gap that benefits Diamond Creek vineyards and other nearby wineries).
The main gap runs slightly south of the property and in an east/west orientation and during warm summer afternoons, cool breezes flow from Sonoma County through a sub channel of this gap and flow right over their vineyards. In general, the microclimate of this particular site produces moderate temperatures which helps create even ripening in the vines.
The property itself is stunning – with commanding views of the northern part of the Napa Valley as well as Mt. St Helena which dominates this part of Napa. Beside vineyards, the estate is also planted to many citrus trees (much of which is sold locally), a large avocado tree thrives here as well as beautiful herb gardens. Olive oil and herbs are sold to local restaurants.
Their wine is sold via a mailing list. For more information visit: