Wicker Vineyards is operated by long time Napa Valley natives, Ron and Lisa Wicker. Ron runs a successful Napa Valley based vineyard management company currently managing approximately 300 vineyard acres in the valley. Over the years, he has certainly left his mark on a number of vineyards up and down the valley and in 2010 was named “Napa Valley Grapegrowers 2010 Grower of the Year.”
Ron grew up in Pope Valley (eastern Napa County) and remembers in the early 1960’s his vineyard neighbors used to exclusively farm with horses. His first vineyard experience was helping out on this farm and he swore he would never sucker another grapevine in his life before leaving for college to Fresno State. Never say never. Upon returning to the Napa Valley he started working in the vineyards in the late 1960’s and by 1972 had formed his own vineyard management company.
Their four acres of vineyards were planted in 1990; Ron purchased the property in 2000 and replanted nearly half in 2001. Today the vineyard is entirely planted to two clones of Cabernet Sauvignon – the fruit for their one Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% estate and 100% varietal.
While the upper part of the vineyard reaches 1400 feet (the elevation where the Howell Mountain appellation starts) their vineyard is not actually within the appellation (due to how the appellation contours were drawn). The vineyard itself is rather unique; this is rare terroir for this part of the Vaca Mountain Range. The vineyard is on the western facing side of this mountain range but the entire vineyard’s exposure faces directly north!
Due to their elevation they are right at the edge of the inversion layer – so often times in the summer it will be completely clear in the early mornings while the valley below is blanketed in a layer of fog, but later in the morning the fog starts rising and sometimes reaches their vineyard.
The vineyard is super rocky – even to the point that large slabs of rock visibly show in places below a shallow topsoil. This certainly stresses the vines adding additional complexities to the fruit. In addition, the vineyard is very steep, even with the terracing in place. All work is completely done by hand from the trellising, pruning and picking. Small bins are used during harvest and the fruit is sorted during picking before it is taken to the winery. Harvest usually runs several weeks as they do not pick the entire vineyard at once, rather focusing on only the sections that are ripe, even down to flagging certain rows.
Ron has developed a very unique system of watering the vines (first we’ve seen at the hundreds of vineyards in the valley we’ve visited). In his vineyard Ron noticed that when watering on the surface next to each vine, much of the water would drain off down the hill (acidic soils also aren’t the best for absorbing water) and would also support the growth of weeds in the summer. One day he had the idea to develop a water delivery tube system. These plastic tubes are buried in the ground up to 16 inches. The drip system drops water into these tubes which delivers the water directly to the root system. Additionally, this system conserves water so that its delivered directly to where its needed while at the same time avoids supporting surface vegetation.
While in the Marlborough wine region of New Zealand Ron witnessed a large winery composting on a big scale. He thought why not do this on a small scale for his own vineyard. All their cuttings are chipped, composted and then redistributed in the vineyard.
Wicker’s winemaker is Dennis Johns (former owner of White Cottage Winery on Howell Mountain) – Ron has known him for many years, since they went to high school together in St. Helena. Dennis has made every vintage since their first commercial release in 2001. Ron has long known the style of wines he prefers to drink; wines that are lower in alcohol, have good acidity and well managed tannins. Along with the very important aspect of “balance” – these are the wines Wicker Vineyards strives to produce. Wicker Vineyards represents Ron’s 40+ years managing vineyards – as he says, “40 years of his career in a bottle.” There is absolutely no substitute for experience in this industry.
Another “never say never” story is why they currently produce a rather unique Chardonnay (by Napa standards). Ron never drank much Chardonnay because of the common stylistic extremes this varietal takes. On one hand you have the oaky buttery Chardonnay contrasted with the much more lean minerally style. Wicker Vineyards has developed a wine that is a balance of the two. The 2010 Chardonnay was the first vintage of this varietal that they released. In 2009 they ended up with a little extra Chardonnay so they made some non commercial wine. And as Ron says, “we poured it for everyone who had an empty glass.” It was a hit and a number of people encouraged them to make the wine commercially.
They source the fruit from a rather unique vineyard – 2-3 extremely long rows of vines planted alongside the road in the Napa Airport industrial park! This park in South Napa requested that Ron plant Chardonnay as part of their landscaping some 20 years ago (he’s managed the vineyard ever since). Sometimes you get lucky on terroir – especially since the vines grow on industrial park soil which was well excavated and moved around during the actual construction of the park.
The 2010 saw no malolactic fermentation, and the lees were stirred 3x a week during its aging. As a result there is both good crispness and acid balance along with some nice viscosity. Aging was in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. It is a balanced wine which is entirely what they are striving for. Some mineralities, tropical overtones and citrus show on the bouquet with rich concentrated fruit on the mid palate. The finish is clean, shows some baking spice notes and lingers delicately.
With their commitment to quality and releasing wines that are ready to be consumed at the time of purchase, the Wickers hold back their wines significantly longer than common “current” releases. As a result, current releases are often 6 and 7 years old. They even released their 2005 before their 2004 as the 2004 wasn’t quite ready.
The 2004 is an expressive wine both on the bouquet and on the palate. The lively nose shows notes of cigar box, brown chocolate and a hint of white pepper but at its core is a beautiful mix of both red and dark fruit aromas. The mouth feel is supple and smooth and there is no mistaking that mouth watering natural acidity. The fine grained tannins linger softly.
The 2005 takes a bit longer to open up than the 2004. Initially it shows savory aromas of meat fat but then as it evolves in the glass more fruit comes forward. A sweet core of fruit aromas show, more red fruit than dark fruit. The mid palate is rich with a finish that is structured and slightly larger than the 2004 vintage. At the core of both of these wines are balance, natural acidity, the expression of Cabernet Sauvignon and their approachability.
Look for Wicker Vineyards to release a premium Cabernet Sauvignon dessert style wine sometime in the future. Premium spirits were used for the fortification of this wine (2006 vintage). Too many producers use lower grade spirits in these style wines and that defeats the purpose. While the grapes were picked late, the leaves were still green and the fruit still had a decent amount of acid to balance the higher sugar. This is a wine we look forward to tasting once its released. One word will form the back label, “Yummy”!
750 Wines in St. Helena carries both their Chardonnay and their Cabernet Sauvignon. They are selectively distributed in California as well as Georgia. For more information and to join their mailing list visit: www.wickervineyards.com