Pott Wine (Aaron, Claire & daughters) was started by long time Napa winemaker Aaron Pott. He and his wife Claire own several sizable and rugged pieces of land on Mt. Veeder. Their first property (76 acres) was purchased in 2004, a former prune orchard at about 1600 feet. They started with only 1/3 of an acre of vines and later planted out a total of additional acres to four varieties. The site is divided into 8 tiny micro-blocks and despite their proximity to each other, the differences in soils and microclimates all contribute to the characteristics in his wines. The soils up here are former marine soils which have ultimately been uplifted. Interestingly, a very short distance away as the crow flies is the summit of Mt. Veeder, roughly to the west; those soils are volcanic – at times a very white tufa like ash material as well as iron rich red rocky earth. There are none of these soils on the Pott property.
Ever the Europhile, Aaron likes to tell people that his vineyard layout is roughly in the shape of the European continent – minus the outline of Italy. In 2017 Aaron and Claire purchased another 130+ acres of land with the intent to potentially develop an additional very small section to vines. The vineyard is farmed organically; Aaron applies biodynamic practices that he learned while working in Saint-Émilion.
The focus of Pott Wines is on individually crafted wines, with respect to the vineyard site. All of their wines are produced in extremely limited quantities, and each is distinctive. No cookie cutter wines here. The initial bottling from the Pott Vineyard was merely half a barrel (until the rest of his vineyard matured). Today his Mt. Veeder vineyard is planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and about 1/2 acre of Viognier. For his own wines, Aaron makes wines he enjoys drinking, whereas as a consulting winemaker one is not always making wines for one’s own palate. Pott wines produces wines from their Mt. Veeder property, single vineyard bottlings and a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.
Aaron has built a remarkable pedigree of working with premium vineyards in Napa and in Europe. Because of his lengthy career in the Napa Valley and winemaking skills – he has access to some of the valley’s most premium vineyards, some of which he even helped to plant. And his vineyard expertise is impressive – combining his knowledge with state-of-the-art technology and a grounded holistic perspective that in part comes with working with some of the best and brightest in the industry across a variety of wine regions.
Aaron’s father was a Presbyterian minister who enjoyed German Riesling. Perhaps his father’s proclivity for wine influenced Aaron’s own career as he was drawn to wine making at a young age. Aaron grew up in Eugene, Oregon but moved around with his family based on his fathers’ career. After graduating from high school, the family was conveniently living in the town of Davis, California home of arguably the best wine school in the country, the University of California, Davis.
While at Davis he took his first job in Napa Valley, working in the lab at Robert Mondavi Winery. Through both his time at Mondavi and at UC Davis he met husband wife winemaker and professor Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith – a friendship that would eventually turn into a partnership where both parties operated Chester’s Anvil for some years before eventually stopping production of those limited wines. And interestingly, Steve and Carole also live on Mt. Veeder.
Aaron earned his undergraduate degree in Enology from UC Davis – having been one of the few Napa based winemakers who actually lived in Davis before attending college there. During his time living in France, he made wine for several chateaus and met a number of accomplished winemakers including Philippe Melka. One day Aaron had stopped next to Chateau Petrus and was not far from the winery in their vineyards sampling some grapes. Melka was working for Petrus at the time and came over to see why this guy was in the Petrus Vineyards.
Aaron’s first official winemaking job in the valley was under Napa legend John Kongsgaard at Newton Vineyard as assistant winemaker in 1990. Later Aaron moved to France where he earned his master’s degree in Viticulture from the Université of Bourgogne. Upon returning to California, he landed a dream job at Beringer as their “international winemaker” flying to countries such as Chile, Italy and France to make wine. He has been the primary winemaker at St. Clement and at Quintessa and now much of his time is in demand as a consulting winemaker for a select group of premium Napa based producers.
During our first tasting at his self-titled estate, Châteauneuf-du-Pott high in the woods of Mt. Veeder on a gloomy early spring day we sampled three of his current at that time inaugural releases. One walks into Aaron’s house and quickly spies the stack of thick Oxford Dictionaries. No, he is not a dictionary salesman in his spare time but rather is a “scholar” of the dictionary and maintains a keen interest in the English language. The names of the wines all have historical relevance and there are some rather in-depth stories behind the names. And one also sees various vintages of bottle after bottle of Château Latour lined up along one of his windowsills. These were not accumulated from years of collecting and drinking but were all consumed in one night – the price of admission for a party he had here with friends years ago.
As of our latest update to this review, Pott Wines focus on three categories of wines: their estate Chateauneuf-Du-Pott Vineyard on Mt. Veeder vineyard, single vineyard wines from around Napa Valley, and Napa Valley designate wines. Regardless of the wine, these are all small production bottlings (typically under 200 cases of each wine). There are no boring wine names here… ever. Aaron is far too creative for that. These are names that invite questions and prompt discussion, which arguably is what wine is supposed to do anyway.
The 2019 Pott Incubo (Italian for bad nightmare) Cabernet Sauvignon contains some Cabernet Franc, with both varieties from their Chateauneuf-Du-Pott Vineyard. This wine is dark ruby in color; the aromatics are immediately savory yet also complemented with plenty of fruit including blackberry. There is also a floral note here including of violets. This mountain grown wine is remarkably balanced in its youth; it offers intense flavors of primarily darker fruits including plum and black currant along with some lingering pepper spice. The finish is savory, featuring earthy and dense tannins which continue to persist for some time showing a medium grip. Great acidity. This wine will go many more years with the proper cellaring.
The 2007 Pott Kaliholmanok Spring Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon also includes small amounts of Cabernet Franc & Petit Verdot from the Bel Canto Vineyard located on the upper reaches of Spring Mountain at well over 2000 feet. Aaron remembers walking the ground with a well-known viticulturist. This individual drove up to the top of Spring Mountain (one winery has shirts that say something like, “I survived the drive to the top of Spring Mountain”) and ran his hands through the soil and simply said, “plant this”. If only all vineyard planting decisions were that simple. The wine takes its name from the local Wappo Tribe. “Kaliholmanok” literally means naked woods people friendly; let your imagination do the wandering in this case, helped a bit by the wine. The oak complements rather than contrasts with the fruit. Lingering accents of vanilla bean complement the smooth finish. This is dark wine with an elegant nose; it is somewhat perfume-driven showing both red and blue fruit with an intriguing hint of wet rock. The entry is soft and shows black fruit including currant and black cherry. This wine finishes smooth with the fine-grained tannins balancing harmoniously with the fruit. Finding the balance between elegance and power or richness is a line Pott walks well and this wine is certainly a prime example of this.
The 2007 Pott Cabernet Franc is from a 1/2-acre block on rolling hills in Coombsville near Mt. George. This wine came about because of a lunch in Paris. Aaron was eating lunch with a friend while drinking an exquisite bottle of Cabernet Franc. He bet his friend that he could make a Napa Valley Cabernet Franc in the style of Loire Valley while his friend said he would fail, and the wine would be more Bordeaux in style. The short story is that Aaron failed at this attempt and had to pay up after creating the wine! The end result is a Cabernet Franc that is more Bordeaux in style. Cabernet Franc can be very aromatic and as this wine opens the bouquet reveals an deep complexity of aroma. It shows pretty floral and herbal aromas with just a touch of earthiness, rather than having a spicy component as some Cabernet Francs have in the nose. This wine is rounded and elegant on the palate with good acid balance. It is not a dense overripe Cabernet Franc; this is in part attributed to vineyard management and harvest decisions.
The 2007 Pott Ralph the Liar is 100% Howell Mountain fruit and is almost all Cabernet Sauvignon with just a touch of Cabernet Franc. Dark fruit shows on the bouquet including blackberry and black currant. The mid palate is rich yet rounded and completed by broad but balanced tannins. This is a classic mountain Napa Cabernet Sauvignon yet without those classic big tannins that Howell Mountain wines are known for.
Pott’s extremely limited production Viognier is well worth seeking out. There is not much of this variety in all of Napa Valley, much less growing on Mt. Veeder. The only other producer on Veeder we know of growing Viognier is Progeny.
Lagier Meredith Vineyard
In 2022 Pott Wines was gifted the Lagier Meredith Vineyard, also on Mt. Veeder. Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith developed this vineyard and until the 2021 vintage, produced wines from the site bottled under Lagier Meredith. Carole was one of Aaron’s professors at UC Davis and Aaron later met Steve in 1988 when applying for a temporary lab technician at Robert Mondavi Winery (at the time Steve was the lab manager at Mondavi). Starting with the 2022 vintage, Aaron has assumed full control of the winemaking from the grapes from this property, bottling the wines under his Pott brand.
The total property is 84 acres of which 4-acres are planted to vine. The soils here are marine in heritage, mostly sandstone and shale. These are vines with views – the vineyard is located at 1300 feet on the slopes of Mt. Veeder in the Mayacamas mountains. From parts of the property one can see into the San Pablo Bay, part of the Bay Bridge to the south and to the furthest ridgeline to the east before reaching the central valley. Due to its elevation, fog is often below the property, but sometimes reaches their vineyards and even can blanket slopes higher on Mt. Veeder.
The property was site of an old wagon wheel road – part of what was called the “Winter Roads”. These dirt roads were used by stagecoaches in the wintertime to connect between the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. During rainy times of the year, parts of Napa and southern Sonoma would become very muddy and marsh like as a result the dirt roads leading over the rocky hills were the primary conduits between the valleys. The long driveway (now paved) leading to the vineyard and homesite was part of one of these roads.
Most of this property is wooded and covered with natural vegetation. As a result, their vineyard is somewhat isolated from other vineyards. This has its benefits including never needing to net vines from hungry birds; the size of their vineyard is in balance with the size of the surrounding woods. They don’t need owl boxes either as owls use the existing trees as their homes.
The site had never been planted to vines; the previous owner before Carole and Steve had already cleared out trees – leaving a site that could be developed into a vineyard. But Carole and Steve had to first remove all the roots and stumps and prepare the land for vines as well as implement soil erosion controls. They planted their first vines (Syrah) in 1994 and for 10 years focused on producing wine from this one variety. Later they added three additional varieties to the property including the very rare for Napa Valley Mondeuse Noire, Zinfandel and Malbec.
Pott’s wines tend to quickly sell out through their mailing list. The best way to order some of these wines is by signing up for their mailing list, with offers emailed to list members four times per year, including a special large format offering. Over the years, we have also seen select Pott wines available in local wine shops including Backroom Wines in the city of Napa.
For more information and to join the mailing list, visit: www.pottwine.com or view a number of his old wine related articles posted on the Atlantic Monthly here: www.theatlantic.com/aaron-pott
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