Tierra Roja Vineyard – Every so often on our journeys through the Napa Valley we come across a gem – Tierra Roja is one of those gems both for the exceptional vineyard site, the quality of wines and the warmth, hospitality and generosity of owner and founder, Linda Neal.
Linda’s discovered her interest in agriculture early in life – growing up in Southern California she became involved with Future Farmers of America (FFA) in high school (an organization she continues to support today). She came to the Napa Valley in 1983 while working for the French based company, Rhone Poulenc. Her early work in the valley was a study in Botrytis control. This study led to additional vineyard related work and by the time she “retired” she had over 20 years experience running M&L Vineyard Management within the Napa Valley for premium wineries. As she says “the wine industry gets in your blood and it becomes a life long passion”.
Today she manages a 4-acre piece of land in the heart of the Oakville Appellation. She purchased this property in 1987 and planted it to vines in 1989.
Everything about Linda’s involvement with Tierra Roja is tied to her land; in Spanish, “Tierra Roja” means “red soil”; this describes her terroir perfectly. When exposed, this brilliant red soil can be seen from a long ways away. We recently had a chance to visit and walk the extremely steep terraced slopes of her property. From the upper part of the hillside vineyard there are excellent views overlooking the entire central Napa Valley. Various Cabernet Clones are planted, the types of clones combined with the steep extremely rocky soils produces very small grapes.
Attention to detail in the vineyard is key and Linda continuously manages all aspects of the vines year round. Over the years with her long history of working with grapevines, Linda has learned many of the state of the art vineyard management practices that she now employs on her own vineyard. Pulling leaves to provide just the right amount of exposure in the weeks leading up to harvest is an integral part of her vineyard management. Each vine is individually managed based on its vigor and other factors. Timing is everything in vineyard management, especially with dropping fruit during post veraison.
Only the “best” fruit is allowed to fully ripen. The entire vineyard ripens roughly about the same time and the grapes are generally all harvested on a single day. This vineyard tends to be among the earliest ripening of the Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in the Oakville appellation. With nearby vineyards that include Screaming Eagle, Showket, Rudd and Dalla Valle it is no wonder that another nearby vintner has coined the term “Magic Hill” for this unique Eastern hillside part of Oakville.
Tierra Roja produced wine for 3 vintages but never released them, determined to perfect their winemaking style as well as deciding which vineyard blocks to use.
Note the plow that is featured on the label. It is a testament to how the property used to be farmed as well as a tie in to FFA (Future Farmer’s of America). Today rather than using a horse and plow, cover crops are planted in between the rows and the entire vineyard is managed by hand. The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon was their first vintage, which we had the privilege of trying. All fruit for this wine is from Linda’s vineyard, it is 100% varietal and only 160 cases of this wine were produced (all sold out – but look for future vintages via their online mailing list).
The Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon is a special wine that has the “it” factor. It is a wine that is easily on par with any of the best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons that we have sampled on this project; the “it factor” has that special richness combined with elegance that is not always found but when you do, it is a special treat.
The 2004 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon is a deep dark ruby red wine in the glass – it is seamless on the palate. By this we mean it is rich, but elegant with superb balance. The nose has seductive aromas of ripe fruit including blackberry interwoven with a cedar box of spices and nuances of a beautiful earthiness that is representative of this particular terroir. The broad expressive flavors of fruit are immediately felt on the palate and you may even pick up some mineral notes towards the finish which lingers leaving you wanting to take another sip.
Winemaker David DeSante was Tierra Roja’s founding winemaker – in 2015 Jeff Ames (his own label Rudius and long time winemaker for TOR Wines) took over the wine making duties which he held until 2020.
The 2015 Tierra Roja Cabernet Sauvignon is dark crimson in the glass. The wine offers a pretty nose – with both floral and fruit aromas including dried rose petals and ripe blackberry. Shows plenty of depth on the bouquet given time to breathe – revealing more fruit as it opens. Also notes of cedar box and darker spices at times including crushed black pepper. Is somewhat savory. Opulent and young on the palate shows a nice textural density on the finish but no harshness of structure. The tannins are slightly earthy and somewhat chewy. Still showing young as expected only 3 years after the vintage date. Lingering notes of mocha.
Based on the small acreage and the fact that Tierra Roja does sell some of its fruit to other vintners, their production will always be extremely small (usually around 250 cases a year). The best opportunity to acquire wine is to join the mailing list – mailing list membership will receive notification every summer for Linda’s annual September release party (for her current vintage).
A number of premium restaurants in the Napa Valley also carry the wine. Sometimes Linda puts on private vineyard clinics in which she discusses viticulture and how vines are managed. During these clinics guests learn how to tie, prune, sucker and or thin some of the vines. Tierra Roja also supports a variety of non profits with their large format bottle charity program – including Vine Village.
For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.tierraroja.com
Note: in late 2018 Linda joined the Peace Corps and served in Morocco, through early 2020. In anticipation of her time abroad, in 2018 she sold her other winery Mellowood Vineyard (located in El Dorado County, east of Sacramento). When she left, we said that this time would go by in an absolute blink of an eye. Course it went by even quicker since all Peace Corps personnel were evacuated back to the United States in early 2020. She is back in the Napa Valley focusing her efforts on her vineyard and the Tierra Roja wines.
Tierra Roja Vineyard