Vineyard 7 & 8. Founders Launny and Weezie Steffens purchased 40 acres of land high atop Spring Mountain in 1999. Both have traveled extensively in Asia and developed an appreciation for numerology – the numbers chosen for their name are considered lucky in many Asian cultures. In another tie in to numbers, Launny has worked in the investment world for decades including for 15 years as the head of private-client business for Merrill Lynch & Co. Today he oversees Spring Mountain Capital, a private investment firm based in Manhattan that he founded in 2001. Weezie is a talented artist – some of her works are displayed at the winery including several paintings and over-sized corkscrews.
The winery was built from 2004 through 2008 (and includes an 8,000 square foot crescent shaped cave); the winery is located almost on top of the Spring Mountain ridge at an elevation of slightly above 2000 feet. The journey from the town of St. Helena on the valley floor to the winery takes about 15 minutes – on a windy road through the forested slopes of the Mayacamas mountains. An elevation of over 2000 feet in Napa county is among a select group of mountain vineyards and wineries. The Steffen family purchased the vineyards in 1999 and kept some of the original plantings from 1981 as well as planted additional vineyards. Grapes from the property used to be sold to Sunny St. Helena (whose location is now home to Merryvale Vineyards). Vineyard 7&8’s focus is entirely on two varietals; Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon both of which are planted on the property.
Chardonnay is not a varietal that first comes to mind when discussing hillside vineyards in Napa but Spring Mountain has several growers of this varietal. Merely a few miles as the crow flies across from their winery sits the Howell Mountain Appellation. One would not even think of growing Chardonnay there, despite the relatively close proximity as that area is much warmer than Spring Mountain which sees more cooling coastal influences. A bit of snow often falls here in the winter and in the summer this area is typically above the fog. Growing conditions are unique in that in the summer the warmest parts of the day are usually in the mornings, becoming much cooler by late afternoon and then warming up a bit at night as the cooler air descends to the valley floor.
The winery sits a short ways in on the Spring Mountain “summit winery road” and affords one fantastic views of Mt. St. Helena and the neighboring mountains. The entrance to the winery is built to resemble a home and first time guests to the property generally aren’t aware of the size and functionality incorporated into the building.
A massive 700 pound copper door greets visitors at the entrance (so perfectly balanced on its hing that often wind will blow it open). Once inside guests step into a room with a 180 degree windowed view of the surrounding mountains. On a clear day from this room, the views are absolutely awe inspiring. This main room contains a sizable table made from wood dated at over 40,000 years old. It is Kauri wood from New Zealand, well preserved from being in an oxygen deficient environment in a bog – this type of wood is considered some of the oldest workable wood in the world. While sitting down at this table, look up – a satellite was creatively re-purposed as a chandelier – with the exterior layered with a similar look as on the main door of the winery.
During the first few releases Vineyard 7&8 sold their wines via the wholesale market but have since expanded to now sell direct to consumer. Launny and Weezie’s son Wesley is the Estate Director and the Assistant Winemaker – some of his prior experience in the business was as a cellar master at well-known Harlan Estate working with winemaker Bob Levy and at BOND Estates. Wesley also spent time working with Thomas Keller at the acclaimed French Laundry in Yountville.
And Bob Levy’s wife Martha McClellan is the current Vineyard 7 & 8 winemaker; she has built an impressive resume in the valley with time spent working with properties such as Blankiet Estate, SLOAN Estate and currently at Checkerboard Vineyards. Founding winemaker was Luc Morlet (of Napa’s Morlet Vineyards)
Ever since the Steffen Family purchased this property, great attention to detail has been placed on the nuances of managing their vines. Specific rows are picked only when they are ready – thus ensuring that particular vineyard blocks are picked at multiple times allowing only fully ripe grapes to be fermented. A very unique water collection system is in place for the vineyard – a small canal that wraps around part of the vineyard collects any excess water. A number of small tanks within the winery ensures that they have enough room to micro manage fermentations block by block.
A commercial kitchen is located on site and can be used for private events such as dinners. All tastings include several cheese pairings.
The 2004 Vineyard 7&8 Chardonnay is a very nice representation of what can be done with Spring Mountain grown fruit from this variety. Its an elegant wine with attractive flavors including lemon, pineapple and some toasted nut nuances. Their Chardonnays can also be aged for several years. The only vintage to date that was produced from non estate fruit was in 2012 when they sourced grapes from the Lone Oaks Vineyard in the Russian River Valley. A beautiful showing, only 125 cases were produced but this wine was never released.
The 2011 Vineyard 7&8 Cabernet Sauvignon was a vintage that varied greatly in the Napa Valley depending on site location. Some of the higher site locations within the valley often produced the most interesting wines from this vintage. This was a cool year in the Napa Valley with rain both early and late in the season – the higher elevations tended to perform better – usually above the fog line and cooler conditions that persisted on the valley floor. Dark garnet with purplish tinges on the rim in the glass, the wine offers a bouquet that is not only about the fruit but plenty of other aromas including notes of mushroom, wet earth, cigar smoke, old cedar box, white pepper, darker spices and blackberry. Very polished on the palate – one immediately notices this wine’s supple qualities – with a smooth mouth feel and polished tannins that linger softly along with a subtle hint of menthol or herbal note.
The 2013 is a complete contrast to the 2011 vintage. Also equally dark in the glass, the 2013 Vineyard 7&8 Cabernet Sauvignon shows aromas of ripe blackberry, toasted oak, a tobacco spice, a hint of sage and dark chocolate undertones. Juicy, intensely flavored with excellent acidity this wine has plenty of depth. More black fruit dominated then red fruits – offers a very long lasting finish anchored by grainy and persistent tannins.
The 2004 Vineyard 7&8 Cabernet Sauvignon reveals an intriguing bouquet showing notes of mocha and various ripe berry fruit (raspberry and blackberry). The palate is nicely balanced and the tannins integrate very well on the very smooth and long finish.
Correlation Wine Company, was founded by Wesley and focuses on non estate wines – wines sourced from select vineyards throughout the Napa Valley based on relationships that Wesley has cultivated with various growers, winemakers and vineyard owners. The inaugural releases of Correlation included a 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon and a 2016 rosé.
Correlation wines is a vintner partner at The Wine Thief in downtown Napa. This tasting room features small production wines from mostly Napa Valley based vintners and is located on the corner of First and McKinstry Streets directly across from Gott’s Roadside Hamburgers and the Oxbow Public Market.
The vintners represented here are small – usually in the 500 case to 3,000 case range. These producers focus on high quality limited production wines and unless you work in the Napa wine industry are names you generally will not have heard of. The focus of the wines offered are Cabernet Sauvignon and red wines – but there are several whites available, Pinot Noir and a rosé. The wines are available at a wide range of price points.
To succeed in Napa as a collective strong relationships between the vintner partners is a necessary criteria. The vintners represented all know each other and in some cases have been friends for years. Another important factor is the location of the tasting room; this is a prime corner spot in a busy part of Napa – they are also surrounded by several other tasting rooms.
The Correlation wines are available for tasting by walk-in at the tasting counter, or from one of two automatic dispenser wine stations (by the taste, by the half glass or by the glass). Appointments can also be made to try the current release of Correlation wines in one of the two private rooms on site.
Tours and tastings at Vineyard 7 & 8 are by appointment and are for serious wine enthusiasts. Total production remains very small – typically only 1,000 cases produced annually with a small percentage of the wine distributed in select markets within Asia including China.. For more information and to join their mailing list, visit: www.vineyard7and8.com