A visit and tasting at Terra Valentine.
By Louis Marmon
Gazette Newspapers September 20, 2006
The road from St. Helena that ascends Spring Mountain twists and turns past ancient trees and sheer drop-offs. About four-and-a-half miles up, a gated lane leads to the Terra Valentine Winery.
Eccentric engineer Fred Aves, the previous owner, designed the winery and guesthouse, located on a bluff overlooking the Napa Valley. He did most of the work by himself. Each structure features massive handmade wooden doors with gargoyles carved into the ceiling beams, stone archways, spiral staircases and stained-glass windows. The balcony affords a magnificent view of the valley’s vineyards, framed by tree-lined mountains and accented by birds swooping around the property. At night, the numerous stars seem close enough to touch.
Aves planted grapes that reflected his Swiss ancestry. Not surprisingly, having ignored the difference in weather conditions, his attempts at winemaking were unsuccessful. In 1980, he pulled up the vines and planted fruit trees. It is said that his ghost haunts the property. One of his favorite tricks is to block the bathroom door with furniture while someone is in the shower.
‘‘Fred has a thing about water,” winemaker and general manager Sam Baxter observes during a vineyard tour. ‘‘At night, he likes to adjust the irrigation valves in the vineyards.”
The current owners Angus and Margaret Wurtele purchased the property in 1999 and have invested heavily in new equipment and replanting the vineyards. In 2001, the Yverdon vineyard in front of the guesthouse was replanted and several new vineyards are under development. Baxter has his eye on a particular parcel that he believes will be perfect for producing a Botrytised dessert wine.
The mountainside property contains areas of both volcanic and seabed soil profiles.
‘‘Fire and water,” says Marketing Director Kathy Berez. ‘‘The varied soil conditions mean our wines develop unique flavors and character.”
In a tasting room (with oak panels originally designed for the Hearst Castle in San Simeon), Berez and Tasting Director Heidi Hufnagel poured their most recent releases. Made from grapes sourced from the Sonoma Valley, the lovely Terra Valentine Russian River Viognier 2005 ($30) has pineapple and pear scents, orange?lemon flavors and a touch of spice on the long finish.
The red wines from the Spring Mountain region are usually quite tannic and often require long bottle aging. Clearly, Terra Valentine’s winemaker has figured out how to tame the tannins, since each of their red wines is remarkably well balanced and can be consumed relatively soon. Available only through the winery is the tasty Terra Valentine Cabernet Franc Napa Valley 2003 ($35), which has intense mocha, vanilla oak and spicy plum flavors. Also very good is the Terra Valentine Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($35), a blend of 14 different vineyard blocks with ripe berry aromas, licorice, cassis and spicy oak flavors.
The first vineyard purchased by the new owners is the source of the Terra Valentine Wurtele Vineyard 2002 ($50), a deeply ruby colored Cabernet Sauvignon with beautifully merged currant, spicy strawberry and vanilla oak flavors and a complex long finish. Created to commemorate Sam Baxter’s wedding is the superb Terra Valentine Marriage 2002 ($75) a Bordeaux-style blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc that has gorgeous cassis, chocolate and spicy oak notes.