The Vineyard by Heron Lake, Wild Horse Valley
David Mahaffey, standing at 1300 ft in Wild Horse Valley
Between 1200 & 1400 ft elevation, only 3 1/2 miles East from downtown Napa (as the crow flies), grow 11 planted acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the rocky volcanic ground of Wild Horse Valley. The vines bud just above Heron Lake. At the last of the 1970s, John Newmeyer started 24 acres on Riesling and Gewurtztraminer. In 1980, David Mahaffey became partners with Newmeyer, working the vineyard to make its wine, also budding over the established vines to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Over years of working with the vineyard the pair slowly honed in on the healthiest portions, thus reducing the size to the current 11 acres. It is now also managed entirely through organic practices.
looking into the Pinot Noir rows, above Heron Lake
Wild Horse Valley is an upland valley formation that isn’t clearly visible until the top of the range. From that vantage point, looking Northeast you can see a long scoop that comes out of the peak of the mountains. In 1988, Mahaffey applied for and successfully established the Wild Horse Valley AVA. Its boundaries ride the intersection of Napa and Solano Counties. What defines the appellation is volcanic ground chunked full of large rock, the diurnal shift of high elevation, and the cooling effect of the air moving East from the Bay and the Ocean. Mahaffey laughs as he tells me it’s also a migratory path for innumerable birds. The site has to be netted or all the fruit would go to feeding the North to South flight. Newmeyer’s and Mahaffey’s Heron Lake Vineyard ushers in the Western, and coolest portion of the appellation with the air coming up from Carneros through a 1000 ft chill-effect into the bowl at the Western side. Mahaffey explains too that several hundred meters away, just on the other side of Heron Lake, had been planted to Zinfandel in the late 1800s, those grapes brought back down the hill to blend into the wines of Napa Valley.
John Lockwood and David Mahaffey checking out the Chardonnay
John Lockwood began working with Mahaffey in 2004, and credits that time as really establishing Lockwood’s commitment to wine. The two met by chance over a mutual interest in hand-built guitars. Lockwood built instruments for Ervin Somogyi in Oakland. Mahaffey was constructing his own guitar, and traveled to East Bay for advice from Somogyi, thus also meeting Lockwood. The two struck up conversation, and eventually Lockwood visited the Heron Lake Vineyard. That year he stepped into harvest with Mahaffey, living up in Wild Horse Valley to help him make wine in 2004, 05, and 06. The bug took Lockwood then to work for Littorai in 2007, into Argentina in 2008, and to cellar work full-time at Failla from 2008 until recently. In 2010, Lockwood and Mahaffey started talking about Lockwood beginning to make his own wine with some of the site’s Chardonnay. The plan fell through due to weather, but in 2011 Lockwood secured the fruit for his label, Enfield.
talking through the history of the vineyard
Mahaffey bottles both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the site under his label, Olivia Brion. His winemaking methods depend on his own ingenuity. Mahaffey’s winery could be called gravity fed, as the vineyard is uphill from a flat spot where the wines start fermentation in bins under tent. Beneath the flat spot Mahaffey dug a small cave, large enough ultimately to hold 4000 cases, though he does not produce that much. The Chardonnay is gravity fed from the tent site to barrels in the cave below. The Pinot Noir moves sideways instead to a converted barrel room next door. Tasting the 2010 Chardonnay now two different times with Mahaffey, the wine offers the varied blessings of Chardonnay in triplicate–a floral lift subtly releases from the glass over a crisp midsection of nuttiness, and an underbelly of citrus oils. In the mouth the experience follows into juicy acidity, rich flavors, and a long lined finish. Mahaffey laughs as he tastes the wine with us. “In life, the ultimate goal is to find good, fast, and cheap, but you’re lucky if you can get two.” He’s being cheeky as he says it. “In wine, the hunt is for acidity, richness, and length.” His 2010 hits that intersection.
Miss Olivia, Olivia Brion’s namesake
Mahaffey hand tends the vineyard, walking through the vines a row at a time to track their progress, pull leaves, and break off unwanted tendrils or laterals. It’s an attention that Lockwood describes as basic to quality vineyards. Lockwood just opened his own label, Enfield Wine Co., the first release a 2010 Syrah from Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville, a site closely maintained by Fernando Delgado. Delgado manages Haynes Vineyard living on site to work with the vines daily. Lockwood explains that he selects his vineyard sites partially by who manages the location. Vineyard practices such as organics or biodynamics are valuable, he tells me, but the practice that makes the biggest difference is attention, an insight Lockwood first learned through Mahaffey.
John Lockwood standing beside Heron Lake
This summer, Lockwood will release an Enfield 2011 Wild Horse Valley Chardonnay. It’s a wine that carries flavoral resemblance to Mahaffey’s 2010, with a leaner, more-acidity focus due to the cooler 2011 vintage. Thinking of it my mouth starts to water. I’ll be buying a bottle later today.
At the vineyard, we also taste through Mahaffey’s Pinot Noir–the 2010 in bottle, and then from barrel. It’s a wine that celebrates bright tension, and small berried fruit. The 2010 has just started to show orange peel and bergamot, a note Lockwood and Mahaffey agree is site signature, as it consistently shows up with a bit of age through vintages. The two start laughing as Lockwood tells me his dream is to get some Pinot from Mahaffey’s vineyard. The laughing comes from the joke that Mahaffey would have to die first. Mahaffey quickly turns the moment into a reflection of his trust for Lockwood. “It’s understood,” Mahaffey tells me, “that if I do suddenly go, John has to bottle the Pinot for me.”
driving back down from 1300 ft, looking over Coombsville
Thank you to John Lockwood and David Mahaffey for bringing me to Heron Lake and your Wild Horse Valley Vineyard.
More to follow on both Enfield Wine Co, and Olivia Brion.
Uva Buena’s write-up on Enfield Wine Co.’s release: http://uvabuena.com/blog/?p=617
Enfield Wines are available here: http://www.enfieldwine.com/
For Olivia Brion Wines: http://www.oliviabrion.com/index.html
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Elaine, wonderful to see you profiling David! I know were views are amazing and have no doubt the conversation was lively 😉
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