And I bet you thought that well-worn phrase referred to the world of real estate.
Most of Napa Valley’s pioneers planted their vineyards on the valley floor where the soil was fertile, the land easy to work and yields high. However, while these are conditions than can produce good wine, they rarely result in the best wine.
By contrast, all over the world, you often find this wine, the very best wine, wine with what I call the WOW! factor, that ability to amaze as well as please, comes not from the flat easy plains but the more challenging hill- or mountain-side elevations.
Poorer, rocky soil, cooler temperatures – especially cooler night time temperatures – longer growing seasons and lower yields all lead to wines with those elusive, hard-to-define quality that mark great wine. Call it complexity, if you like, wines with that mysterious sense of restrained power, of depth and wonder.
One Napa producer to discover the advantages of mountain fruit is Oakville Ranch whose Oakville Ranch Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2003 ($60) recently wowed me to such a degree that I set out to discover exactly why, and the results were illuminating.
The vineyards are at 1300 feet, 700 feet above those on the valley floor, planted in red volcanic soil. The winery’s website speaks of the wine as possessing “opulence and regal elegance” and for once this sort of promotional guff is correct, or at least it almost exactly mirrors my tasting notes. There are plenty of those lush red and dark berry fruit flavors one expects in a California red, but there is more going on here. Layers of complex texture, hints of minerality, woody notes, suggestions of leather, spice and earthiness that change and amaze with every sip.
These result from the deep roots these poor, stressed-out mountain-side vines are compelled to develop in order to survive in their difficult location – and I am very glad they do it has produced a wonderful wine.