April 13, 2020
by Bruce Neyers
Cabernet Sauvignon in foreground, with Merlot in background, looking northwest towards Conn Creek. The closest vines have just been pruned
The best vineyards of St. Julien sit, for the most part, close to the Gironde River, so over the centuries, mounds of gravel have formed atop the limestone base, making the wines from the area round and gentle. These wines are attractive in their youth, but are among the longest-lived wines of Bordeaux.
Deep gravel deposits are uncommon in the Napa Valley, but the few that we have are found near year-round streams, normally in the hills above the valley floor. One such site is where Conn Creek passes through our ranch in Conn Valley, on a journey from Howell Mountain, southwest to the reservoir of Lake Hennessey. This trek of nearly 5 miles spends about 500 yards traveling through the southern-most reach of our 45-acre ranch. Over the centuries, it has deposited more than 50-feet of gravel in some spots along the creek’s left bank.
Soon after we purchased the property in 1984, our vineyard manager Dave Abreu brought in a consulting geologist who reported the presence of a significant gravel deposit. We developed the land closest to the creek to Merlot. A few years later, we purchased a neighboring 10-acre parcel, and planted the section on the left bank of the creek to Cabernet Sauvignon. We bottled our two ‘creek-side’ wines separately for several years until winemaker Tadeo Borchardt suggested that we produce a blended wine from the two parcels planted on gravel soil. This new wine was based on terroir rather than grape variety, and we named it ‘Left Bank Red’. Our inaugural offering was the 2014 Left Bank Red, and it was awarded a high score by the Wine Spectator, and selected as the ‘Top Value’ in their cover article.
The Merlot parcel is planted to a spacing of 5’ between vines and 9’ between rows, or 968 vines per acre. The Cabernet Sauvignon parcel is more tightly planted — 4’ X 6’, or 1814 vines per acre. Each block flowers and ripens at different times, so the blends vary from year to year — some years with more Cabernet Sauvignon, and some with more Merlot. The deep gravel soil favorably influences the wine, and each year the Left Bank Red is delightfully perfumed with an underlying note of violets and red fruit. The aroma is subtle but complex. There’s a remarkable softness, along with a blend of flavors that are approachable and satisfying. We seek elegance here, and especially in vintages like the 2018 Left Bank Red, we find it. We bottled 2293 cases.