At Kwiker Liquor, we know that the key to having a great selection of fine wines is knowing a great selection of Vintners and Winemakers. And we take pride in cultivating these relations to bring the very best to our customers in the Panhandle. This month we called on our friend Aaron Pott to share his story with us:
We had all been hoping for a fantastic harvest in 2020. After months of dealing with the pandemic we all felt that 2020 was going to be something wonderful, that somehow a great vintage would make up for all the horrors that we encountered in this problematic revolution around the sun. In the back of my mind I was thinking that it would be unprecedented to have three amazing vintages in a row! The vintages 2018, with its beautiful freshness and balance, and 2019, a vintage of power and suppleness, were some of the best wines we had ever made.
On August 16, 2020 I spent the day working at my vineyard Châteauneuf du Pott 1600 feet above sea level with a dominating view of the Napa Valley. Our organic vineyard was in perfect condition. The vines’ green leafy canopy growth balanced perfectly with the dark purple fruit that hung down from the canes in perfectly formed bunches. Thus far, the weather had been ideal; very little rain in winter, warm early spring and summer leading to a relatively cool early August provided by the cooling fog of the San Francisco Bay.
The next morning we would wake up to a spectacle that I have rarely seen in the Napa Valley, a lightning storm. The lightning would ignite a series of fires that would change the course of the vintage and the fortunes of many vintners forever. The fires that started early that morning, along with another starting on the night of September 27, would not be under control until late October.
Many of the vineyards that were nearby the fires would suffer from smoke taint, caused when fresh smoke creates volatile phenol compounds in the wine. These compounds cause the wines to smell of old cold smoke, like an old ashtray that needs emptying (if anyone can remember that!) and gives a smoky flavor to the wines as well as a slight bitterness and grainy feeling tannins. Great wines can become almost undrinkable due to smoke taint. This horrible outcome paled in comparison to the specter of losing a winery or even a vineyard destroyed by fire.
Our little family owned winery is uniquely small. We make a little over 14,000 bottles of wine (about 1200 cases). I grow and make the wines, oversee the vineyard and in addition consult for a handful of ultra premium wines in the Napa Valley (Blackbird, Greer, Emos, Fe, Martin Estate, Bernard Magrez Napa Valley, Perliss, James Cluer’s Sigma Project, Saint Helena Winery and Seven Stones). My wife handles the website, releases, client interface, and the complex economics of a small winery. My daughters, Tosca 13, and Isolde 11, help out in the vineyard and winery when school permits. Our wine is genuinely hand made from organic grapes, and hand sorted twice before going through a series of optical sorting devices. Grapes are put to open top wooden fermentation vats using gravity and punched down by hand (and sometimes by feet!) to extract the delicious flavors of the grape into the fermenting juice. Fermentation occurs naturally with no added yeast or bacteria. Wines are put to artisan French coopered barrel or clay amphora without filtration and stored in a strict environment of 55°F and 75% relative humidity until they are ready to bottle.
We make three different tiers of wine. The third tier known as Pott Wine Napa Valley is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot from all of our vineyards scattered about the valley. The second tier is known as our Single Vineyard wines. These 4 wines come from 3 different iconic vineyards around the valley. Her Majesty’s Secret Service Cabernet Sauvignon and our Original Gangster Grenache come from Stagecoach Vineyard. Kaliholmanok Cabernet Sauvignon is from the Kicu’me Ballard Vineyard on the very top of Spring Mountain, and Turf War Cabernet Sauvignon from the legendary Tychson Hill area in the northern part of St. Helena. Finally our top tier is from our organic estate vineyard on Mt. Veeder known lovingly as Châteauneuf du Pott. We make four different wines: a small quantity of Viognier (the only white we make!) that we call 20m3, a natural wine from 100% Cabernet Franc known as Agnès Sorel, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot called Space and Time, and finally our incredible mountain estate Cabernet Sauvignon known as Incubo.
Luckily in 2020 our estate vineyard was far from the fires yet we will still only be making a fraction of the wines that we produce normally due to smoke taint. We will not be making Kaliholmanok, Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Original Gangster. In these vineyards we didn’t even bother to pick grapes. Quantities of estate wines will be about 20% of their normal production. The Pott Wine Napa Valley will also be in very limited supply from 2020.
Although the dream of having a third great vintage in a row has been dashed by fire, what we have produced is exceptional. It has also shown one of the greatest fundamental aspects of great wine, terroir. Terroir is a French word that means all of the elements that affect the aromas, aspect and flavor of a great agricultural product. Whether it is cheese, peaches or wine, climate, site, and weather make a difference on how each of these looks, tastes, and smells. We winemakers have been yelling about this for years because it is the most important difference between wines. We make wines from unique sites and these wines are unique because of the sites. If there are eucalyptus trees near a vineyard you will smell and taste the menthol of the eucalyptus trees in the wine. If there is lavender, sage, roses or other flowers and spices being grown close to the vines you will smell them in the wine. And sadly, if there is fire nearby you will smell that in the wine too! When you drink wine, smell it, taste it and think about what the site looks like, what the dirt looks like and is made of, what is growing around it and how it is affected by the weather. All of this and more is wine!