Blueline Vineyard Descriptions
Provenance of place is more evident in wine than it is in anything else man endeavors to create from earth. Soil composition, wind, rain, heat, fog, aspect, drainage, vine row direction, and a host of complex environmental relationships constitute what the French simply call terroir: the stamp of place on wine.
If you stand across Napa Valley and look east into the mouth of Dutch Henry Canyon, you can see fan-shaped, bone-colored soils spilling out and down from the canyon’s mouth. Even from a mile away, the slope is evident, the soils distinct. As you approach the mouth, the canyon reveal becomes more pronounced, dramatically jutting up some 2,000 feet into the Vaca Mountain Range above. How did these soils get here? Two steep canyons with sparsely vegetated hillsides and magnificently beautiful blue-line streams are the raison d’être for the soils, climate, and ultimately the stunning wines that emanate from this small section of Napa Valley.
So how do dirt, weather, and the angle of a hillside manifest themselves in the wines from the Blueline Vineyard? How is it significant and what does this taste like? Wine grape physiology is highly complex and much remains unknown, but we are beginning to draw some conclusions about how the vineyard is reflected in bottled form. Geography is probably the best place to start.
The Convergent Edge
“There is no wine-growing region in the world like the Northwest Coast of California. We live on the convergent edge, and our wines reflect this dramatic landscape.” —Vintner and Proprietor Jeff Smith.
The Vaca Mountain Range, with its creased and twisted topography, formed in stunningly violent convulsions more than a million years ago. During this period the North American, Farallon and Pacific tectonic plates collided forming the convergent edge, causing rock to act like butter as they smashed into each other pushing the mountains up from the sea. Much like a ripple effect in water, this grand design of nature formed a wave of mountain ranges that span from the Pacific Ocean’s current edge to the Sierra Nevada. The Vaca Range became uniquely positioned as the eastern border of Napa Valley and ultimately the parent to the eventual vineyard below.
As the Vaca Range lifted up to the sky, two canyon folds formed in the mountain above creating a pair of watersheds with two streams that would converge and become the source for alluvial soil deposits. These two “blue-line” streams meandered back and forth for thousands of years carrying fractured soil material from the bedrock of the mountains above and decomposed hillside vegetation down to the valley floor. Together, these streams formed gravel beds of mineral-rich, nutrient-poor soils - an upturned riverbed which underpins the Blueline Vineyard today. Its soils contain little of the nutrient rich organic carbon found in clay and loam soils in other parts of Napa, rendering depleted soils with low water-holding capacity and fewer nutrients to support plant growth - ideal conditions for growing world-class Bordeaux varietals. Starving vines of the materials needed to grow redirects their energy to survival and results in wines of deep concentration and lifted aromatics. As such, wines from this part of Napa Valley exhibit spicy and high-toned floral aromatics along with fine minerality. All the Bordeaux varieties planted at Blueline Vineyard express these characteristics in different ways, but for subtle aromatic varietals such as Cabernet Franc (crushed rose petals and violets) and Merlot (dark sour cherry and Mandarin orange blossom), not to mention more dominant Cabernet (black cassis and blackberry bramble) it is an especially magical place.
A Warm Pocket With a Cool Temperament
Blueline Vineyard lies in a warm pocket of the Valley near Calistoga. The vineyard’s Bordeaux varieties benefit from the extra warmth here, especially Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, and Malbec, which traditionally thrive in warmer climes where the sun can overcome the plant's propensity for vegetal characteristics. In viticulture, the accumulation of heat over time is referred to as “growing degree days,” and the eastern side of the Calistoga appellation generally has a higher count than other Napa subappellations. The accumulation of heat builds phenolic maturity in grape skins and seeds, eventually leading to deep, explosive flavors in wine.
Geography again plays a vital role in influencing climate. The two canyons which reach upwards of 2,000 feet above the vineyard cause a thermal dynamic. As warm daytime temperatures rise through them, they pull in cooler air in the afternoon to moderate the heat during the summer months. The “push/pull” of temperature change aids to balance the complex grape maturation. (See the Hourglass Vineyard Description for information on the effect of hot and cool temperatures on grape phenolics.)
As a product of this environment, Blueline wines develop deeply concentrated fruit characteristics in a range of dark red (dark sour cherry, dried cranberry, candied raspberry in Merlot) to black fruit (blackberry, cassis, and fig in Cabernet and Cabernet Franc). The density of these wines is intense, with explosive flavors and lingering finishes—what we like to call wide, mouth-coating yum! The unique riverbed soils deliver a spicy aromatic and a mineral laced zesty brightness to balance the deep fruit concentration. The layers and complexity can all be traced back to Blueline Vineyard’s terroir: the inimitable mix of geography and climate that have converged here, putting its indelible stamp on the personality of our wines.