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A Dream Solidifies into the Wine Caves of VinRoc, atop Napa's Atlas Peak
Between the rocky soil of its hillside vineyard and the granite encountered during the excavation of its wine cave, VinRoc has had a solid theme of rock running through its story. I had initially met its proprietors, Kiky and Michael Parmenter, during the annual Family Winemakers tasting event, whereupon I sampled wines from their small but super-premium portfolio. Months later, I sat down with Michael to learn more about the handcrafting of VinRoc's robust and elegant Cabernet Sauvignon as well as the building of its rather unique wine facility. What I gathered turned out to be an inspiring story about the seemingly effortless evolution of a mountaintop brand and its ambitious drive towards quality.
Located at the top of Napa Valley's Atlas Peak, the grapevines of VinRoc Wine Caves experience an elevation that's high above the fog belt and soil nutrition that's minimal at best. In the span of only a couple of vintages, the Parmenters have learned to navigate the challenges and reap the benefits of these conditions to raise grapes rich in texture and concentrated in flavor. As a result, they've succeeded in crafting a powerful and sensuous Cabernet Sauvignon from the steep and rocky vineyard, which is all the more impressive given their rather recent arrival to the world of winemaking. And true to its namesake, the wine is rock solid to boot, with accolades from both the San Francisco International Wine Competition and Wine Spectator's own James Laube. All the more compelling is the context of the wine's production: a cave literally excavated from the hillside, which has served not only as the winery itself but also as a setting in which to receive visitors with ambiance and flair.
NM: How did this all begin? What led to the decision to plant vines way up here on Atlas Peak and then produce from them an ambitious Napa Cabernet?
"It didn't seem obvious at the time that what we were going to do was put in a vineyard, because there weren't that many vineyards up here [on Atlas Peak] compared with down on the valley floor, where if you had a piece of property, you wouldn't even think twice about having a vineyard."
MP: We bought the property in 1999. We had been living in L.A. at the time, which is in fact where my wife and I met and where had lived for 27 years. I was thinking about a career change, as was my wife, and we were at the same time thinking about buying some property and we really wanted it to be in wine country. We weren't sure what we were going to do, but we decided it would something to do with wine and possibly food. I was in the shoe business for twenty some years and Kiky was involved in the real estate, and got the point of wanting to do something outside the city because we'd been feeling the rat race wanted to drop it down a gear. And once we bought the property, we came up here and got interested in researching the properties of the property — the soil, the climate, etc. It didn't seem obvious at the time that what we were going to do was put in a vineyard, because there weren't that many vineyards up here [on Atlas Peak] compared with down on the valley floor, where if you had a piece of property, you wouldn't even think twice about having a vineyard. We had a hard time even finding out about hillside vineyards. We took three years of classes at Napa Valley College, but most of the things we learned were focused on the valley floor, which is very different from up here. So I had a lot of questions and had to research things on my own. And in addition to the classes, I learned most of it by doing — things like helping a couple of my neighbors who had vineyards at that time, especially during harvest time.