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That's what you can do

eastern exposure Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Elliot Stern (Photo Credit: Avis Mandel Pictures)NM:  It sounds like you've taken a sub-appellation of Napa, and brought it to market in a way that elucidates a style of Cabernet different than we're used to seeing from the rest of this valley.  It's not common for a super-premium Napa Cabernet to manifest a style that's soft and pretty like the Oakville East Exposure.

ES:  I wish I could take credit for that, but I would say that the place is the dominant feature.  There are places in the wine world that are special.  The eastern side of Oakville is blessed with soil that makes the plants work hard, with just enough rainfall, and with the sun exposure we have here all the time, so that it creates one of those special wines.  At the Taste of Oakville, if you taste Screaming Eagle, Rudd, Oakville Ranch, Showket, and Oakville East, we all have an element of finesse in common.  How long the wines have been in barrel, how long in bottle, when you harvest, how you're irrigating — even with all the things that create differences in taste, these wines still have something very much in common.  What I like to say is that if you look at the top ten to fifteen most expensive Cabernets in Napa Valley, five of them are within a driver and a wedge of our vineyards.  And there's a reason for that: it goes back to the story of where you are; it goes back to place.  What I tried to do with Oakville East is to have the consumer understand that there's a difference in Oakville between east and west.  I couldn't use the word 'terroir,' because nobody knows what it means.  But if you look at the label, you see the orange soil, the see the word "Exposure," you see the sun moving across the horizon — I tried to make it really simple and say that this is one of those special little spots that produces great grapes.

NM:  What you're doing, then, is taking the concept of terroir and placing a magnifying glass against it, with the lens being that of this very specific sub-appellation within Napa.  By virtue of the fact that you're taking that concept and asserting it in a marketing context, using the specific location as the name of your wine, would you agree that you're a 'terroirist,' a true terroir champion?

NM: It sounds, then, that with this vineyard, you guys are still in the discovery and exploration phase. How are you with that uncertainty, juxtaposed against the fact that this is a commercially viable wine?

"If you really think about it, I basically sub-appellated Oakville, between east and west."

ES:  In my capacity in running sales and marketing companies in the wine business, I've been fortunate enough to stand in the vineyards of Lafaive, Zind Humbrecht, and Romanée-Conti.  And I have seen the evolution of biodynamic vineyards.  So, I absolutely believe in the place and in making sure that the place produces what it should produce — not just to grow grapes, but to make those grapes be part of their place.  And that's what biodynamic farming is all about: making the soil healthier, so the plants are healthier, and the vines go further into the ground and manifest the place [in which they're planted].  If you really think about it, I basically sub-appellated Oakville, between east and west.  As producers in the Oakville appellation, we all love each other, we all get along, we all go to the [district] meetings, we all drink each other's wines, we all make great wines — but [between east and west] we have different styles.  I would say that the masculine features in tannin structure are much more prevalent on the west side than on the east.  I'm not doing anything differently than the Masters of Wine did when they tasted all the Oakville wines, and said "Everything west and middle tastes this way; everything east tastes that way."  I was just trying to find a name that didn't come out sounding really stupid!  And Oakville East was an easy way to say, "Here we are."  I couldn't use my family name because I didn't think Stern would sound good on a bottle; it's a little too harsh.  I looked at some other names, too.  I looked at "Boomer" because part of our soil is called boomer soil, but that was taken.  I looked at "Big Red Rocks," but somebody's already using "Red Rocks."  When you come up with a defining feature of this part of Oakville, the soil is orange but it's basically just a rubble field with huge rocks.  And that's really what defines this part: there's really no soil because it takes forever for the rocks to decompose enough to leave any.

NM:  So, in a sense, you've answered my prior question: you really are a terroir-champion, because you're taking the notion of terroir to an even finer degree than we're used to seeing here Stateside, and you're doing it not just in the making, but in the marketing of that wine.  You're delivering to the consumer an awareness of this very specific micro-appellation without hiding it behind some proprietary name — you've named the wine after the place!  And that's unusual in the American wine market.  That aside, how else do you feel this venture stands out?



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