Page 3 of 7
PR: (con'd) Now, what's interesting is that originally he was wanting to make just one wonderful, world-class Cabernet; in his mind, he had no plans to make three or four different Cabernets. The idea for that came in the process of developing the vineyards. On one day, he would be working on the tractor in one vineyard and find himself covered in red iron soil; on another day he'd be clearing the second vineyard and end up covered in a white volcanic ash; on yet another day, in the third vineyard, he would find all these large rocks in the soil.
So — talk about taking risks — he decided to keep the wines he produced from these three different vineyards in separate barrels for two years, naming them respectively, Red Rock Terrace, Volcanic Hill, and Gravelly Meadow. He wanted to see if there would end up being differences in the resulting wines, since they came from such different soils. But this is something nobody was doing! No one here was using the word terroir! Wouldn't you agree, Boots, that Al was the first to talk about terroir?
BB: Oh, yeah! Nobody understood the word! I mean, of course, here in the United States.
NM: Now, to what extent was Al's choice — to manifest and express the unique terroir of these individual vineyards — based on his speculation from what he discovered on his own about the very different soil types, versus on the learning he gained through his conversations with the vineyard workers of top Bordeaux chateaux?
PR: It was a combination of both. Without his knowledge of the importance that the French place on terroir, he would not have done any of this. And what the French were doing was of the utmost importance to Al, because in the early-to-mid '60s, when it came to the best wines of the world, most people were talking about what the French were doing. So this became his philosophy of how he would develop his own grapegrowing and winemaking here in America. It can't be overemphasized: he did not want to invent something new; rather, he wanted to emulate what the French were doing. He would say, "I think that the French have it right. I think the French are making wonderful wines. If you look at the top wines of Burgundy and Bordeaux, they can't be surpassed! And we could do that here in America." He would look very closely at what the French were doing out in the vineyards, and then emulate that. That shows you how confident he was; he felt that if the French could do it, so could we, especially with the wonderful soils and weather we have in Napa.
NM: So, the industry, as we know it today, was spearheaded by a small and adventurous cadre of people who believed in something that had no basis in experience here in California, but which they nevertheless felt in their hearts that they could accomplish. And in doing so, eventually got UC Davis to look more closely into researching and ultimately validating what these winemakers were experimenting with on their own.
PR: I think that's a fair statement. But what we're also saying is that what was happening at that time was the birth of the fine wine industry here in California. And it's come so far in the last 40 years.
BB: Interestingly, Al always felt he was making a Bordeaux wine in a Burgundy style. Because when he found out that we had different soils and terroir, [Domaine de la] Romanée-Conti became very important to Al. He and I went over there to visit, and saw how tiny Romanée-Conti really is. It's very, very small! And he felt it was quite similar to what we had here: he wanted to produce the finest Cabernet Sauvignon that he could from his small property, just as Romanée-Conti was producing the finest Burgundy from theirs. That was always a big part of what influenced him, especially when he found the different soils and how closely together they were located.