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vested interest Print
Written by Nikitas Magel   

Salvestrin Sauvignon BlancNM:  So, the vineyard has been in your family for far longer than you've been making wines from it.  What changed for you to make that transition — for you to decide to no longer be just a grower but to actually take the fruit you're growing and make wine that expresses your own identity?

RS:  I think it was a combination of things as to why that came about.  One part of it was a business decision, long term family planning for the transition of the estate.  Another part of it was wanting to see a true expression of the fruit that we grow.  There's a lot of other reasons.  But for a family business to stay viable for generations, you've got to grow; as the family grows, the business has to, as well.  Otherwise, it would have to be sold off so that everybody would get their piece of the pie.  Part of any family business is transitioning from generation to generation, and so I recognized that if we're going to stay here and continue to do what we're doing, we really had to grow the business.  And for us the way to do that was to transition into the winemaking end of things, where you can capture a bigger piece of the pie.  Rather than just selling a commodity, you're selling a product that has added value.

NM:  Speaking of value, the prices for your wines are not typical anymore of those produced in the Napa Valley.  If you go anywhere else for small production, estate-bottled wines, you're going to see them being sold for a lot more.

RS:  We don't have a lot of layers to the business.  The family owns it.  I'm an owner, the winemaker, and the vineyard manager.  We are truly owner-operators.  So, we not the type of owner where we hire the winemaker and his staff, the vineyard manager and his staff — there's not all these layers to add to the cost of the bottle.  Plus, we have low basis in the land.  My grandparents purchased this land in 1932 — I guarantee you it was a lot less expensive then than it is now!  {laughter}  So, we have lower input costs into the bottle.  Why gouge people?  And not only that, but these wines are made to be consumed and enjoyed.  I know I couldn't afford to pay $100+ for a bottle of wine and drink a bottle or two a week.  Our philosophy is, we enjoy drinking our wines and want other people to enjoy drinking our wines, so we want them to be at a price point where people can afford to do that.

Reflecting an Appellation: the Raising of Vines in St. Helena

NM:  Do you find the Salvestrin vineyards are in keeping with the characteristics of the St. Helena appellation as a whole?

RS:  I would say yes.  One of the things I point to is a tasting we had last Fall: a bunch of us [winemakers] got together and tasted all the open wines, about fifteen Cabernets, left over from the St. Helena Press Tasting.  All the wines had a theme — that spice and velvety mouthfeel — but there were seven or eight wines that were extremely similar.  I couldn't tell my own wine from Spottswood from Lewelling from Charnu!  There were several wines that were so similar that I thought any one of them could have been ours!  There was a theme of flavor profile, spice character, structure, and mouthfeel through all of those wines.

NM:  What are the challenges you face in terms of viticulture that are really unique to the St. Helena appellation, which you're certain your colleagues in other appellations in the Napa Valley are not experiencing?

Salvestrin RetaggioRS:  I would probably answer that question in a different way by saying that here in St. Helena we have the luxury of not having challenges that others do, but rather advantages.  And those advantages are that here at Salvestrin, and pretty typically throughout the St. Helena appellation, we've got twelve to eighteen inches of topsoil and the further we dig down, the higher the concentration of gravel, cobble, and sand that you'll find.  So that means the soil is extremely well-drained to the point where it rivals what a hillside would give — it's a challenging environment for the grapes to grow in because it's restricting the vines for water by early summer.  At the same time, we have the efficiency of farming on completely flat ground.  We are unique in that the appellation itself has the ability with the soil, location, and warm climate to really get a ripeness level that makes wines to really show the fruit and still be balanced.  Ripeness is never an issue.  Rather, it's always a matter of not letting the fruit get too ripe.  We're a very early site to harvest, with ripeness levels that many other growers salivate over and maybe can't even achieve at all in some locations.  In fact, we're probably one of the earliest ripening sites in this area.




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