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Newly Launched Wine Brand Showcases Vineyards on Napa's Spring Mountain
— An Interview with the General Manager and Winemaker of Vineyard 7 & 8 —
Vineyard 7 & 8 is a Napa Valley winery with a mission as straightforward as its name: to produce wines of exquisite quality that accurately reflect the small vineyards from which they hail at the top of Spring Mountain. But the simplicity ends there. For as any quality-driven producer knows, turning a vision into reality is only the beginning. More important is doing so in a way that balances technique and creativity with a sense of respect for the natural tendencies and rhythms of nature, ultimately allowing the vines to speak for themselves. As I learned during my lengthy conversation with general manager Wesley Steffens and his French-born winemaker Luc Morlet, the team at Vineyard 7 & 8 manages to strike that balance quite gracefully in the production of their fine wines.
Though initially one is met with what appears at a distance to be an almost understated facility that blends into the natural topography of Napa Valley's Spring Mountain appellation, arriving on the Vineyard 7 & 8 property quickly reveals a spectacle of architecture and landscaping that's nothing short of stunning. A closer look reveals that this beauty has brains, too, with its ultra-modern winery equipped with the latest and most sophisticated amenities that enable delicate handling and strict sorting of the fruit at harvest time, precise and constant control of every step in the fermentation process, and clinical cellar conditions that allow for the utmost in hygienic stringency. All of these permit the winemaking team to devote a great deal more of its attention to the artisanal process, directly contributing to the quality of its Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Those wines are then aged in an equally magnificent subterranean cellar that doubles as a space in which to hold lavish events. It was both while touring the corridors of that state-of-art wine cave, and while joining them at the monolithic dining table in the chic rotunda just above it, that I spoke with Steffens and Morlet about the phenomenon that is Vineyard 7 & 8.
Adding Up the Numbers
NM: How did Vineyard 7 & 8 begin? Let's start with the name; tell me about that!
WS: This was a project that my father started out of his passion for wine. His professional life has been in finance on Wall Street, which of course means he's always been around numbers and has done a fair amount of business in the far east during his career. So, thinking in terms of numerology — 8 being a good luck number in eastern cultures and 7 being a good luck number in western cultures — those have always been his favorite numbers. When he found this property and learned it was planted to two varietals [Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay], he figured, "Numbers are my life; why would I want my wines to be any different?" So the idea was to give that simplicity to the name of the wines. Also, there was a sense of humility to the fact that he wasn't interested in calling by his own name; he wanted to do something special, but to do it in humble manner.
In the beginning, my father had a partner in the business that he met in San Francisco, someone who had basically supplied wines for his cellar and also sourced wines for some charity events that my father had done, including an annual AIDS dinner in New York City. He wanted to have special wines for those events, so he developed a relationship with this gentleman. It was he who got the ball rolling in helping us find this property, started the process of getting us branded and developing the name of 7 & 8, and did all the logistics business-wise to get the permits for building the winery. But his health hadn't been so great. Plus, we felt that since we're a family, we wanted to keep this as a family project. So, my father and his partner separated ways, and we took 100% control in 2006, which is when I came in to finish construction of the winery and begin to get operations of the business going.