May 4, 2009

BeeHind the Vine: St. Supéry

Since 1999, Josh Anstey has been the vineyard manager at St. Supéry, a family-owned estate winery located in the heart of Napa Valley. He is responsible for growing and harvesting grapes at two unique locations – the 35-acre Rutherford property which surrounds the winery, and Dollarhide, a sprawling ranch with roughly 480 acres planted.

Last week, Josh took some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the land he works, the grapes it produces, and the final product we all enjoy.

St. Supery produces a wide variety of wines – what’s planted at each vineyard?
Down in Rutherford is mostly red Bordeaux varietals, so we have a fair amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc.

Dollarhide is heavily weighted toward both Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and then we have a smattering of all the other stuff we make. For the whites we have a little bit of Chardonnay, a little bit of Sémillon that goes in our Virtú wine, and a little bit of Muscat Canelli, which makes up the Moscato. For the reds, we have Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.

How does the size difference between the vineyards affect your management style? Do you take more of a personal approach at Rutherford?
Yeah, I think so. Down in Rutherford we have maybe 15 different blocks, so despite being 35 acres it’s broken up into a bunch of small parcels that are either different from clones or varieties, and are treated separately. Dollarhide is a little bit more management intensive because of its size, but also because of its diversity. There are a lot of different soils up here, a lot of different topographies – anything from hillsides to the flat alluvial soils. It really depends what parcel you’re in, but there’s maybe a little bit more complexity at Dollarhide.

…for our “green” readers, check out St. Supéry’s sustainability practices

What’s each vineyard’s best attribute?
I think it depends on what kind of wine drinker you are. At Rutherford, the tannins are a tiny bit dusty (“Rutherford Dust”) but very well integrated, so it’s much more of a supple, kind of feminine, really well rounded wine. The wines from Dollarhide tend to be a little bit maybe bigger and bolder.

Describe your relationship with St. Supery’s winemakers – how much collaboration is there?
There’s definitely a lot of input going both ways. I think St. Supery’s in a very unique position in that we are all estate grown…it does give you a lot more collaboration with the winemaker. Off and on during the year, obviously, there’s normal contact – we’ll do different tastings and go through all the different treatments and lots and such. We’ll sit down a couple times a year and go through all the reds from the year before and also two years before. During harvest, it’s really a daily thing; the winemaker is up here at least five or six days out of the week, and during peak harvest usually everyday.

St. Supery is owned by the Skalli family of France – what kind of input, if any, do they have on what you’re growing and how you’re growing it?
Directionally, they definitely have a vision – they’ve been involved in the wine industry for a long, long time…and definitely strive to achieve the best and become better with every vintage.

What year was your best harvest?
That’s always a tough question…every harvest is really different. Because of all of our different varieties and also different parcels… some years some stuff will shine, and some stuff won’t, despite what the critics might say. You have these major wine critics saying one thing, where our wines could or could not follow that pattern. Our 2004 reds, for example, were really nice wines, but the 2004 vintage in general got kind of slaughtered by wine writers…I still think 2001 was probably my personal favorite vintage.

What are some of your favorite St. Supéry wines?
That’s another tough one. I think Virtú, which is the white Sauvignon Blanc blend, is a very unique, versatile wine that is fantastically sweet friendly. As far as the red goes, my two favorite wines to drink right now are the Malbec and the Cabernet Franc, which are winery only – they’re for the wine club and direct sales from the visitors center.

What advice would you give to someone looking to plant their first rows?
It really depends on location. You have to be cognizant of what’s going on – the main thing is weather; I mean, grape vines are pretty adaptable, but they’re definitely susceptible to really cold winters. Below 20 or 15 degrees Fahrenheit can be problematic. In the spring and summertime, you can’t get below freezing. So those are the only two limiting factors of grapes – you can still grow them there; you’re just going to have more problems.

What’s the most challenging part of the grape growing process?
There are a lot of variables. It’s just like winemaking, in that there are a couple hundred layers of variables that make the job challenging but also interesting. Everything from weather, to water, to soil and all kinds of stuff affect what that final product is. It’s kind of the puzzle of putting that all together and trying to optimize what you’ve got going.

And the most rewarding part?
Seeing that whole dynamic picture come together.

The fruits of Josh’s labor (pun intended) are available nationwide – for our New York City readers, a recent Sherry Lehmann search turned up five different options. You can also order directly from the St. Supéry website, which is incredibly user-friendly and contains a wealth of information. On that note, St. Supery is one of a growing number of wineries that have embraced social media, as evidenced by their blog, Facebook page, Twitter feed and YouTube channel.

St. Supéry is located at 8440 St. Helena Highway, Rutherford, California. They are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (excluding major holidays) for tours, tastings and retail sales. If you’re looking for a more unique winery experience, check out the second floor gallery, which oversees each step of the winemaking process and features monthly art exhibits.


tinkerbell said...

you write a lot!!!

Tina said...

Thanks TJ. Great coverage of St. Supery!

Lesley K Russell said...

Looking forward to more insider information about how great wines are created - thank you!