The Tasting Panel magazine

October 2016

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 85 of 108

october 2016  /  the tasting panel  /  85 By most accounts, the best Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, the stuff of real legend, comes from a handful of iconic vineyards and viticultural areas—powerful yet graceful examples from Stags Leap District, the delicately tannic ones with firm backbones from Rutherford or the cult favorites from Oakville, not to mention the austere and concentrated Cabs from exceptional vineyards rooted in the various mountain appellations. But those who've done their homework also know that while Rutherford and Atlas Peak designations on a label might help to move a wine off the shelves faster than the simple Napa Valley appellation, the fact is, quality comes down to two factors: the right growing conditions and the right winemaker. On the latter point, Mark Williams is the right winemaker. Our tasting that day would, in my mind, corroborate the statement. A graduate of Fresno State, Mark Williams grew up in California's Central Valley, having spent painfully scorching summers working the vineyards of a U.C. Davis field extension site that was run by his father. Straight out of college, he landed an internship with Gallo, working at Louis Martini, later moving back south to work in the company's Central Coast facility, then back north to Napa in 2014 when Gallo asked him to steer the William Hill Napa tier wines back on track. On the former point, William Hill Estate Winery and its 140-acre estate vineyard, which was purchased by Gallo in 2007, is uniquely situated in a kind of no-man's land. Standing just outside the tasting room doors, visitors can take in a 360-degree view of the entire estate: the property's eastern boundary hugs the western-facing foothills of the Vaca mountain range, not quite up to the Atlas Peak AVA; its western border abuts the Silverado Trail and the Oak Knoll AVA; the Yountville AVA lies to the north and the Coombsville AVA to the south. The William Hill vineyards fall only into the larger Napa Valley AVA, but although the winery's Napa tier Cabernet wines don't bear any more notable designations on the label, the combination of a distinct microclimate and the winemaking prowess of Mark Williams equates to a selection of wines that positively need to be on your radar. "We're not as warm as Stags Leap," Williams explained as we surveyed the land. "Our property doesn't experience radiating heat from the cliffs, but our soils are similar to Coombsville—weathered, volcanic alluvial soils coming off of the Vaca Mountains, similar to Atlas Peak. Our soils are very rocky, and there's a gravel bed that runs along the center of the property. Further west, toward the Napa River, it gets more loamy." These well-draining soils, coupled with a series of different aspects, most southwest-facing, yield two different styles of wines that Williams blends together to craft his final blends. The estate vineyards were replanted in the early 1990s to a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon clones (mostly 6, 4 and 337) comprising roughly 85 percent of plantings, followed by Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec; the Chardonnay is purchased from quality vineyards up- and down-valley. Vines planted in a kind of miniature valley that runs north-to-south through the center of the property tend to produce smaller, more structured berries while fruit planted on the property's by Jonathan Cristaldi / photos by Alexander Rubin n a recent visit to William Hill Estate Winery to taste with winemaker Mark Williams, I renewed my vow to never judge a wine by the details—or lack thereof—on a label. O William Hill Winery sits on 100 acres abutting several delimited areas within Napa Valley. PHOTO COURTESY OF WILLIAM HILL WINERY

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - October 2016