The SOMM Journal

June / July 2018

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{ } 111 Hundred Acre Past and Present True to form, Woodbridge has taken no prisoners en route to professional glory. His vineyard investments are the stuff of industry legend, from the purchase of Kayli Morgan at 70 percent over the market value in 2000 ("People said I was crazy," he quips) to the acquisition of Few and Far Between for $1.2 million per acre. He says the latter acquisition was then "the highest price ever [paid] in the Western Hemisphere, but [he] had to have it." Woodbridge has an explanation for what Hundred Acre Wine Group CEO John Hardesty calls his "sixth sense for ground": "First of all, I get a feeling that I can't really describe. It's a sense of right - ness that comes over me. And second, it's essential that the place is beautiful. The way the hills are. The way the trees are. The way the light is. The way the soil smells. I look at the clusters, I taste the fruit, and the vines give me a feeling. They're like young children—they can't speak, but they're trying to tell you some - thing. You've got to be open to it." Then there's the St. Helena winery: While it was built in the mid-2000s, Woodbridge describes the extensive construction process in a manner that still seems awestruck. "It's like a fortress. It's a giant ring underground—385 feet of solid rock," he says. "Caves are inherently stable, but they're particularly solid when they have an enormous amount of curved steel I-beams bolted into concrete into rock 30 feet deep. The winery's designed to take a magnitude 10 [earthquake]. I build things to withstand time." Because Woodbridge's approach to his craft is as uncompromising as it is toward everything else, this statement applies not only to his winemaking facilities, but the wines themselves. Since he lacked formal training when he launched Hundred Acre, Woodbridge hired renowned consultant Philippe Melka to assist with the first few releases. "I needed a starting point, and Philippe was very easy to work with," Woodbridge explains. "He provided a lot of guiding light in terms of logistics and also offered his perspective on winemak - ing—which isn't mine. We have totally different styles. But he respects what I do and I respect what he does." In one breath, Woodbridge is all too happy to chalk up kudos to his own wine - making talent. "I have a gift. It's as simple as that," he says. Consider Hardesty's remarks on Woodbridge's approach to blending: "He does it mostly from smell and then just confirms it with tasting. When you see it, you can't quite believe it." But while he's not one to shy away from some playful self-congratulation, Woodbridge is also the first to admit that his genius—to paraphrase Edison—is 99 percent blood, sweat, and sheer guts. Take the 2009 Ancient Way Deep Time, which he aged in new French oak for five years: "Nobody in their right mind financially would do such a thing," he concedes gaily. The same could be said of Fortification, Hundred Acre's Port-style wine. Wood - bridge produces his own brandy to incor- porate into the wine, double-distilling it in alembic pot stills bef ore it ages in Hun- dred Acre barrels for a minimum of five years—and up to 15—before blending. Doubts also surrounded the launch of his wildly-successful value brands Layer Cake, Cherry Pie, and If You See Kay, which people initially cautioned might tarnish the image of his flagship. But Woodbridge says he was determined to prove he could "make a $15 wine taste like $50," giving "everybody the chance they deserve to afford a great bottle of wine." Pushing the "Style Envelope" Layer Cake, Cherry Pie, and If You See Kay were sold in late 2017 ("They were getting to a size that they could be better managed by a larger company," Woodbridge says), but if you think this indicates Woodbridge will start sitting back and taking it easy, you haven't been reading very carefully. He's already at work on his next brand, consisting of two wines he says will aim to "push the style envelope further. If Hun - dred Acre is like being in a Rolls Royce, this is going to be like being in a For- mula One car," he adds. "Suffice it to say Cabernet will play a big role." Never one to shy away from hyperbole, Woodbridge previewed a separate Pinot Noir project by saying it "will be very, very high-end in a way that's never been done before in the Western Hemisphere." Naturally, Woodbridge is writing a book as well, though details for now are scant. Remember, this is a man who swears that "the only things I'm not interested in are box wines and frozen food." But you could bet that if he were, he'd make the best damn boxed wine and frozen food around. PHOTO: MONA SHIELD PAYNE A view of Few and Far Between, the Napa estate property Woodbridge purchased for $1.2 million per acre. PHOTO: COURTESY OF HUNDRED ACRE

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