Get the Dirt about Valley Floor Vineyard from owner Ellen Duane

24 Jun

ValleyFloorEllen-and-Mark1) What was your first vintage year? Our 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is our inaugural vintage.

2) How many cases do you make per vintage? Currently we make approximately 300-340 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon and approximately 20-25 cases of Rose of Cabernet. We just replanted another 3 acres and anticipate our production to increase in a few years to approximately 800-900 cases.

3) Do you have a Tasting Room? We do not have a tasting room; however, we do vineyard visits and barrel room visits upon request, via email or phone.

4) If not you, who is your winemaker? Todd Heth is our winemaker. Todd gained a passion for wine while working as a journalist in Hungary and traveling through Europe. Instead of buying a small vineyard as a hobby, he returned to his native California to pursue a degree in viticulture and enology at Fresno State and then settled in Napa Valley. He began in the cellar and lab as an intern at Cuvaison Estate Wines, eventually assuming the role of associate winemaker and working with a number of smaller producers in custom production and consulting, from the vineyard through to sales. “With the small Valley Floor family team, we work to bring a pure expression of the vineyard, producing a wine of depth, elegance and balance. It is a beautiful site and we aim to unlock all of its potential with each vintage.”

5) How did you get your start in the winemaking business? Being from an Italian family, I grew up drinking wine with multiple generations over dinners that seemed to last hours. Early memories include my grandfather Nicodemo Bucchianeri making wine and storing it in our cellar in San Francisco. These simple traditions spurred a passion for food-friendly wine that would carry through my entire life.

Upon arrival in 2008 to our new home in Calistoga, I could not have imagined how fortuitous it would be to transition from my career as a school teacher to join the administrative team at Araujo Estate Wines. The Araujo and Pinault families place a focus on hard work and attention to details. At Araujo, I found a group of colleagues who not only shared my passion for wine but offered a wealth of information about winemaking and vineyard practices.

As a life-long learner, I soaked up the lessons from monthly staff meetings and shared new practices and theories with my husband Mark as we developed the design of our own vineyard. Amazing wine starts in the vineyard. It is with this mandate — and the Araujo model for attention to detail — that we work our land; with respect and care for the terroir and vines, we believe something true and honest will make it into the bottle.

6) What wine made you want to become a winemaker/start your own winery? When Mark and I first arrived in Calistoga, our intent was to farm and sell our grapes to local wineries and slowdown from the hustle and bustle of San Francisco; but when we tasted the Araujo wines and a back vintage of T-Vine Grenache, which were both from Calistoga, we thought, “Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing to bottle our own wine.”

Our biggest fear was that we would not produce a wine we would be proud of, so we sought as much advice as we could from my surrounding colleagues and mentors, and we are truly proud of our inaugural vintage. We will continue on our quest to produce the best wine possible from vintage to vintage, and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have found Todd Heth. He is an amazing winemaker with incredible humility.

ValleyFloorVyd7) What varietals do you work with? Currently, we only work with the varietal that we farm on our home site, Cabernet Sauvignon. Calistoga has ideal growing conditions for this varietal, and Mark and I absolutely adore a good Cab.

8) What vineyards do you source from? If estate, why did you choose the spot you’re in?
We do not source grapes; we are an estate and our 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon.

9) What type of oak treatment do you use? Do you age your wines in some other type of vessel? Why? The grapes for this wine were hand selected in the vineyard when they were harvested by the family and vineyard crew at optimum ripeness and then hand sorted twice in the winery to make sure only the best reached the fermentation tank. Once in the tank, the grapes sat cold as the juice developed color, flavor and aroma before starting to ferment. The tank was gently punched down and pumped over to extract all the color, aroma and flavor from the grapes carefully and finished primary fermentation in about 21 days, when the juice was drained and skins pressed before being filled into small French oak barrels (15% new). The wine finished malolactic fermentation in the barrel after two months and has been aged for 21 months before bottling in July.

10) What do you love about your winemaking region? What makes it different special? I adore the trademark Napa Valley-warm days and cool nights. Due to our diverse soils, climate and topography, Napa Valley vintners are able to produce a variety of consistent quality wines from a wide-ranging selection of grapes. Consider the diversity of just a few of our most popular vinous offerings:
• Traditional method sparkling wines
• Light, fresh Sauvignon Blanc
• Rich, full-bodied Chardonnay
• Silky, seductive Pinot Noir
• Bold, spicy Zinfandel
• Velvety Merlot
• And of course, our world –famous Cabernet Sauvignon

ValleyFloorLabel11) What’s the story behind your name/label? When we first moved into the Valley Floor Vineyard property, our daughter, Emily, who was 10 at the time, climbed the cedar tree outside our bedroom window and took a picture looking out over and past our vineyard. I loved the picture! When we were ready to create our label, a few years later, I blew the picture up and traced it against the window, creating a sketch of the same picture. I passed it along to Wendy Coy, our marketing coordinator and told her that I wanted a subtle, but classic style label that included the sketch. That is how we came up with the label and the name, Valley Floor Vineyard.

12) What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you about the wine business before you started your own winery? Actually, it has been an amazing journey, one that I would not trade. I am pleased that no one told me how hard we would be working, because we were supposedly slowing down from life in the city. That is definitely not what happened, and had we known, we may have decided to stick to the farming; I am so glad we did not! Mark and I work harder than we ever have, but it is a labor of love. We found something that we are both passionate about, besides our three children, and I know we will be making wine for the rest of our lives.

A recent surprise: Our oldest daughter Emily is excited to be going to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo next year to study Wine and Viticulture. So maybe when Mark and I do slow down, Valley Floor Vineyard will carry on with our children.

13) What do you love about small-lot winemaking? Anything you DON’T love about it?
I love that I am able to literally touch and see every single vine through the entire growing process. I love that I can taste every barrel with Todd, and nurture the grapes all the way into the bottle. I love that we are environmentally aware and learning each and every day new ways to farm responsibly and organically.

The only thing we do not love …well, if you have weather that is not conducive to your crop…we all know what happens. It is tougher when you only have a small parcel, but that is okay with us…we will do our best to weather those storms.

14) Do you still have a day job? If so, do you mind sharing what it is?
I do still have a full time day job at Araujo Estate Wines. I am their Client Relations Manager and my responsibilities encompass all retail sales, direct to consumer and wine logistics. It is a job I often tell my boss that I love and would like to remain until I am ready for retirement.

To learn more about Valley Floor Vineyards, please visit their website or follow them on FACEBOOK.

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