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The Wines of Celia Welch

At our ladies’ luncheon with Celia Welch, Celia led us through a tasting of six of her wines.  And as she discussed the trajectory of her career, we hung on her words and followed her tour throughout all of Napa Valley .

Joining Keever Vineyards, “a total family vineyard” as Celia described it, when the winery opened in 2006, Celia crafts their Estate Cabernet Sauvignon and their more recently planted Sauvignon Blanc.  Located in Yountville, Napa Valley, Keever is owned and operated by Bill and Olga Keever who work the vineyards and the tasting room alongside their children, Jason and Ashley.  Just south of Domaine Chandon, where there are “alluvial fans” on the west side of Napa, Keever’s 7-acres of vineyards sit on a hill of fine grained loam and “tennis ball sized rocks,” which help provide excellent drainage.

For the Sauvignon Blanc, Celia de-stems and employs a basket crush, before barrel fermenting and letting the wine sit on its lees for 5-6 months.  With zero residual sugar, the Keever Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2010 has notes of grass and lemongrass, with beautiful acidity that’s ensconced by a round viscosity, softened by oak and lees.

From Keever’s six acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Celia vinifies a much sought after wine.  With vines that are comprised of four clones and two different rootstocks, the vineyard here is managed by Barbour Vineyards, for whom Celia also vinifies.  With rich cherry fruit and light tobacco tannins, the Keever Vineyards Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville, Napa Valley 2009 warms the palate with its cooling herb notes and spice on the finish, while showcasing Celia’s classic silky tannins.

Located in Calistoga, Napa Valley, Kelly Fleming Wines planted its first 8-acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines in 1999.  Farmed organically, this 300-acre estate of mostly wild land added another 4-acres of CS vines in 2005, the year their first vintage (2002) was released.  Describing the estate’s owner, Kelly Fleming, as a “fabulous gardner” who has a fascination with flavors and how they intertwine, Celia explained that the winery here is simply a “natural outcropping” of this passion.

Made from the Cabernet Sauvignon clones 8, 4, 337 (clones 191 and 341 were recently planted to the estate) the Kelly Fleming Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2008  offers dark cherry fruit, satiny tannins and a slight savoriness that finishes with flavors of baking spices.  Basket pressed, the juice runs through gravity fed tanks.  Aged for 20 months in 85% new French oak, the wine is then bottled unfiltered and unfined.

Located in Stags Leap where the land is generally flat, Celia said that the vineyards of Lindstrom are located on a “knob that rises from the valley floor by 150 feet.”  Shaped like an “upside down ice cream cone” this Nicali Vineyard is so rocky that there is “almost no soil”.  A quilt of 11 blocks, this 4-acre plot is planted to four different Cabernet clones, including 337, which Celia explained is planted on the “morning side” of the hill, and yields perfumed fruit, for a softly textured wine.  On the afternoon side, she said, they planted clone 4, which adds a strong masculine structure, with few aromas.  And while she wouldn’t craft a wine from either solo clone, when blended together, it’s the perfect marriage.

Like clockwork, Celia further explained, there’s a wind that chills this section of Napa, every summer afternoon at 4:00.  And as for achieving the silky tannins that structure the Lindstrom Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008, they “don’t even have to try, it’s what the vineyard gives us.”  With a warm and inviting nose of chocolate cherry, there’s minerality on the palate, and acidity that’s coated with cocoa powder that softens the powerful tannins.

In 2004, a good friend took Celia to lunch and suggested that she launch her own project.  And though Celia knew that “owning vineyards [in Napa] wasn’t a reality” she did know that there were sections in the valley that she wanted to work with.  Made from fruit that consists of 45% Cabernet Sauvignon from Prichard Hill, 45% from Rutherford and 10% from a property in Oakville that’s owned by US Davis, Corra was born in 2004,  yielding approximately 400 cases annually.

Since 2006, when the Keever Vineyards’ winery first opened, Celia has been making her wine there.  When the winery was first constructed, “Bill said that there was space for one more brand,” said Celia, and so he offered her the opportunity.  Laughing, she then told us that it was actually her fruit that tested the new facility.  A powerful union of dark fruit, cocoa and spicy tannins, the Corra Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 has fresh acidity and seamless transitions, with notes of spice that rise on the back of the palate like a wave on the finish.

With a label drawn by Bret Lopez, the grandson of J.J. Cohn who is the namesake of the Estate that yields the fruit for Scarecrow (he was also the MGM executive producer of The Wizard of Oz), M. Étain is Scarecrow’s companion label that was first released in 2008.  With ten barrels of wine produced for the Scarecrow label, Celia used only four and so she “had six barrels of something outstanding that isn’t Scarecrow that became ‘Tinman’.”

For the two wines, the winemaking process is the same.  “We don’t know until one-and-a-half-years after harvest, which is Scarecrow and which is ‘Tinman’,”  said Celia.  Made from 65-year-old Cabernet Sauvignon vines, which are among some of the oldest in California, these vines are head-trained and dry farmed.  “We call them old men,” said Celia, because each year, they lose one or two vines.

Spread out over 20 different plots in Rutherford, these are complex vineyards.  And though Scarecrow is not always crafted from the same blend of vineyard pieces, each vintage always offers the same profile.

Aged in 85% new French oak barrels for approximately 16 months, the Monsieur Etain Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 offers warm black cherry and raspberry fruit with earthy spices, chalky tannins and a brightly spiced acidity that rises mid palate, finishing on a high note indeed.

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