David Graves and Dick Ward were classmates at the University of California-Davis back in the 1970s, when the school was home to the Holy Grail of Winemaking. By 1981 they were business partners and owners of a Napa Valley winery they named for George Saintsbury, an English writer whose classic 1920 book, "Notes on a Cellar-Book," had been an inspiration.
This year, they mark the 25th anniversary of the winery, well known for its classy Pinot Noir, with three new variations on their theme. Single-vineyard Pinots from the Toyon, Stanly and Lee properties accompany the already stylish Brown vineyard. And based on the harvest, winemaker Graves expects big results from his newborn triplets. All of the singel-vineyard wines are expensive, ranging from $45 to $60 a bottle.
Picking is under way in Saintsbury’s Carneros properties. For the geography-illiterate, Carneros is at the southern point of both Napa and Sonoma Counties, bordering on San Pablo Bay. Breezes from the bay and California sunlight make the grapes grow, and boy, did they grow this year.
In a recent telephone conversation, Graves said, "I’m feeling very good about the harvest," but his tone was ebullient and if we’d been talking over a videophone, I’m certain he would have been grinning widely.
"We had a very wet winter and spring," he went on, and the vines were about three weeks late in the budding process. But they recovered, helped by a very hot July, so hot it did not even cool down at nights the way it usually does. But we had an even and steady six weeks from August 1 to September 15 when we began picking."
The Brown vineyard, whose grapes produce some exemplary wine, is owned by Graves and Ward; they buy grapes from the other growing areas, all in the Carneros area.
They make seven Pinot Noirs, including four single vineyards, a Carneros, a Garnet Pinot Noir and one from grapes in the Anderson Valley of Mendocino County. They also make two Chardonnays and display a zany sense of humor with a rose called Vincent Vin Gris, featuring a label that almost looks like a Vincent Van Gogh painting and which is made from Pinot Noir grapes.
The ‘04 Carneros Pinot Noir is a lovely wine, softer than its youth would suggest and with splendid cherry notes and a solid finish, well worth its $30 price tag. The rose is good, though I think it’s a little heavier and with not quite the quaffing qualities shown by the roses made from Grenache grapes. Its retail price is about $13.
This year may have been a breakthrough for the American wine drinker in terms of rose wines – it certainly has been one in St. Louis – which can be made from any red grape. The Grenache is my favorite, but I’ve tasted pleasant rose wines from Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir and others, including Zinfandel.
Graves has a similar feeling, noting that his rose is "a different wine, with a different feeling, to be drunk in a different context. I think it’s ideal for people just getting into the enjoyment of drier wines."
As far as a turning point in its success, he said drily, "Well, by the time you are getting tired of saying it, people are beginning to listen."