Clos Du Val
While the story of Clos Du Val is rich in history, and follows the rise of Napa Valley as one of the world’s preeminent winegrowing regions, it is also a living story that is still being written. In recent years, guided by Winemaker Kristy Melton and President and CEO Steve Tamburelli, Clos Du Val has experienced a renaissance in every facet of the winery. This period of revitalization started when Kristy was named senior winemaker in 2012, and began leading a vibrant and vineyard-driven stylistic shift for Clos Du Val’s wines. It continued in the 2014 vintage, when Clos Du Val began focusing almost exclusively on making estate-grown wines, with an emphasis on the exceptional Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignons that first catapulted Clos Du Val to fame.
Clos Du Val was founded by the Goelet family in 1972. In the history of North American winemaking, the Cabernet producers of 1972 are legendary. In an era that wine writer Hugh Johnson referred to as “the turning point in modern wine history,” 1972 saw the founding of a who’s who of California’s most iconic wineries. It was a dynamic time, filled with energy and innovation that laid the foundation for Napa Valley’s rise to global prominence. Two years before, the Goelet family tasked talented French-born winemaker Bernard Portet with finding vineyard land capable of producing a world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. After traveling to five continents, this search brought Bernard to the Stags Leap District in Napa Valley, where perfect daytime weather, cool nights and ideal soils yield Cabernet Sauvignons of uncommon power and elegance.
In 1972, Clos Du Val acquired 150 acres of estate vineyards in the heart of the Stags Leap District, and made its first wines, including Clos Du Val’s legendary debut 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon—one of only six California Cabernets selected for the famous 1976 Judgment of Paris Tasting, where California defeated some of Bordeaux’s finest. Ten years later, Clos Du Val’s reputation for creating some of Napa Valley’s most gracefully age-worthy wines was solidified, when its 1972 Cabernet Sauvignon took first place in the Judgment of Paris rematch.
Today, Clos Du Val’s acclaimed estate program has evolved to include 180 acres in Napa, Carneros, and the 18-acre State Lane Vineyard in Yountville. In a nod to the iconic image that has graced the Clos Du Val label for over 40 years, Clos Du Val’s three estate vineyards are collectively referred to as the Three Graces—Splendor, Mirth and Joy—the mythical daughters of Zeus, who were said to preside over Olympian celebrations. These vineyards include more than 30 different Cabernet Sauvignon blocks, with a variety of soil types and exposures, dozens of unique clone and rootstock combinations, and an array of vine ages. In turn, this provides Kristy with a remarkable palette of estate fruit from which to make Clos Du Val’s wines.
Taking advantage of this rich diversity of estate fruit, Kristy ferments as many as 35 individual lots of Cabernet Sauvignon each vintage, with as many as 70 total lots of Bordeaux red varieties—some as small as 1.5 tons. To achieve her stylistic vision, Kristy and President and CEO Steve Tamburelli have also instituted numerous changes, including restoring and modernizing the winery, harvesting later, working with Vineyard Manager Al Wagner to reduce yields and increase dappled sunlight in the vine canopy, adding cold soaks to the Cabernet program to increase color and aromatics, instituting earlier pumpovers to create greater tannin integration, utilizing new filtration methods to limit oxidation, and revamping the barrel program to focus on more new oak and only the best coopers—all to preserve vineyard character, while adding nuance and silky textural elements.
“As a winery, our original roots were more in an Old World style,” says Kristy. “We used to pick much earlier, at lower Brix. Now we are more fully embracing the Napa Valleyness of our wines. We are showing the natural strengths of our vineyards, and we are doing it in a way that still honors our roots. While our wines are richer and more textural than in the past, they still have lovely acid and relatively modest alcohol levels of around 14%. They are wines of purity and balance.”
Unlike many of the other pioneering Napa Valley wineries, Clos Du Val has remained small and dedicated only to Napa Valley wines—a focus that has become even clearer in recent vintages. In fact, as part of its transition to making almost exclusively estate-grown wines, Clos Du Val made the bold decision to significantly reduce production, with overall Cabernet Sauvignon production cut almost in half.
“While Clos Du Val has an important place in the history of Napa Valley, we are looking forward, not back,” says Steve Tamburelli, who, prior to Clos Du Val, spent 11 years as the general manager of Napa Valley’s acclaimed Chappellet Vineyard. “Kristy is already making some of the finest wines in our history. By staying small, having an absolute focus on quality, and having complete control over every vine, every wine, and every stage of viticulture and winemaking, our wines will continue getting more and more exceptional. Everyone is committed to this vision. We see this time as the beginning of a great new chapter in our story that will lay the foundation for the next four decades.”