That first morning, while waiting for a famous Rutherford winemaker, I struck a conversation with an older gentleman preparing for a day of pruning. His straw hat and long checkered sleeves had not kept years of sun from darkening his skin, which with deep creases in his face, gave the appearance of something like an aboriginal wise man. My impression of this man radically changed as we spoke. His knowledge of Napa’s best wines, viticulture, geology and the elements required to create extraordinary wine rivaled the Davis trained oenologists I would meet that week.
With dark, wrinkled hands, he produced a hooked pruning knife, known in days past as a billhook. Except for a gleaming edge, the patinaed steel blade was as black as the worn wood handle, stained with the oil of hands through generations of use. The knife had been his grandfather’s who worked Napa Valley vineyards in the previous century.
All he knew about vines was taught by his father, who had learned from his father before. I understood that practices passed down in this special place were different than areas where expectations were lower. What this man had learned from his father and grandfather was vision, commitment, sacrifice and a passion to create wines that could stand among the best in the world.
I don’t remember his name and I never saw him again. But each winter, as I watch workers move through the gray smoke of burning cuttings, I wonder if that knife is in one of their hands.
Billhook Cabernet Sauvignon is dedicated to this man who, years ago, made an indelible impression on me and to the others like him whose role is essential in making Napa Valley a world class source of great wine."
One of the most prestigious wines of the world capable of great power and grace, Napa Valley Cabernet is a leading force in the world of fine, famous, collectible red wine. Today the Napa Valley and Cabernet Sauvignon are so intrinsically linked that it is difficult to discuss one without the other. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that this marriage came to light; sudden international recognition rained upon Napa with the victory of the Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars 1973 Cabernet Sauvignon in the 1976 Judgement of Paris.
Cabernet Sauvignon undoubtedly dominates Napa Valley today, covering half of the land under vine, commanding the highest prices per ton and earning the most critical acclaim. Cabernet Sauvignon’s structure, acidity, capacity to thrive in multiple environs and ability to express nuances of vintage make it perfect for Napa Valley where incredible soil and geographical diversity are found and the climate is perfect for grape growing. Within the Napa Valley lie many smaller sub-AVAs that express specific characteristics based on situation, slope and soil—as a perfect example, Rutherford’s famous dust or Stags Leap District's tart cherry flavors.