Weppler Vineyards Interview | Calistoga Cabernet
Calistoga is one of the newest AVAs in Napa Valley, just slightly older than the Coombsville AVA. It was created in December of 2009 and has been in effect since 2010. Calistoga is known for many varietals, especially Cabernet Sauvignon (which is planted on over 40% of the planted acreage in Calistoga), Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel. As you probably have heard before, "Cabernet is King" which would line up with some of the wines coming out of Calistoga, such as Barrett & Barrett Cabernet Sauvignon from Barrett & Barrett Wine, Venge Vineyards Bone Ash Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Rivers-Marie Cabernet Sauvignon from Rivers-Marie and of course the Cabernet Sauvignon from Chateau Montelena. These are just a few of the killer Cabs coming out of Calistoga. Our first real step into Calistoga Cabernet Sauvignon is from a brand new boutique winery that just finished completing their second vintage. The estate is Weppler Vineyards which was started in 2012 by Keith Weppler and his family when they purchased a vacation home in Calistoga. When they purchased the property there were a few hundred vines of Cabernet Sauvignon already planted on it. These vines were used to make their inaugural vintage, 2012. We found out after talking to Keith that this was his very first batch of wine he had ever made, of course with the help from his mentor Dan Teldeschi from the Teldeschi Winery. More about their relationship and how his winemaking career began in an interview with him later in this article.
In 2013, Keith was able to purchase two additional acres of Cabernet Sauvignon next to his property which increased his production size of 50 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2012 to 500 cases of Cabernet Sauvignon in 2013. One really interesting fact about his 2012 and 2013 vintages is that there is a special varietal that had been added into it in order to add additional complexity to his wines. This grape is Valdiguie, which is pronounced 'Val-de-gee'. Valdiguie is a varietal of French origin from the South of France. It has gone by quite a few names in Napa, such as 'Napa Gamay' and 'Gamay Beaujolais'. Read more in the interview below for why Keith uses Valdiguie in his Cabernet Sauvignon (less that 5%).
We were able to get a little bit of time on Keith's calendar to ask him a few questions about how his interest/career in wine started as well as more specifics about his estate and its future!
Q1: What event or experience changed your view on wine and made you decide that you wanted to own your own wine estate and produce wine?
Keith Weppler (KW): There was no real one time experience that made me think that all of a sudden I (Keith) needed to purchase a vineyard and start making wine. Our (Keith and Julie) first trip out to the Napa and Sonoma area was in 1983, we just fell in love with the scenery and atmosphere. We especially fell in love with Calistoga and Healdsburg in Sonoma County and we tried to visit every 3 to 5 years since then. Once our daughter, Brittany moved to San Francisco in 2008 we started to visit the area more frequently. In 2010 we started looking for a vacation home, since with my current situation at work I could basically work remotely from anywhere, and found a small cottage up in Calistoga that just happened to have 300 vines of Cabernet Sauvignon on it. Shortly thereafter we purchased the neighboring property with 2 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon vines planted. Long story short we decided to invest time and money making changes to the vineyard and start taking better care of the vines and produced our first vintage in 2012.
Q2: From what we have heard from Brittany, we know that you used to work in the financial industry, prior to purchasing the property up in Calistoga did you have any experience in the wine industry?
KW: None at all. I was raised in Illinois and raised our family in Indiana so the only experience I had was from growing up working on a farm and living in a farming community. As you said I used to work in the financial industry, so I already had that aspect of opening up a wine estate/business under my belt and from growing up in a farming community I knew the basics of farming. Those basics were supplemented through our numerous trips to Napa and Sonoma where I was able to ask a lot of people about the vineyard growing and winemaking process and learn from it.
Q3: Aside from your wine estate, we just wanted to ask you a few questions about your interest and experience with wines. What is the best bottle of wine you have ever tasted? One that truly left an impression on you?
KW: After our trip to Napa in 1983, I decided to stop by one of the local wine shops that had quite a large selection of wines from Napa. Two bottles that I picked up were a bottle of 1978 Simi Reserve and 1983 Diamond Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. I actually still have both of these in the cellar, not sure if I will ever open them up. Another really memorable bottle was one I received as a gift from a friend. A 1976 Chateau Mouton Rothschild which we cracked back in 2006, it was a stunning wine, completely different from the wines we were drinking at the time.
Q4: What is your favorite wine region and what do you enjoy drinking?
KW: I love the Napa and Sonoma areas. I just love the climate and atmosphere here. As for wines I enjoy drinking, let’s just say I love red wine. Of course I prefer Cab, but I do in enjoy a good Petite Sirah and there is always an occasion for Zins too.
Q5: Do you happen to collect wine yourself? If so what is lurking down in your cellar? Any really special bottles?
KW: Not really collect, but we do have somewhere between 40 to 50 cases hidden downstairs. I would have to take a look with what is there but off the top of my head I know we have a couple ’94 Insignia magnums and still that ’83 Diamond Creek and ’78 Simi Reserve.
Q6: What do you have waiting at home for you tonight or what is your ‘go to’ daily drinker?
KW: We don’t really have a go to drink but at home lately we have been having a couple 2000 Teldeschi Petite Sirah.
Q7: What do you enjoy doing in your life outside of your winery, such as hobbies, etc.?
KW: I really enjoy nature, going on hikes, working in the garden. Really anything outdoorsy. I love playing basketball or throwing a ball out with my kids and taking road trips. Another hobby I have is I love to tinker with things around the house and try to diagnose problems, but I am not saying that if the water heater is broken I am going to fix it.
Q8: Who are some winemakers that have influenced your winemaking career? Any mentors?
KW: As you know I just started making wine recently, my first vintage was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. As a mentor there is one winemaker who offered to teach me the ropes and allowed me to crush at his vineyard, Dan Teldeschi from Healdsburg. Dan is a third generation Italian wine maker and grower who has been so thoughtful and generous sharing his winemaking experience with me. I am also fortunate to live next to Peter Heitz who is the winemaker at Turnbull in Oakville and winemaker for his family label known as Shypoke. Peter has been very helpful with advice in the vineyard as well as answering so many questions about winemaking. Besides what I learned from asking questions during our trips to Napa and Sonoma everything else I have learned from Dan and Peter.
Q9: How would you describe your winemaking philosophy and why it is important to you?
KW: My winemaking philosophy is paying attention to the smallest of details in order to match our style of Cabernet Sauvignon. This does not just start in the cellar, it starts in the vineyard. We pride ourselves on managing the canopy in a very specific way. Starting with making sure early on (when the grapes are green and still growing) that there is enough of a canopy to protect the grapes from the sun. In August, every 10 days we start pulling leaves here and there to help with the skins ripening and darkening, we do this until 2 weeks before the harvest at which time the grapes will be completely exposed to the late September sun. We pick the grapes, but only the sections that are ripe, all by hand which generally takes us three to four rounds for the ripening to occur over a two week period.
Q10: What exactly are your quality standards for the when the grapes are ripe enough for picking and how does that tie into your style of Cabernet Sauvignon?
KW: When I go out to inspect the grapes I have a process I follow to see if the grapes are at the perfect texture and juice level that I am looking for. I throw a grape in my mouth and separate the juice from the skin. I put the skin in my fingers and if it rubs away as if it is disintegrating then it is getting where we want it.
Also, I can taste the skins for flavor and texture and know when they are ready to make the soft elegant silky textured wine we are looking for.
Q11: We just want to know a little background about the property you purchased. Prior to purchasing your vineyard, was there another estate here producing wine or selling the grapes?
KW: In 1999 all the old vines were pulled out and planted with Cabernet Sauvignon. The previous vineyard manager did not put a lot of effort into the vineyard, they attempted to dry farm (without watering the vines if needed) and cut corners. These grapes were just sold off. When we purchased the estate we had to clean it all up, from pruning to clearing around the vines.
Q12: Now for a little more information about your wines, what was your first vintage produced?
KW: Our first vintage was the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon.
Q13: Do you filter your wines?
KW: No, they are unfiltered, all we do is rack it 2 or 3 times.
Q14: We noticed on your newsletter you sent over to us that the juice is separated from the grapes just prior to completing fermentation. How long does the juice stay in contact with the skins during fermentation?
KW: We start with a two day cold soak before yeast and fermentation begins. The juice stays in contact with the skins (75% to 80% skin contact) for the seven to ten days of fermentation before we drain and press the skins. The fermentation finishes in an enclosed tank without the skins.
Q15: Additionally, what is ‘Valdiguie’ and why did you decide to use it in your 2012 and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignons?
KW: Valdiguie is a grape original from South West France and has a long story of mis-identification in Napa (check online for more info, use to be known as Napa Gamay). We got the grapes from the Teldeschi’s vineyard where they have around 200 vines. In the 2012 we used less than 5% Valdiguie to soften up the Cabernet Sauvignon since we had not used the grapes before and did not know what to expect. Additionally it helped us top off and have two full barrels for a total of 50 cases. In 2013 we were still learning about the grapes and had relatively the same amount of Valdiguie with a little less than the 2012.
Q16: What changes are there between the 2012 and 2013 Cabernet Sauvignons?
KW: The 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in 100% neutral French oak which gave the 2012 a softer Cabernet Sauvignon approach with less oak influence. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was aged in 55% New French Oak (New Seguin Moreau and Quintessence barrels) and the remaining in neutral oak barrels from the Teldeschi winery. Both are aged in oak for 18 to 20 months. 55% new French Oak is the ratio we want to use going forward. But we have some friends who really enjoyed the 2012 style, so we might add another Cabernet Sauvignon in the line-up in the future aged in only neutral oak.
Q17: What wines are you planning on producing for future vintages? Are you planning on increasing production in the future?
KW: In 2014 the only wine we will have is the Cabernet Sauvignon which will not have any Valdiguie in this vintage and will be 100% Cabernet Sauvignon. I think there will be between 500 to 550 cases. We plan also on offering a very small bottling from a certain section of the vineyard from the best barrels and 100% new French oak.
In 2015 there were some low yields so we will only have around 300 cases of the Cabernet Sauvignon. In addition to the Cabernet Sauvignon we were lucky enough to get some Petite Sirah from the Fortuna Vineyard which is owned by Turnbull Wine Cellars. We are really excited to be making this wine from such extraordinary juice, it will be aged in 50% new oak.
In the future we would like to double production to a total of 1000 cases, but we are in no hurry to get there. If the opportunity presents itself we will look into it.
Q18: One last question about your wines, how long do you believe your wines can age for?
KW: Depends on the style of Cabernet Sauvignon you like to drink. I would recommend 5 to 10 years. But if you do not mind losing some of the fruit it could go for 15.
Q19: For anyone who wants to try out your wines, how can they go about getting their hands on a bottle?
KW: We have a “Tasting Room to You Intro”. If you sign up for that you get 75% off one bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, meaning you pay $15.00 plus tax instead of $60.00. Besides the bottle you just pay $15.00 shipping and we send it out to you. Of course, larger quantities are also available. Email us at WepplerVineyards@gmail.com for ordering information.
After having a great conversation with Keith and learning about his transition from being a CPA to now being a winemaker and owning his own estate (as well as some consulting on the side), we decided we just had to try his wine! This is our first wine that we have tried with such an interesting varietal added into the mix. Prior to this we had never heard of Valdiguie before and we were not sure at all what to expect. So here goes nothing!
Very interesting story about this wine. Not 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, but actually has less than 5% Valdiguie in it. If you are not sure what that it is, take a look online it has gone by a few different names in the last 50 years. We tasted this wine over two days to see how it would develop. This was a treat to try wine by a new winemaker into the industry. We can only imagine how the wines are going to improve as Keith gets more and more experience as a winemaker. You all should definitely get some of this before others catch on!!
We started with a PNP and noticed that it was pretty tannic and tight, so we decanted the rest for two hours. Wine was a mix between crimson and garnet red. The decanting definitely helped. Nose began to open up with a ton of dark cherries, slight cassis, a little chalk and dust. Very unique undertones of eucalyptus. We have only experienced this once before where we could actually identify it (Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon The Mint). On day two the nose gained some vegetal characteristics, only slightly with a little bell pepper. Very nice structure on the palate, grips the insides of your cheeks. Moderate tannins (6.5/10) with a moderate body. Solid acidity as well that led with dark cherries. As it opened up the palate changed quite a bit with cassis, tree bark, dark chocolate and finishing off with baking spices. Another surprise with this wine was the finish, it was slightly dry. Finish was long and lingered for 15+ seconds. This wine definitely has some great aging potential and will only improve with time as it gets a chance to integrate even further. Very enjoyable experience and we definitely would love the chance to try the 2012! Great value and wine for a Napa Valley Cabernet.
2016 till 2026.
Price Point:$$ - Sample provided by the Estate. Was available from the Estate for $60.00.