Altagracia: A Cinderella Story
Tucked in the northeastern corner of Napa Valley, just south of the Palisades Mountains is the legendary Eisele Vineyard. Long recognized as one the finest Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Napa Valley, this stunning site owes its success to its various owners over the last century, each who contributed significant influences to the quality of vineyard. It is no surprise then that the new owner, François Pinault from Château Latour, is likewise elevating the standards that were already so remarkable. As the 2015 vintages are being released, we are starting to see these new influences, and it’s pretty exciting.
To step back to the beginning, we have to go all the way to 1884, when the vineyard was originally planted to Zinfandel and Riesling. For almost a hundred years, it survived through several owners who casually reaped the gifts of this remarkable land without much effort. In 1969, Barbara and Milton Eisele purchased the 38-acre site and renamed it Eisele Vineyard. They planted Cabernet Sauvignon and began selling their grapes to well-known producers such as Ridge, Conn Creek and Joseph Phelps. Under these labels, the vineyard began to gain a following. In 1990, the Araujo family purchased the land (162 acres total) and created the first winery and temperature-controlled caves. During this time, they introduced organic and biodynamic farming and replanted several acres. In 2013, they sold to Château Latour.
Today, the vineyard is an impressive site that is not only remarkable in the glass, but also amazingly beautiful. The land is divided into 13 blocks and 40 sub-blocks based on its soils and sub-soils. Two waterways cut through the property, the Simmons Creek, which flows north to south, and a smaller tributary that runs east to west. From these, alluvial deposits of volcanic, cobbly soils fan out along the valley floor, creating a well-draining, nutrient-poor foothold for the vines, ideal for growing tiny, intensely-flavored berries. Between the creek and the foothills, gentle slopes undulate gracefully, creating further nuances in exposure and microclimates.
Altagracia is a wine that was born from these subtle differences in the vineyard. Originally, in the late 1990s, this Bordeaux Blend was made from newly-replanted vines as well as some neighboring fruit. Grapes that might not be quite ready to go into the famed Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon went into Altagracia, creating a wine that was more supple, open and easy to enjoy while you waited for your Eisele Cab to age. And it remained this way for the next two decades – like a stepsister next to the starlet.
Under the new helm, however, the Altagracia is getting its turn at the ball. The wine is now made from 90% estate grapes, farmed from the Tecolote, Piedras, Jardin and Rincon blocks on the eastern hillside. In addition, the vines have matured and the selectiveness for the Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon program has increased. The wine is still considered more approachable, softer and open-knit than the Eisele Cabernet, but it has developed a distinct and striking profile connected to its terroir. What we’re seeing today from the Altagracia is what some critics are calling a ‘Super Second,’ a term reserved for Bordeaux wines that rival the first growths, which seems only fitting under this new ownership.