Frog's Leap Winery and Rutherford Dust
Located in Rutherford within the Napa Valley, Frog's Leap Winery is a brand and label I have always recognized and thought I knew. Having just moved to Napa from NYC with my husband Massimiliano, the new wine director of Bottega Restaurant in Yountville, it is our goal to get out and get dirty within California's vineyards and break the California wine prejudices we have grown to accept and repeat ourselves.
Massi and I felt very grateful to have a private tour with Jonah Beer, GM of Frog's Leap Winery. He sat us down in wooden chairs right beside the pond with lily pads in the shade and handed us a glass of water and not wine. I actually appreciated this, because I wanted a clear head to listen and learn as he discussed the transformation and discoveries of the still youthful Napa Valley wine region.
Opening facts that Jonah pointed out was that we, sitting there in Rutherford, were nestled between two greatly dissimilar mountains that ranged about three miles in distance apart. Facing north, if you look to the west you will see the dark green rolling hills of the Mayacamas, and looking east you will see the golden sun parched hills of the Vaca mountains barely spotted with green.
Frog's Leap Winery does not irrigate. After digging one shovel deep in the soil and after months of almost no rain, the soil was still moist.
Then he drew a map and shaded the base of the Mayacamas, where rocks have fallen after receiving about 80 inches of rain annually vs. the Vaca mountains which receive about 20 inches. This gravelly soil is the best for Cabernet Sauvignon and where you will typically find the most legendary California Cabernet producers. He referenced the differing soils of the base of the Mayacamas and the base of the Vaca to the Left and the Right bank of Bordeaux suggesting that the West side of the Napa Valley was like the Left Bank is to Cabernet and the east side of the Napa Valley was like the Right Bank is to Merlot. Then he scribbled a few different plots of gravelly soil in between the two mountain ranges where other great Cabernet has also been planted successfully.
We also discussed mountain soil, such as Howell mountain where the legendary Dunn Vineyards has produced amazing cabernet for about three decades. According to Jonah Beer, yields are much less up mountain, which can make for great juice -- however, many producers (not Dunn) do use "controversial" irrigation in an effort to rectify smaller yields. Note on irrigation: "It has been historically banned by the European Union's wine laws (Wikipedia). In California there are no laws against irrigation.
Frog's Leap Winery was first certified organic in 1988. They farm 250 acres -- all of which is dry farmed. They do not irrigate. Their wines are very European in style and I enjoyed each and every one of them . . . only wishing that I could have found their chardonnay or sauvignon blanc by the glass somewhere in NYC. . . it would have been a great surprise.