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A Stunning Petite Castle in Napa - Chateau Boswell Produces Exquisite Cabs and Chardonnay

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Driving along the Silverado Trail up at the northern end of Napa Valley in St. Helena, I’d always noticed what appeared to be a petite castle nestled among the evergreens. It wasn’t until I started hearing raves about Chateau Boswell’s “under the radar” high quality small lot wines that I set out for a visit, which to my surprise happened to be the “castle” I had admired for years. While it turns out the castle exterior is mostly a facade and the interior is roughly the size of a one bedroom apartment, the wines themselves are larger than life. Chateau Boswell is a relatively young high-end producer gaining notoriety in the valley. Over the past decade, they have been assimilating all the great components to great winemaking by enhancing their estate vineyards, sourcing some of the region’s most sought-after grapes, developing of state-of-the-art wine caves bored into their hillside and investing in state of the art winemaking equipment. Josh tells me that Chateau Boswell “plays well with others” meaning that several other wineries produce and store their wines in the Boswell caves and cost of high tech equipment can be amortized between all the winemakers that use Chateau Boswell to make wine allows them to use technology that other small production wineries rarely have access to. This makes for the perfect venue to ferment new ideas and work in collaboration with other sought after winemakers. Chateau Boswell officially started producing wine in 1979 with just one Estate Cabernet. Only 150 cases were produced and were shared only at open house weekends. Josh Peeples, joined the team in 1999 after working in the dot.com world, and started producing Chardonnay named in honor of his wife Jaquelynn (daughter of the Boswells). Today they focus on premium hand crafted wines namely Chateau Boswell’s Estate-grown Cabernet (produced from grapes from great vineyards like Beckstoffer To Kalon) and the Jacquelynn label Chardonnay (from Sonoma and Sebastopol vineyards like Ritchie and Dutton Ranch). The talented Russell Bevan leads the winemaking efforts along with partner Victoria De Crescenzo, and they also produce their Napa Valley wines at Chateau Boswell under their own label, Bevan Cellars. The team is fully committed to its philosophy of zero compromise winemaking of small lot premium wines that display the unique characteristics of their vineyard sources through old-world, low intervention winemaking techniques.

Whether it’s hand sorting for the Cabernet, or the gentle twice daily stirring of barrel-fermented Chardonnay, the team’s modus operandi is “Quality without Compromise”. Maintaining the utmost quality is clearly more important to scaling up production for this winery, that produced 1500 cases a year and doesn’t have plans to increase production. Boswell typically bottles 80% of what they make, but sometimes less. For example, in 2011, the only ended up picking half of their fruit, and from that bottled only half of that. To them, it’s of utmost importance to maintain the integrity of their brand, and as one of the few high quality Chardonnay producers in Napa, they are definitely becoming a highly desirable brand to purchase and cellar (scarcity can be a good thing!). Although they place great emphasis is on terroir, Chateau Boswell also obviously values the highest quality fruit and goes to great lengths to use only the finest. They source most of their fruit from selected vineyards from the valley and are hyper sensitive about being redundant with anchor sites they partner with for the long term . Chateau Boswell also strives to be responsible to the community's ongoing dependence upon a strong environmental structure by being not only a sustainable agricultural property, but also a totally organic one. In fact, in 2007 Chateau Boswell became the first winery to be certified Napa Green and the first to be recertified in 2010 showing a further reduction in their environmental impact through reduction in their water and energy use and an increase in their recycling. Susan Boswell has said “Our focus has always been that wines are made in the vineyard first, and as no single bottling of ours is more than a few hundred cases. Having Russell Bevan on board with his ability to create wines which bring out the best possible characteristics of each vineyard source is something we are really excited about”.

Upon arrival for our tasting, we were graciously welcomed to the beautiful gorgeous, ivy-covered stone winery by Josh Peeples who escorted us to the winery. The tasting room features a acoustic-bending parabolic dome above the winery caves (some 65 feet below the ground) and have exposed intriguing patterns of the natural stone formations, lending another natural dimension the winery. Here in the domed tasting room, we started our tasting with the only unfiltered wine the Jacquelynn Cuvee Blanc, which is a 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon blend, with partial malolactic fermentation. The grapes are hand sorted, whole cluster pressed using native yeasts and 35% French Oak barrels. The semillon provides fuller bodied flavors of tropical fruit, peach and honeysuckle and gives it a richer mouthfeel and long smooth finish, the Sauvignon Blanc allows the wine to retain great acidity so it’s crisp while still feeling sumptuous. Next we moved on to the Chardonnay, tasting the 2010 Sebastopol Vineyard Dutton Ranch Russian River Chardonnay first. This wine sees 100% malolatic fermentation and French Oak creating a beautifully balanced yet powerful wine with great fruit, acidity and a rich, intense mouthfeel. The next wine we tasted was “The Voyage” Chardonnay, 2010, produced from grapes from the Russian River Valley and aged in barrels by 5 different coopers. The lots are separately aged and even the type of barrel and cooper is carefully matched to the wine flavors from the particular lots. We immediately commented on how incredible the expression of terroir was in the wines - though both wines were produced identically, the difference in taste was entirely due to the differences between the vineyards. While this wine was not as dense or rich as the Sebastopol Chardonnay, it shows beautiful balanced structure and more minerality, tasting like a fine white Burgundy. At this, Josh suggested we might like to go do a Chardonnay barrel tasting so we could taste all of the single vineyard lots that went into the blends we had just tasted. The range in intense flavors from each specific lot was a true testament to the reason that terroir and fruit are of great importance to the winemaker’s mission to create the perfectly layered blend.
After the barrel tasting, we returned to the last two wines - the Cabernets, starting with the Jacquelynn 2010 Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ($175). This Cabernet uses grapes from the famous vineyard in Oakville and only 200 cases are produced using the free-run method of production.. It sees 100% new French oak and has 14% Cabernet Franc. This is an outstanding Cab -it doesn’t have the extremely ripe fruit of some Napa Cabs that offer an intense fruit experience nor is it big as in tannic and bold but rather has intense, substantial body while being extremely well balanced and nuanced. This is a great winery to visit if you are looking to taste and purchase high quality ageable Cabernet and Chardonnays that will almost certainly become a Napa Valley legend in time. When I asked Josh the winery’s future goals, he reiterated that the winery intended to keep their production small, but wanted to continue to grow their brand to be one of the cult Chardonnay and Cabernet producers in Napa Valley. My advice - get to Chateau Boswell now while it is still one of the valley’s best kept secrets, and purchase wine while you can, these beautiful wines are meant to be aged and enjoyed for years to come.

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