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Vine Hill Ranch
Region: California
Appellations: Napa Valley
Colour Range: Red
Price Range: £630.00 - £660.00
Number of Wines: 2 wines

Vine Hill Ranch

Walking out into the family vineyard in the heart of prime Oakville in the early noughties, Bruce Phillips’ father Robert asked him a question; “Are the accolades being given to the wines coming out of this vineyard down to the vineyard itself, or to fancy winemaking?” At this time, the family had farmed the vineyard for over 40 years, supplying grapes to some of the valley’s most sought after bottlings. It was no secret to them or their partners just how special this vineyard was. Furthermore, Bob Parker had recently lifted the lid on Vine Hill Ranch being the source of Bill Harlan’s BOND Vecina bottling, so the wider wine world was sitting up and taking notice too. The only surprising thing for most of those involved was that Phillips family hadn’t yet tried releasing a wine.

Fast forward twenty years and the 2018 vintage marked just the 11th vintage of the Phillips family’s own VHR cuvee. It is a remarkable vineyard, a 70-acre plot that runs from the classic Oakville benchlands right up to the forest’s edge on the slopes of the Mayacamas range. Catching the morning sun, it borders Harlan Estate to the north and Christian Moueix’s Dominus to the east. It is a beautiful, undulating site, whose alluvial fans are dotted with rare seams of white volcanic rhyolitic bedrock. The family calls it moondust, such is its rarity and stark appearance. For many vintners, vineyards in the valley don’t get much better than this.

And indeed, many vintners have purchased Vine Hill Ranch fruit from the Phillips family. The vineyard has historical pedigree stretching back to the days of Andre Tchelistcheff and the iconic BV Georges de Latour bottlings that came in large part from this vineyard. And indeed way before that right back to the late 19th century. But it is really in the last 30 years, particularly post-phylloxera, that the vineyard has really cemented its place at the high table of Napa Valley vineyards.

It was Bruce’s father Robert who took the inspired and forward-thinking decision to plant the entire vineyard to Cabernet Sauvignon in the aftermath of Phylloxera. This he did only after identifying a number of distinct vineyard blocks, which he would plant specifically to achieve the greatest expression of the single variety from each one. Today, the 7 blocks have been subdivided into 18 sub plots, each of them offering up another side of the vineyard’s personality. There’s even a block planted to the rare old Eisele clone; a mother block given to Bruce by Bart & Daphne Araujo when Eisele was sold, to provide material for future plantings. The fruit from the gnarled, low yielding bunches of this block (a sub-plot of block one) first appear in the blend with the 2016 vintage.

The seven identified blocks today play host to no fewer than 13 vineyard partners, 80% of whom release a coveted vineyard designate. Over the years the list of wineries and winemakers who have been seduced by the refined tannic structures and beautiful fruit purity of Vine Hill Ranch is like a who’s who of Napa vintner royalty: BOND, Lail, Colgin, Tor, Arrow and Branch, Cakebread, Mondavi, Araujo, Tchelistcheff have all been beneficiaries of this site, and there are many more.

For VHR, the family draw from parcels that sit across the seven blocks of the vineyard, to produce a single blend of pure Cabernet Sauvignon. Their simple aim is to show off the very best that this ideally situated site has to offer. Francois Peschon’s invisible winemaking weaves the various blocks together, allowing features of the more gravel rich benchland plots (blocks three and four) to co-exist with those from the steeper and more forest influenced blocks (blocks one and the upper parts of six). The results, as evidenced by recent vintages like 2016, 2018 and 2019 are now genuinely up there with the very best the valley has to offer.

In combination with vineyard Manager Mike Wolfe and winemaker Francois Peschon, Bruce and Heather Phillips have succeeded in producing a wine that in a little more than a decade, has cemented itself amongst the very biggest names in Napa’s illustrious upper echelons; a layered, nuanced, complex blend of the best plots from across a remarkable vineyard.