Heitz Cellar

Heitz Cellar

Founded by pioneering Napa growers Joe and Alice Heitz in 1961, Heitz Cellars is a true Napa Icon. With an ultra-traditional method of winemaking, practically unchanged in 60 years, the estate produces wines that offer a glimpse of Napa Cabernet from a bygone era. If you want big rich dense Napa Valley Cabernet look away now – the Heitz style crackles with freshness and tension and tends to pick up weight with time in bottle. From the off, Joe Heitz pioneered both site selection and a method of producing great Cabernet Sauvignon that was both iconoclastic and truly individual. From the Napa Valley Cabernet up to the Single Vineyard bottlings, the wines complete their alcoholic fermentation in huge, ancient 1000 Litre American Oak Vats and go on to spend a further year in these huge vessels. From here it’s into French oak barriques for a further 2-3 years depending on the cuvee. When bottled, the wines spend a further year at the estate prior to release.

Often described as the old world of the new, these are some of Napa’s most historic bottlings. The flagship bottling has always been Martha’s Vineyard, the first vintage of which was 1966 – the very first vineyard designate bottling from the Napa Valley. This is a legendary site that sits on prime Oakville land, tucked in below Harlan estate and neighbouring To Kalon. Vintages like Martha’s Vineyard 1974, 1975 and 1978 regularly sit atop discerning drinkers’ desert island wine selections – wines which to this day possess an extraordinary sense of life and lift, not to mention Martha’s signature minty eucalyptus notes.

The Trailside release hails from a great Rutherford vineyard of the same name, nestled up against the Vaca mountains on the valley’s eastern slopes. Tending to offer a deeper expression of Valley fruit than Martha’s, it is a site that offers dark wild berry fruit, a touch of mocha and earthy, salty savoury notes as well as a complex line in hot dry roast herbs that is a textbook Trailside trait.

New to the range in 2016 is Lot C-91, reinvented by winemaker Brittany Sherwood in 2016 from an original blend of Joe Heitz’s from 1969. A discovery of the last few bottles along with Joe’s notes gave Brittany the inspiration to revive this bottling, a wine originally conceived of as an elevated version of the Napa Valley Cabernet; a blend from the estate’s finest single vineyards that gives a glimpse of the greatness of these sites in a more accessible and precocious package. With a full third of the blend coming from Martha’s Vineyard, this is an exciting rebirth of a long lost bottling and an excellent stepping stone from the dependable drinkability of the NV Cabernet to the heralded world of the single vineyards.

In 2018 Heitz was sold to Gaylon Lawrence, an Arkansas businessman who has rapidly become one of the Valley’s biggest land owners through a string of purchases. While we haven’t met the new owner, we’ve had regular calls with the new team and there’s a renewed sense of dynamism about the estate. Very little is changing in the winery, more precise selections, more refined extractions, a touch less new oak, but essentially the identity of these wines will remain the same. What looks certain is a new level of sophistication and refinement across the range, one that will bring an extra touch of magic to an already winning formula. A new dawn rises over Joe Heitz’s original vision – you would hope he would thoroughly approve.


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