Geology, geography and the great grape

07 Nov 2016
4 min read
Watching over the Napa Valley, from the elevated point of Howell Mountain, ADAMVS Estate takes an organic approach to winemaking, while owners Denise and Stephen Adams ensure the very highest standards. Featured exclusively in our last edition of FOUR USA.

“Our background and passion for winemaking began nearly two decades ago when we intimately explored the winegrowing region of Bordeaux in France.” Denise Adams, proprietor-steward of ADAMVS explains: “Being Midwesterners, with gardening and farming backgrounds, it was not surprising that farming vineyards quickly became a vocation and passion of ours.”

After several attempts to find a site with promise, it wasn’t until they stepped onto the soil of Château Fonplégade in Saint-Émilion and shortly thereafter, Château L’Enclos in Pomerol that they knew they had found something truly special. With the famed French winemaking consultant, Michel Rolland, living just a stone’s throw away from Château Fonplégade, they set out on a course to be mentored and work alongside the very best team. “We have had the privilege and pleasure of working with and under the tutelage of both Michel and assistant winemaker Franck Jugelmann, formerly of Château Haut- Brion, for over 12 years now.” Denise says of her team at Château Fonplégade.

After years of hard work, patience, and reward in France, the Adams discovered the idyllic Howell Mountain property that would become ADAMVS. To realize the estate’s promise and their goal of establishing a new benchmark for excellence, they began gathering a team of the industry’s finest. “We quickly learned of Philippe Melka, and the opportunity to work with him was natural. He not only visited and knew of our properties in France, but had already established himself as a renowned winemaker of site driven wines in the Napa Valley.”

Since purchasing the ADAMVS property in 2008, the ADAMVS team has worked tirelessly tending to the soils, vines, and wines of the Howell Mountain estate. Completely renovating the winery with state-of-the-art equipment, replanting a quarter of their 28 acres of vines, and earning organic and biodynamic certification to ensure the ultimate in best practices.

Respect for the land

To cultivate the very highest quality fruit and preserve the land for decades to come, the Adams began farming ADAMVS organically and biodynamically. “It is a practice I embraced decades ago and simply couldn’t imagine farming in any other way.” remarked Denise. The result of this sensitive, specific and mindful approach is terroir–driven wines with a distinct voice. “At ADAMVS our primary focus is making wines of significance—being able to make it with the highest organic farming standards is the ultimate success.”

Biodynamics builds on the organic foundation, embracingthe rhythms and cycles of nature and treats the estate as an integrated farm. It is a traditional method of farming focused on replenishing the soils, encouraging biodiversity, vitality, and health. It is a philosophy that extends beyond their soils, vines, orchards and beehives to every aspect of their business.

Having farmed in Bordeaux for nearly two decades, they were very familiar with appellation–driven wines. Napa Valley and more specifically Howell Mountain share that specificity, producing extraordinarily complex Cabernet Sauvignon from its high–elevation slopes.

ADAMVS, in its mosaic of vineyard blocks displaying a rich diversity of soils, elevations ranging from 1,600 to 2,000 feet, and varying exposures to the sun, yields fruit of intense concentration, distinction, and complexity. “With some vineyards you need to use all your winemaking skills to build complexity. At ADAMVS, it is like being a painter with a full palette of colors,” remarked winemaker, Philippe Melka.

A unique vista

Hillside landscapes require greater attention to farm and ADAMVS is no exception. With a diversity of soils, elevations and orientations to the sun, each vineyard block at ADAMVS requires great specificity, individual timing and hand farming. This care and detail imparts great complexity and cabernet sauvignons of exquisitely differentiated expression. Where some see disadvantage, the Adams see opportunity— opportunity to cultivate each vine based on its individual needs to achieve the very finest fruit.

The 72-acre ADAMVS Estate sits high above the fog line, near the top of Howell Mountain with broad views of Napa Valley. Its 28-acres of vines, ranging in age from 4 to 26 years, are surrounded by native forests of white pine, manzanita, madrone, wild flowers, abundant vegetation, a seasonal creek as well as orchards, beehives and insectary plantings.

Howell Mountain owes its distinctive climate to its position far above the Napa Valley floor. Due to its altitude, evening temperatures tend to be warmer and daytime temperatures, much cooler—which provide a long and more consistent growing climate than the floor below. The hillsides are composed of nutrient–poor, decomposedvolcanic ash and iron-rich red clay soils that stress the vines and yield smaller clusters and berries. This combination of altitude and soil produce fruit with a greater balance between acidity and sugar, and wines of incredible color, flavor, varietal intensity, and aging.

A perfect pairing

“We have an exceptional team at ADAMVS with each member bringing unique strengths, passions and perspectives that when combined have proven inspirational. Michael, with his impeccable and thoughtful approach to each individual vine and vineyard block, ensures the very highest farming standards. Philippe, with his honest, mindful and masterful approach, works in concert with our entire team to ensure every effort, action and inaction honors our terroir and our vision as winegrowers” noted Denise.

Barrel selection is one of the most important decisions they make as vintners. ADAMVS barrel ferments roughly 25 percent of their wine and ages all their wine in French oak barrels, utilizing greater than 80 percent new oak with each vintage. While there are many options available, they have found French oak to integrate most beautifully with the depth, complexity, richness and strong structural tannins of their estate fruit. Forging close partnerships, they work with six of the finest French coopers, with the defined goal of balance and integration—with the oak enhancing, but never overpowering the nuance, elegance or essence of the wine.

“With a small, focused production, our wines ship directly to individuals we have had the honor to meet, host at the estate and become dear friends with. It is a unique and defined privilege to be able to hand-pack each and every bottle of wine that leaves the winery, know who is on the receiving end, and receive their feedback” remarks Denise. “We are humbled by the enthusiastic response and support we have received.”

“For us, it is important we make each vintage significant. Building, refining, and improving on the last and continuing to cultivate meaningful relationships with each of our members, chefs and restaurateurs that have embarked on this journey with us.”