“This is Quintessa,” says winemaker Rebekah Wineburg, gesturing at the hills around us and the lake below, “this is what it’s all about, we are an estate.” Although Quintessa has 150 acres of vines in a 280 acres estate, it produces only one wine. “The wine is an expression of the entirety of the estate.”
The estate runs from the Silverado Trail to the Napa River. But its terrain is not at all what you expect from the location in the center of the valley. The valley floor is generally rather flat, but Quintessa has a series of hillsides. It’s actually quite a steep hike up from the building at the entrance to the individual pavilions in the hills where tastings are held. The folds of the land are deceptive, and it feels as though you’re in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains, although actually they are three miles away. A large lake in the center of the estate, created by a dam, provides water for irrigation, together with wells elsewhere on the property.
“I have three types of terroir here,” Rebekah says. The eastern part of the estate is a landslide from the Vacca hills with white volcanic ash (rhyolite). The central and western hills are mixed volcanic and older alluvial soils. The benchland in the west along the Napa river is clay and true alluvial soil. The variations are emphasized by a barrel tasting from the 2019 vintage. Mount Calisse (from volcanic ash on the eastern hills) has a tight impression with the tension of volcanic mountain origins, while Bench (from deep clay by the river) is rich and powerful with a chocolaty edge to the finish.
“Quintessa has always valued elegance rather than power, and was not popular for that, but the pendulum has shifted,” Rebekah says. New oak has come down from 80-85% in earlier vintages to 60% in 2018. Fermentation is in stainless steel, concrete, and there is some barrel fermentation (especially for lots with mountain tannins). It’s racked only three times during aging, and is bottled without fining or filtration. The blend is 90% Cabernet Sauvignon, with small amounts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, and Carmenère. Tasting recent vintages, there seems to be an increase in refinement. The 2018 conveys a sense of precision, 2016 shows breadth on the palate;, both vintages show nicely defined black fruits on the palate, with hints of chocolate on the texture. From a much cooler vintage, 2011 shows development in a savory direction.
The Sauvignon Blanc, Illumination, comes from a mix of sources: the estate, farther south in Napa, and Bennett Valley in Sonoma. It is labeled as a Napa-Sonoma blend. It uses a variety of vessels for aging: barriques with 4% new oak, acacia, stainless steel, and concrete eggs. It’s another demonstration of the potential of Sauvignon Blanc in Napa to produce wines that are harmonious, with as much sense of stone fruits as citrus, and with some aging potential. Comparison of the 2018 and 2019 suggests that it needs a year after release to gather extra depth.
Faust is sometimes described as a second wine of Quintessa, but although it started at the estate, it now comes from a separate vineyard and winery in Coombsville, plus grapes from other sources, including some from the Quintessa estate.
The focus on a single wine from such a large estate makes Quintessa unusual for Napa, especially given the diversity of terroirs in the estate. Clearly the view here is that the blend is greater than the sum of the parts.
An updated profile will be included in the 2022 edition of the Guide to Napa.
Napa-Sonoma, Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, 2019
Subtle mix of herbaceous and perfumed notes show on nose. Palate is quite aromatic, nicely rounded, follows subtlety of nose. Very faint touch of bitterness on finish accentuates impression of freshness and helps balance fruits. This is a little muted by comparison with the 2018 and still needs a few months to come out. 90 Drink now-2025.
Napa-Sonoma, Illumination Sauvignon Blanc, 2018
Just a touch more herbaceous development than 2019 with hints of asparagus on the nose. The extra year’s development has brought a more pungent sense of Sauvignon Blanc on the palate than 2019 and more flavor intensity with slight bite to finish. Fruits tend to citrus, showing grapefruit and bitter lemon. 91 Drink now-2025.
Rutherford, Quintessa, 2018
This will be released in September. Restrained sense of black fruits to nose. Quite an elegant impression with an almost chocolaty texture to palate. Very smooth tannins on the finish. This vintage shows the most precision. 14.5% 94 Drink now-2036.
Rutherford, Quintessa, 2016
Similar fruit spectrum to 2018 but not quite as concentrated on the palate. Elegant fruits tend to blackberries with a chocolaty texture. Tannins are smooth and firm on the finish. This vintage shows the greatest breadth and should age to become quite delicate. 14.5% 92 Drink now-2033.
Rutherford, Quintessa, 2011
This cool, wet vintage has resulted in more rapid development in the wine. Nose shows some tertiary notes with hints of gunflint at first, and then calms down in glass. Development is not so obvious on palate although you might describe it as savory, with tertiary notes coming back faintly retronasally. Tannins are resolving and fruits tend to blackberry. 90 Drink now-2025.