Authentic Napa is your reward for driving eight minutes off the Silverado Trail up a meandering road to wine country’s Conn Valley.
This 10-thousand acre, protective bowl has the ideal conditions for growing some of Napa Valley’s premium cabernet sauvignon grapes. It’s also where you will find Anderson Conn Valley Vineyards and a slice of how Napa used to be.
Since 1983, Anderson Conn Valley’s 40-acre estate has been family owned and operated with the big man, Todd Anderson at the helm. The Michigan native drilled the first of many stakes into the ground by hand to create his future vineyard, which has consistently produced grapes that have been made into world-class wines ever since. Todd’s vision, hard work and dedication to crafting only the best cabernet has made him an icon in the wine business. His six-foot five stature, often adorned in black leather and a cowboy hat has become his signature look.
“Todd is a time capsule,” said General Manager Jim Silver. “He’s an embodiment of the promise of Napa Valley’s richness. He has overseen the winemaking process for 35 years and that’s awesome.” There has been an evolution, but a consistency over the years at Anderson Conn Valley according to Silver.
“The terroir, the distinctiveness has been a common thread through all our wines that have been produced here on this property,” said Silver. “Yet the quality is moving forward along with time. Disease control and processing is better. Cleanliness is better. Everything is better than it was in the 80’s. We are making the best wine we’ve ever made.” Todd is a part of that Terroir and the common thread that makes Anderson Conn Valley so unique. His world travels promoting and selling his 5,000 cases and his story-telling talent has made him the face of his iconic brand. He is a walking billboard for this brand, and the energy behind it. Anderson Conn Valley is one of the last places left where you can still experience old meets new Napa.
“We have always invited people here like the oldtimers did,”said Todd. “We will show you around and let you watch us work. We aren’t better than anyone else, but we were always open to sharing ideas both in giving and receiving. We all worked together in the Napa Valley building the Napa name. Today you don’t have that. There are a lot of high-end places you can’t get into. They are all still my friends yet even I need special permission to go there. Here though, we are still – ‘Come in and see us. Hang out with me and the winemaker.’”
Guests who drive up the long scenic path with vineyards on both sides and mountain ranges in the distance are greeted with a splash of sauvignon blanc.
“We have a tasting room but we don’t always use it,” said Silver. “There is no formula for our guests who visit. Based on their interest level and how much time they want to spend, they make their own experience. Depending on the weather and the spirit of the discussion we can drive a Polaris into the vineyard, walk through the winery, walk into the house, or just over to a picnic table. We will go until it’s over…It’s up to the guest. If they love wine, they will love the experience. If they are in a hurry, we’ll get them out. It’s up to them. We personalize each visit based on customers interests and try to cater to what is most important to them.”
Todd encourages guests to be a part of everyday life at the winery. “If our vineyard workers are knocking heads off barrels or whatever and someone walks up to them, they are not going to hide what they are doing,” said Silver. “In many wineries that stuff goes on behind the scenes; you are shown the bar where you are supposed to stand and taste wine and look at pictures on the wall. We welcome people to walk up and find out what’s going on. That’s almost impossible to find any more in the Napa Valley.”
The property also houses two wine caves, which also can add to the experience. The vista views from the cave entrances are stunning and can have a calming effect to anyone who stops and soaks in the beauty. Then go taste the wines, often from the barrels, and guests will be amazed.
Six years ago, Robert Hunt became the head winemaker under Todd’s guidance.
“When you taste the old wines from here and our new vintages, there are a lot of commonality in styles,” said Hunt. “It’s bringing us into what modern Napa is. It’s not our goal to be big, over-the-top wines.”
Hunt said one of the things that attracted him to this property is the classic European element that resides in the wines. “Our wines have good acidity, good tannins,” said Hunt. “There is an elegance to the wine that belies their Napa origins. Those are characteristics that we have honed in on. It’s great display in a modern approach. Our grapes are riper than when Todd was making the wines. A lot of the earlier sensibility when you taste the wines are still at the core of what we do here.”
“Physical Terroirs – The tasting room is at 300 feet and the caves are at 400 feet,” said Hunt. “Look up and see a mountain range circling us at 600 feet. We are in this depression with one cut at the end with a creek that goes down to Lake Hennessy. What that does is it gives us cooler air off Howell Mountain and settles down here and delays our bud break two three weeks behind what’s happening in St. Helena. It’s one of things that helps shape the wine profile so much because we are running later.”
“We mentioned we are riper today, but back in the 80’s we were riper than everyone else who were picking at 12-percent range,” said Todd. “It did make us more approachable sooner, but kept some of that Bordeaux kind of character we always had in our wines. Robert Parker always said that California wines are homogenized and what he liked about our wines is we were the Bordeaux/Burgundy producer of the Napa Valley.”
“We have guests that tell us all the time, that they have found wines they like, but when they come here they like all the wines,” said Todd. “I don’t drink whites, but I love your sauvignon blanc, etc. The compliment we get at the winery is when people say ‘I like it all.’”
Todd is known to be a protector of things. “He tries to repair something before he throws it out,” said Silver. “He takes the same approach to his wine model. Technology is changing and is steadily moving forward and we need to keep up with that.”
Moving towards the future, Anderson Conn Valley will be taking a direct-to-consumer approach for distributing their wine. According to Silver people are already seeking out their website to buy directly as smaller producers are harder to find among the mass producers in the market place. “Developing our direct-to-consumer business at the front door is really important,” said Silver. “We want to drive people here who never thought to visit or people who have been here come rediscover us. We are the good ‘ole days and the next generation. Todd is the connection between the two.”
Anderson Conn Valley is well known for their Estate Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Éloge (Bordeaux-blend) & Right Bank (Cabernet Franc-blend), come see why their non-malolactic Chardonnay, Semillon & Sauvignon Blanc have a cult following.
Their rare, small production ‘Signature’ Cabernet Sauvignon and new blend; ‘Gustaf’ and ‘Aurum’ are only available at the winery. Todd also makes his not so secret anymore high-end Ghost Horse Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes he grows at his home ranch.
“Anyone can take a picture of a vineyard, but it’s hard to take a picture of the terroir,” said Silver. “It’s a hard concept for people to understand it. Beyond the soil and the climate, Todd is our terroir. He’s the identity of this place. Fortunately, people can visit the authentic here.” AndersonConnValley.com
Article By: Kari Ruel
Photos Courtesy of: Lowell Downey, Art and Clarity