Mystical Mountain Merlot
When Ralph Hertelendy purchased his four acres on the slopes of Howell Mountain in 2014, Merlot grapes dominated the vineyard. Hertelendy planned to tear out the existing vines to plant Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. But having bought the fruit-laden land just before harvest season, out of curiosity, he made some wine with the existing fruit and was amazed at the quality.
“The vineyard, originally planted in 1993, was not even that well maintained,” said Hertelendy. “But in the wine I made initially, I could see the potential. This was not typical Merlot fruit. The wine was ‘mind-bendingly’ good – structured, rich, and opulent, and it was so young. I knew it would be a major travesty to rip it out.”
Hertelendy had always loved Merlot, but like the rest of the country, he had lost interest, mainly due in part to the influence of the movie ‘Sideways’ where the varietal was greatly disparaged.
But his inaugural vintage reminded him of Merlot’s allure, enough so that he decided to nurture the grapes rather than replant. And his efforts have more than paid off.
Merlot is the predominant varietal in his Signature Mountain Blend, of which his 2015 vintage won double gold at the Sunset International Wine Competition with 98 points. His 2016 took gold at TEXSOM, one of the most prestigious wine competitions in the country. Some have even called the blend the ‘Petrus of Napa Valley.’ It includes fruit from other prestigious vineyards from sites such as Pritchard Hill and Atlas Peak, and its profile is powerful yet supple, rich yet balanced.
But the majority of the fruit for his Signature Mountain Blend, of which only 200 cases are produced, comes from his original four acres at 1,365 feet, which survived the recent Glass Fire, and which Hertelendy named Rockwell Ridge. Due to its distinctive volcanic terroir below the fog line, Hertelendy and a small faction of fellow vintners such as Steve Burgess and Kelly Woods, and neighbor, Michael McMillan, have petitioned for the small region that runs east/west between Howell Mountain and St. Helena to be designated an original AVA. They have named it Crystal Springs.
“We are anxious to showcase our distinct identity within the Napa Valley, and to display some of the best terroir and our incredible wines.”
“It’s 1000 feet of excellence,” said Hertelendy, who hopes to obtain the official AVA designation within a year or two. “We are anxious to showcase our distinct identity within the Napa Valley, and to display some of the best terroir and our incredible wines.”
Hertelendy Vineyards wines are distributed within ten states but sold primarily direct to club members. Several can be found at high-end Napa restaurants such as The French Laundry, Press, and Morimoto. Private tastings are currently held in Downtown Napa at Vintner’s Collective and The Caves at Soda Canyon by reservation only.
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Article By: Fran Miller