The  Craft, Luck and Romance of Wine

People traveling to Napa Valley to enjoy its world-famous wines are searching not only for that memorable bottle, but also for a truly authentic experience. David Mahaffey, an artisanal winemaker now in his 38th vintage, and his talented successor, Kira Ballotta, deliver on both.

“Winemaking is part craft, part luck, and part romance,” explains Mahaffey, whose boutique Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon are featured in many of Napa’s best restaurants and wine shops, sold under the distinctive Olivia Brion and Palladian brands. “How these factors intersect is one of the keys to making great wines.” The craft starts with selecting grapes from vineyards that contribute that special something – the terroir – that speaks to the specific soil and environment in which the grapes are grown.  Mahaffey and Ballotta agree that knowing when to pick is the most important decision in winemaking. Every year is different, depending on variables like rainfall, frosts, and temperature. That’s where luck comes in.

“That’s just the beginning,” adds Ballotta, who has ten vintages under her belt, including manager of winemaking research at Alpha Omega Winery. “We combine a low-tech, hands-on approach with scientific precision to coax the best characteristics out of our wines.”

olivia brion wine

Then there’s the romance. Over the years, Mahaffey refined his farming methods toward a long-term sustainable model to conserve natural resources, protect wildlife, and reduce the climate footprint – deep values shared by Ballotta. Both Mahaffey and Ballotta love their time in the vineyard, observing closely as the vines express the grapes to full maturity. And of course, tasting the wines at each stage in their development is just part of the day’s work.

Story-telling is also integral to the process.

“I’ve always taken my winemaking seriously, but I reserve the right to have some fun with my wine labels,” says Mahaffey.

Hence the story of Olivia Brion, a young suffragist from turn-of-the-century Europe who turned the world on its head with her dazzling feats and exploits. 

“Olivia is based on real women of the time, often overlooked by history, who made great strides demonstrating the strength, resilience and irrepressible spirit of women,” says Ballotta. Over the past few years, as the Olivia Brion brand has grown to include “Taquine,” a new aromatic white wine blend, Rosé, and this year’s “Les Vagabondes” Tempranillo from the famous Shake Ridge Vineyard, the story of Olivia Brion’s triumphs has continued to expand as well.

Mahaffey and Ballotta share barrel tastings and stories with visitors from around the world at the Palladian winery in St. Helena, a stone’s throw from Meadowood Resort, where Mahaffey makes the Palladian Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. “When we receive visitors, we like to show folks what winemaking is like at a human scale – a scale they can relate to,” says Mahaffey. In this way, he and Ballotta help wine lovers feel a bit more connected to, and develop a true reverence for, this 7,000 year old trade.

Olivia Brion Wine

OLIVIA BRION WINERY // 707-287-2870