15th Jun 2023
15th Jun 2023
Beckstoffer’s is not the only Dr. Crane Vineyard in Napa Valley. Located very close by, just off Highway 29, is the other Dr. Crane. Although less well-known, it also produces stunning wines with a characteristic earthy/minerally profile that bears an uncanny resemblance to the DNA of its sibling. This section is owned by the Salvestrin family.
Dr. Crane Vineyard is among Napa Valley’s first growths. Although I don’t like to compare Napa and Bordeaux, in the case of Dr. Crane, I can’t help but see similarities with Château Haut-Brion. First, like Haut-Brion, Dr. Crane is in a relatively warm location, producing a ripe, rich, fuller-bodied fruit profile. Similarly, that abundant flesh is beautifully offset by a captivating earthy/mineral character, often conjuring crushed rocks and iron ore descriptors. Also akin to Haut-Brion, this is one of Napa Valley’s most consistent vineyards, a benchmark for Napa Cab in most vintages. Finally, just as Haut-Brion has become an urban vineyard located within the city of Bordeaux, Dr. Crane is smack-dab in the middle of the city of St. Helena.
Dr. George Belden Crane, originally from New York, purchased more than 300 acres of land in this northern part of Napa Valley in 1859. One of the first to plant Vitis vinifera vines here in the mid-1800s, he was among the region’s viticultural trailblazers. Portions of the original property are still planted to vines and have come to be known as Dr. Crane Vineyard.
The most famous section of Dr. Crane Vineyard was purchased by Andy Beckstoffer in 1997. Located next to St. Helena Primary School, this encompasses around 21 planted acres, which were replanted in 1998 following the purchase. Today, over a dozen wineries purchase fruit from Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane Vineyard to produce some of the region’s most highly sought-after single vineyard wines.
However, Beckstoffer’s is not the only Dr. Crane Vineyard in Napa Valley. Located very close by, just off Highway 29, is the other Dr. Crane. Although less well-known, it also produces stunning wines with a characteristic earthy/minerally profile that bears an uncanny resemblance to the DNA of its sibling. This section is owned by the Salvestrin family.
Italian immigrants Emma and John Salvestrin first came to St. Helena in the 1920s. In 1932, they bought part of the former ranch of Dr. George Belden Crane, including 19 acres of vineyard land and his beautiful Victorian homestead, which remain in the family to this day. Emma’s and John’s timing was good because Prohibition was repealed the very next year, allowing them to begin selling their grapes to the recovering wine industry. Their son, Ed Salvestrin, continued maintaining the vineyard and selling the grapes from their Dr. Crane Vineyard throughout the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. Ed’s son, Rich Salvestrin, completed his degree in viticulture in 1987 and joined his father in managing and expanding the family’s grape-growing business. Among their vineyard holdings today, they continue to farm their 19-acre section of Dr. Crane Vineyard.
“We only started making our own wine in 1994,” Rich Salvestrin told me during my recent visit. “We decided it was time. The first few vintages were made at Rombauer’s winery. Then in 2001, we completed our own winery, which we’ve just expanded.”
The style of Salvestrin’s Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon tends to be a little brighter, fresher, and crunchier (as opposed to riper/juicier) than is typical of wines coming from Beckstoffer Dr. Crane Vineyard.
In 2003, Salvestrin introduced Dr. Crane Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon cuvée with extended barrel aging, called “Three D.”
“Three D is named for our three daughters,” said Rich. “It spends around three years in 100% new oak.”
Winemaker Natalie Winkler came on board in 2017. Having previously done stints at Westwood Wines in Sonoma and Château Fontenil in Fronsac, Bordeaux, she has been instrumental in helping to tweak and refine the identity of Salvestrin’s Dr. Crane Vineyard wines over the last five years. During a webinar I conducted with her for Premier Napa Valley this year, I asked her what she is doing at Salvestrin to help express this “other” Dr. Crane’s unique sense of place.
“I would say it comes down to farming on a vine-by-vine basis,” said Natalie. “Our pruning practices are very meticulous. Here, we have a fertile site, and we’re not afraid to hang a little more fruit than others in our area. It’s our belief that there’s no target number. Less yield does not necessarily mean higher quality, especially when you have soils that are very fertile. So, it’s really about dialing in that canopy-to-fruit ratio. For us, this is imperative, especially in a warmer site like this. What happens if you don’t have enough fruit is you get this massive sugar accumulation without proper physiological development of the tannins, the skins, and the seeds, which we need to make a balanced wine. I would say we’ve really focused on crop management and how we’re pruning so that we achieve that expression of balance and get a slow, steady, even ripening curve. That’s one of the main things we’ve tweaked in the last few years—dialing in exactly how much fruit each block gets. It’s on a parcel-by-parcel and vine-by-vine basis. There are some blocks where we don’t want to hang more than three tons per acre because we have gravelly-based soil there and not as much canopy. And then there are other sections that are more clay-based, heavier, and more fertile, where we can hang four or four and a half tons all day and still achieve excellent quality.”
Interestingly, it was not a Cabernet Sauvignon from the vineyard that was presented by Salvestrin for their unique Premier Napa Valley lot this year, but their 2021 Sangiovese, which was mind-blowing. When I visited the winery a couple of weeks later, Rich Salvestrin put a couple of bottles of the Sangiovese on the tasting table: 2019 and 2009.
“Our Sangiovese is not distributed at all,” he told me. “It’s just offered to our mailing list. We only make about 130 cases per year. We planted a small section of Sangiovese in 1996 as a tribute to our Italian heritage.”
Based on my tasting of the 2009 Sangiovese, this is a wine that not only ages gracefully but also beautifully expresses that earthy signature of Dr. Crane Vineyard, as well as four generations (and hopefully many more) of the Salvestrin family’s ownership.
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Svante Örnberg
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