02nd Nov 2023
02nd Nov 2023
Like Bordeaux, Napa has a lot of consultant winemakers, and similarly, this is a ruthlessly competitive, often political business. One year of less-than-outstanding scores and some wineries will toss their consultant out like a corked bottle. Aaron Pott is one of Napa’s top winemakers operating in this sphere, yet he somehow manages to stay out of the politics games. With Aaron, what you see is what you get, and his clients, equally, are all about keeping it real.
Aaron Pott was nine years old when his parents first took him to France.
“The first night in Paris, we went out for dinner at a famous old 17th-century bistro,” said Aaron. “I ordered a glass of milk, and the server looked at me and said, ‘Milk iz for babeeez.’ He came back with a glass of wine. I tasted it and hated it. But like every nine-year-old, I wanted to be an adult and thought this was my ticket to maturity. We visited wineries on that trip in Champagne, Burgundy, and the Rhône.“
"I realized that there were three things that all these properties had that I wanted in my life: they all had dogs, they all worked outside, and they all lived in 14th century domaines."
With his young sights set on the wine life, it didn’t take long for Aaron to try making wine.
“I started reading about wine and made my first wines when I was thirteen in my closet in the room I shared with my big brother,” recalled Aaron. “They were horrible, but it was fun putting them in bottles and making labels for them. My parents and their friends pretended like they liked them. Then I learned you could study winemaking and went to U.C. Davis straight out of high school. During summer break and into fall, I interned at Robert Mondavi and Opus One Winery in the laboratory and vineyards. I did their analyses for both and on competitors’ wines. This was a time when Mondavi had an exceptional cellar. I prepared and tasted everything. I still remember tasting and analyzing 1947 Cheval Blanc and 1959 La Tâche. This changed a lot of the preconceptions that I had about wine chemistry and the differences between terroirs and sites.”
With an education in winemaking under his belt, Aaron then studied viticulture in Burgundy at the Université de Bourgogne. Influenced by the Burgundian philosophy of terroir expression, in 1990, he returned to California, taking a position as assistant winemaker at Newton Winery, working for John Kongsgaard.
“John was and still is an exceptional teacher and mentor,” Aaron said. “At Newton, I met Michel Rolland, who was consulting at Newton. My French was better than John’s, so he let me participate in every session with the consulting team. I became very good friends with Michel Rolland, who at the time had only two consulting gigs in California, at Simi and Newton. Michel was lonely in California, and I arranged dinners for him and tastings with wines that only crazy California collectors would have. I begged Michel to find me a job back in France, and in January 1993, I became the winemaker and vineyard manager at Château Troplong Mondot in Saint-Émilion. I left Troplong in January 1995 to become the general manager and winemaker at Château La Tour Figeac.”
By the end of 1998, Aaron returned to Napa Valley to take a job with Beringer as their “International Winemaker,” working in Chile, Argentina, France, and three projects in Italy. In April 2004, he became general manager and winemaker at Quintessa. That same year, he and his wife Claire bought their home and vineyard site on Mt. Veeder. They originally called the estate Châteauneuf du Pott but have since renamed it Pott Art Vineyard. Aaron left the full-time position at Quintessa in 2007 to start his own label—Pott Wine—and became a consultant to other wineries. Quintessa, Seven Stones, Blackbird, and Fisher Vineyards were among his first clients.
“Today I consult for Seven Stones, Blackbird, St. Helena Winery, Perliss Vineyard, Greer Vineyard, Martin Estate, Bernard Magrez Napa Valley, Fe Vineyards, Hoopes, and a couple of new guys, Remedium and Covalence Wines,” Aaron told me. “Except for Seven Stones and St. Helena Winery, all the wines are made at my Blacklab facility in south Napa. It looks like an ugly warehouse on the outside, but James Bond bad guy hideout on the inside.”
During my tasting with Aaron last month, I tasted ten different wines, all with quirky names personal to Aaron, his family, and his growers. The Mt. Veeder wines are estate-grown from their Pott Art Vineyard. They also source Cabernet Sauvignon from Bisagno Vineyard in St. Helena (the wine is called Turf War) and recently a Pinot Noir from Elswick Rise in Anderson Valley (called Dynamite with a Laser). Last year, Aaron increased his estate holdings by taking over the vineyard of his illustrious neighbors on Mt. Veeder, Carol Meredith and Steve Lagier.
“Carole was a professor of mine at UC Davis, and Steve became my boss during those internships at Mondavi, as he was the laboratory director,” Aaron recalls. “I used to take care of the Lagier Meredith property and their cats when they would go on vacation. I would later help them clear and plant their first vineyards. I think the most unique part of their vineyard is the mixture of varieties—Syrah, Malbec, Mondeuse, and Zinfandel on vines planted in the early 90s. We share the same soil type—sandstone and shale, ancient remnants of the sea floor. The rock is very friable and porous and does not hold heat, a cold stone that would become popular with the French searching out properties in the Napa area. It is also nice that their property is next door to mine and reached by a fire road with no DUI checkpoints! I am interested in planting more of their vineyard to more Rhône varieties. Possibly Mourvèdre, Grenache, and maybe some Marsanne and Rousanne. Steve and Carole have been friends for 35 years! They were at the birth of our second daughter, whose middle name is Meredith, and visited us just after Tosca was born. I am looking forward to continuing the legacy of their property and helping them as best that I can to enjoy the last years of their lives and hopefully enjoy many good bottles, great conversation, and wonderful meals with them along the way.”
As I was getting ready to leave the tasting of nearly seventy recent releases made by Aaron on behalf of his clients and under the Pott label, Aaron shared some exciting news.
“We are now breaking ground for a winery on the property that will be devoted only to the wines of Pott and Lagier Meredith. The winery will be completed in early 2025.”
Talk of the forthcoming winery was a great segue into a discussion of Aaron’s approach to winemaking.
“I try to approach wine from the vineyard first,” said Aaron. “If we can do great work outside, the winemaking will be easy. We are all 100% organic. Balanced yields and healthy vines are a big part of our style. I don’t use any additives, packaged yeast, or bacteria, and no concentration machines or filtration. My own wines are all hand-punched down in wood Burgundian open tops. I use a unique technique to prolong maceration and create supple tannins.”
As with his consulting business, when it comes to winemaking, Aaron Pott keeps it real.
Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Svante Örnberg
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