Summer Dreams, Fortunate Son and Hundred Acre New Releases

USA, California, Napa Valley

Summer Dreams, Fortunate Son and Hundred Acre New Releases

"When I create something, the wine tells me what to do. I don’t tell the wine what to do."

 

 

-      Jayson Woodbridge

Map Maker

“I’m a direct descendent of Jacques Cartier, the cartographer,” Jayson Woodbridge tells me, seemingly apropos of nothing. But nothing is random or out of context with Jayson. For example, he describes Cartier as a cartographer, not an explorer—the profession by which Cartier is better known. With Jayson, every casually offered piece of shared information is specific and purposeful, whether you get it or not.

We’re embarking on another of our epic tastings when he drops the comment about his ancestry. It’s a scene-setter, providing context amidst a vast sea of vinous places and winemaking variables. Messages in bottles. It was only two years since I last tasted with Jayson, then for my last article for Robert Parker Wine Advocate. Still, here we are with more than thirty new releases since then to navigate, including a journey into uncharted territory. New Woodbridge worlds. There’s so much happening on Jayson’s tasting table that it’s easy to get lost. We won’t, of course, because Jayson has the map. 

This tasting includes the new releases from three labels/wineries owned and made by Jayson and his wife Helen: Summer Dreams, Fortunate Son, and Hundred Acre.

Summer Dreams

"Wine is supposed to make you believe."

-      Jayson Woodbridge

Summer Dreams is a collection of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir wines from Sonoma.

“I came up with Summer Dreams because I love summer,” commented Jayson when I first tasted these a few years ago. “You can still get summer in the winter with these wines. They are made the same way Hundred Acre is made, from very low-yielding vineyards in the Sonoma Coast, sorted berry by berry.”

What started out in 2005 as Jayson’s and his wife Helen’s fun side-project to make wine for themselves to remember summer by, Summer Dreams has developed into a serious Burgundian-like negociant model.

Ashley Holland, based in Sonoma, is the dedicated white winemaker for this label.

“We give Ashley everything she needs, but we leave it to her,” says Jayson. “We’re not trying to steal her thunder; we’re her spiritual guides. She was trained by Bob Cabral at Williams Selyem. She knows what she’s doing.”

Jayson and his wife Helen (also an accomplished winemaker) make the Pinot Noirs, along with Nicole Kilbourne, who works closely with them on this, as well as Fortunate Son and Hundred Acre.

I ask Nicole what she does exactly. "I make wine happen," she says.

“Nicole executes what I want done to perfection,” Jayson adds. “And Helen keeps me from killing people.”

The Pinot Noirs are made from fruit purchased from selected vineyards.

“We start by selecting Pinot vineyards that we love,” Jayson tells me. “Then, these Pinots are made from the wines that made the final cut. We get rid of anything that isn’t up to standard. I taste every single individual barrel—nothing gets blended in advance. Some barrels make it, and some don’t. These are the ones I thought were magical. I hear about these people who blend everything early, so they have four lots to blend at the end. They’ve fucked themselves. They’re racking and pumping and beating their wines up. They’re neurotic. We don’t believe in the term natural yeasts. Natural yeast is already there. That’s Mother Nature. We let Mother Nature run the first three laps, and we assist at the end. No fining, no filtration.”

I ask if any of the Pinot Noirs are single vineyard expressions.

“For now, the Pinots are all blends. We will do single vineyard wines in the future. But I’m more concerned now about what each barrel can express about the Sonoma Coast. The marine environment of the Sonoma coast is so complex that the ability to take one complex soil sequence and have it be better than the blend is not the true expression. I don’t believe that it is. Combining the greatest traits and power and depth of different sites is vastly superior—like the difference between a black and white and a color TV. Out on the Sonoma Coast, you get vineyards that express a very limited range of what the place can be, just a thread of the cloth, but there’s so much more that the area has to express. You have to take all those and combine them to produce something great. I want to take all the threads of strength, nuances, and complexity and use them to express different moods—all the moods this foggy, sunny, broody environment can produce. In very few exceptions can a single vineyard from this area express the place. So, we create something that is a fusion of these micro-areas.”

“The summer dreams concept is more about a feeling,” Helen adds. “Hence, the names try to evoke these feelings (Stargazing, Super Chill, Twilight, and Golden Hour). It’s a love letter.”

The next phase for Summer Dreams is to become a domaine.

“We’re making a Hundred Acre in Sonoma,” Jayson informs me. “We are now building a winery in Healdsburg to do the Summer Dreams white wines and Pinots. We’re installing all these micro tanks for ultra-small ferments. We want to make something special. And we just bought a ranch on Sonoma Coast where we will plant 50-60 acres. It’s cool climate and interesting ground—all rock and stone. I just got the right feeling seeing it, like I do when I buy a Hundred Acre vineyard. On the Sonoma Coast, Pinot Noir gets to a different place that it just can’t get to elsewhere.”

Fortunate Son

"When I build a wine, I think about its balance. I think about its ability to resist time. You want wine to live beyond your own generation, but it also has to be delicious and complex straight out of the gate."

-      Jayson Woodbridge

Like Summer Dreams, Fortunate Son is morphing closer to the Hundred Acre model with its own winery and vineyards. Similar to Hundred Acre, the focus here is on Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, although The Diplomat label contains a good dollop of Merlot, made more to a “claret” style. 

Currently, most of the fruit for Fortunate Son comes from per-acre contracts with family-owned vineyards, and a small proportion comes from Hundred Acre vineyards. 

A couple of years ago, Jayson and Helen Woodbridge purchased the historic David Fulton Ranch, winery, and vineyard on Fulton Lane in St. Helena. The winery has been completely restored in the Hundred Acre model. The 2018 and 2019 vintages of Fortunate Son were made at Hundred Acre’s “The Ring” winery. The 2021 harvest was the first vintage produced at the new winery.

“Fortunate Son is made from small parcels of old vines,” says Jayson. “Some are 80 years or older. And The Warrior is a single vineyard Cabernet. These are all family-owned vineyards that had to sell fruit to big wineries for years. I would buy these vineyards if I could, but because they’re family-owned, they’re not often for sale. We just bought Wallis Ranch for this project, so there will be single vineyard wines from David Fulton and Wallis Ranch in the future.”

The other exciting news here is that there is an actual fortunate son on board.

“Cameron, my son, has finished business school and is learning the business,” confirms Jayson. 

And, as many ardent Jayson Woodbridge fans will know, a new facet of Fortunate Son is being released—the Voyager series.

“The Voyager wines are made like Hundred Acre Deep Time with Fortunate Son wines,” Jayson explains.

“Deep Time” wines are small, specially selected lots aged usually for 36-50 months. The current series of four wines made in this mold are named after the Voyager space probes.

“When they launched the Voyager probes, they were hoping these would go into interstellar space,” Jayson remarked. “I’m hoping these wines will similarly go beyond—that they will be alive and doing well in 50 or 60 years. I chose these barrels among all the barrels for their phenolic structure so that they could go way beyond where any other wine could go. The wines spent four years in barrels. The super-long aging period basically polishes the wine. It is really like the polishing of a gem. I selected the barrels that could withstand this very long aging. I wanted something like the voyager probe that left the solar system. All the numbers are prime numbers, and they are different barrels but also different wines; the numbers are based on different wines. The wines are supposed to progress based on how far the probe was going out of the solar system.”

Hundred Acre

"Blending is like instinct. The wine is commanding me. What I do is preordained."

-      Jayson Woodbridge

Hundred Acre is a lot of information to unpack, so I’ve broken down this story into sections. As for the 2019 vintage we were tasting, Jayson says simply, “2019 was like one of those blessing years, and then 2020 was the curse.”

Hundred Acre’s Vineyards

The Hundred Acre wines encompass the single vineyard and combined expressions of three vineyards: Morgan’s Way, Ark, and Few and Far Between. For the Hundred Acre label, everything is estate grown from these three Napa Valley vineyards. Jayson and Helen Woodbridge do not sell grapes to other wineries or sell wine for bulk. Anything that doesn’t make the grade and that they do not use gets discarded.

Jim Barbour is Hundred Acre’s viticulturist. Jayson informed me that they were the first to install shade cloths and misting devices in their Napa vineyards to protect the fruit from heat/sunburn and help the vines motor straight on through periods of extreme heat that might otherwise cause sluggishness or shutdown/blockage in the vines. They don’t believe in dry farming or making vines struggle during dry spells until their leaves turn yellow and begin to drop. It is their belief that vines need to have enough energy to ripen their crops comfortably. Yields are limited to one bunch per shoot.

I’ve visited all three of the Woodbridges' Napa Valley vineyards. These are very different, impressively singular sites. Each is named overtly or covertly after Woodbridge’s children.

Morgan’s Way Vineyard

Morgan’s Way was Jayson Woodbridge’s first Hundred Acre vineyard purchase. It was initially called “Kayli Morgan Vineyard,” an amalgamation of his daughter’s name, Morgan, and that of his business partner’s daughter. Jayson has recently bought the partner out; thus, the name has been changed.

About nine acres in size, Morgan’s Way is a relatively flat site located in a protected little pocket among the hills at the base of Howell Mountain on the way out of St. Helena and headed toward Calistoga. It may look flat, but it is, in fact, a clay-over-gravel “button” with a gentle rise in the middle of the property. There are at least a couple notable soil and topographical similarities to Pétrus in Pomerol, to which it was compared by Jayson’s first consultant winemaker, Philippe Melka. Morgan’s Way was first planted in 1996, all to Cabernet Sauvignon. In some vintages, there is an almost Pétrus-like restraint and ferrous edge to the wines from this place. The first Hundred Acre wine was 2000 Kayli Morgan Vineyard.

Ark Vineyard

Ark Vineyard is a geographical anomaly composed of a vast array of volcanic soil types from many eras dating back 60 million years. It is planted on slopes at the base of Glass Mountain just outside of St. Helena, named for the unusual outcroppings of black obsidian rock (volcanic glass), which is scattered throughout the vineyard. These hillside plantings form a nearly perfect 180-degree arc that wraps around parts of the lower-lying Chabot vineyard. Around 13 acres are planted to a complex, veritable patchwork quilt of blocks, clones, rootstocks, and row orientations. Although the vineyard is indeed shaped like an arc, it is also called Ark because one of Woodbridge’s sons is named Noah. The first vintage produced here was 2005.

Few and Far Between Vineyard

Previously known as Pickett Road Vineyard, Few and Far Between is a small but beautiful five-and-a-half-acre vineyard located on the highly coveted upper slope above Eisele Vineyard in Calistoga. The soil profiles here are mainly gravelly loam and clay loam. This is the only Hundred Acre vineyard where a variety other than Cabernet Sauvignon is planted—it also has a section of Cabernet Franc, which accounts for about 10% of the plantings and the wine each year. This vineyard was so named not just because gem vineyard finds like this are “few and far between” but also because the initials of another of Woodbridge’s sons spell “FEW.” The first vintage of Few and Far Between was 2008.

Hundred Acre Winery – The Ring

The first vintages of the Napa Valley Hundred Acre wines were made at Quintessa’s winery. Since 2005, Hundred Acre has had its own dedicated winery, The Ring, a vast ring-shaped cave built into a hillside at Ark Vineyard.

The selection at Hundred Acre is ruthless. It starts in the vineyard, where the harvest is done in multiple passes, with only what is deemed to be perfectly ripe fruit being selected. 

Each block, clone, and pick date is fermented separately. Around 80% of the Napa wines are fermented in upright French oak puncheons (500 liters)—always new. These are tiny fermentation vessels in the grand scheme of winemaking, yet they are necessary for receiving the tiny lots of highly selected fruit coming in from the vineyards. The other 20% of the fruit is fermented in small, custom-made, elliptical-shaped oak fermenters.

Jayson never acidifies. He sees barrel aging at once as a straightforward laissez-faire process and a very complex matrix of time variables. It is laissez-faire because the wines are put to bed and not touched again until bottling. This was why Jayson is loath to show barrel samples, preferring the wines to remain undisturbed. Absolutely no racking nor any adjustments are made during the élevage. The process is complex because of all the many variables of which Woodbridge is hyperaware: the small yet critical nuances that different oak barrel sizes and stave thicknesses bring to the slow oxidative effects of barrel aging, all of which are fully registered and carefully navigated by Jayson prior to committing the wines to barrel.

Hundred Acre’s Other Labels

Deep Time

Deep Time refers to selected Cabernet Sauvignon lots that have been afforded extended aging in barrel. This was first trialed in 2001 on a very small scale, mainly as an exercise in demonstrating the depth and harmony that extended aging can bring to selected lots, before the program was picked up again in 2005. Then, in 2013 and 2014, Hundred Acre started producing tiny quantities of the single vineyards as Deep Time expressions. The process of selecting the barrels for Deep Time is, like most things at Hundred Acre, as much intuitive as it is the concerted consideration of a complicated matrix of variables. During the blending process for each vintage, barrels are frequently tasted, and those that don’t fit in with the desired expressions for the single-vineyard blends are pushed forward for the Deep Time program. These wines are matured in barrel for at least 36 months and sometimes five years or more. They are usually ready to drink from the release date but will benefit from further development in bottle and can nonetheless offer considerable cellaring potential.

Precious

Jayson Woodbridge describes Precious thus: “The Precious is not a cut above or below our single-vineyard wines. It is a discreet component that is in all Hundred Acre wines. Normally, we use it all to make Hundred Acre, yet I decided I must keep a little aside years ago. I wanted to have this super pure slice of time; it is a particular essence, a twist on the wine as a whole.” No more than 90 cases of Precious have ever been bottled, and it is not made every vintage. Precious comes across as a powerful, condensed, essentialized expression of the Hundred Acre philosophy for specific vintages—a bit like the sound of a vintage with the volume turned to max. It offers a solidly structured, more savory character than the other bottlings, while remaining equally complex. The first vintage of Precious was 2005.

Wraith

Wraith has been a project in the making since Ark Vineyard came on board. Jayson explained his frustration that existed for many years when he would try, vintage after vintage, to compose an uber-blend, sum-greater-than-the-parts expression of Morgan’s Way and Ark vineyards. But all his attempts would equate to something lacking and, ultimately, a blend that was less than the single-vineyard expressions on their own. Then he purchased Few and Far Between Vineyard. “It was like I was trying to crack one of those vast combination safes,” Jayson explained, twisting his hands as though unlocking a safe. “And then, swoosh! The final combination was added, and the safe was open.” That final element was, of course, the contribution from the Few and Far Between vineyard, which, poignantly, is named for another of his children. So, Wraith is a barrel selection blend composed of all three vineyards. However, the percentage of each vineyard is dictated, as with everything at Hundred Acre, purely by taste and varies enormously each vintage. The first vintage of Wraith was 2013.

Crypt

And just when you thought nothing new could come from Hundred Acre, Woodbridge reveals the new “Wraith Crypt” cuvée. “This is the crypt of the wraith, based on the legend of wraith,” said Woodbridge. “It has those earthy elements, that mineral essence. This is the Wraith stabilized, a solid form. It spends more time in barrel. This is a new creation, but you can see the uniqueness of the vintage. It’s a fusion. Again, none of this fit together until I had Few and Far Between—the final lens.”

Dark Ark

First made in 2015, Dark Ark is a special cuvée from the Ark vineyard. It comes from a pre-blending selection of barrels that were notably denser and more powerful than the others this vintage. Some of these were blended into the single-vineyard Ark label, but when their contribution to the blend began to detract from the essence of that wine, the remaining barrels were bottled separately.

Fortification

This is a single vineyard (Morgan’s Way Vineyard) fortified wine, made in the Port style but using Cabernet Sauvignon. “We make the most expensive brandy on the planet from Cabernet for our Fortification,” remarks Jayson.

Style

"I know the wines can survive for a long time, but it’s not just about surviving; it’s about enjoying. People need to enjoy these while they’re alive."

-      Jayson Woodbridge

All the Hundred Acre wines can seem incredibly approachable, plush, and voluptuous in their youth, with layers of bold, exuberant fruit taking center stage in the first few years. What becomes apparent when you taste a vertical of these wines is they are remarkably approachable from the get-go and remain so straight through their aging. But it is essential to pay close attention to the subtle floral, mineral, savory, and earthy nuances in the young wines among all that compelling fruit because these nuances will expand exponentially as the wine ages. This is one of the reasons that Deep Time—the prolonged barrel aging program—is so relevant. This program helps expand all those nuances and soften the texture from velvety to silken, creating incredible harmony and seamlessness.

Hundred Acre’s wines become remarkably elegant, perfumed, and mineral-laced after a good 10-12+ years in bottle, as the Deep Time bottlings reveal pretty much upon release. Woodbridge once told me he makes his wines to last 100 years. I don’t doubt some of them will.

At the end of the tasting, I broach the subject of pricing. Jayson Woodbridge smiles. "Oh, I don’t deal with the Exodus section of the Bible," he says. "Only Genesis."


Article & Reviews by Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW
Photography by Svante Örnberg

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