Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
Paloma arrived on the scene with a splash, as Wine Spectator’s 2003 Wine Of the Year, ranked #1 in their annual “Top 100 Wines of the Year” for their 2001 Estate Merlot, and have been included again in the Top 100. Founded in 1983 after friend, Dan Duckhorn called the Richards family with the news that an abandoned 19 th century site at the top of Spring Mountain was for sale. The Richard’s family took 3 years to clear the land and plant the 7,000 vines in the15 acre vineyard in 1985, largely to Merlot but with some Cabernet Sauvignon.
Consistent across all vintages, the Paloma Merlot has signature elegance, gracefulness, balance, an almost feminine quality, and smooth and easy texture. Founder Jim Richards took over winemaking from Bob Foley, and although Jim had no formal training, he was known for asking winemaking questions to all their neighbors, and he in turn taught his son Sheldon winemaking. Sheldon Richards is now winemaker, grower and operates the entire winery, having learned from his late father to let the wine make itself with minimal intervention. De-stemmed, the berries are broken open then open-top bin fermented in small lots (allowing better punch-downs) before gentle basket-pressing to stainless tanks, then into 1/3 new French oak for 18 months of barrel aging. The wines are bottled unfiltered, and age 18 months in bottle before release. Using all estate fruit, the wine includes 14-16% estate Cabernet Sauvignon, depending on vintage.
Their goal is clear: “To grow the best grapes possible and make a wine that reflects the terroir of our vineyard.”
Dedicated to farming, mother Barbara Richards and son, winemaker Sheldon Richards, work side by side winegrowing and carefully tending their vineyard. Wine Spectator, quoting Bob Foley: “Barbara, 70, is especially tenacious cutting the cropload in portions of the Merlot vineyard. You can see her driving her ATV with a holster that has pruning shears in one pocket and a revolver for rattlesnakes in the other.” Barbara herself says: “I have taken care of the vineyard since they were planted. I know every vine out there. 7000 of them.”
Yields from these 27-30 year old vines are low, typical of grapes grown on mostly steep, largely east-facing hillsides at 2,000 – 2,200 feet elevation, producing small berries and tremendous concentration. The cool ocean breezes wafting across the site from Sonoma County lengthens the growing season into late fall, with prolonged hang time several weeks longer than warmer valley floor, adding resonance and concentration to the resulting small clusters. With 6-8 different soil types, small blocks reach optimal ripeness at different times and are hand harvested individually across several weeks.
Merlot 2016, Estate Grown and Bottled, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
94 points, Brix 26: “The Merlot is once again a blend of Estate Merlot and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. The resulting wine is a big, world-class red wine capable of improving with bottle aging for 10 to 15 years. On the palate the wine has a big silky mouth feel, well balanced, with flavors of berries, fruit, cocoa, cassis, and spice, and a long spicy finish.” 85% Estate Merlot, 15% Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. 908 cases.
Merlot 2014, Estate Grown and Bottled, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley Library Release
Winery Notes: “The 2014 exhibits deep ruby color, with a bright, sweet, multi-layered nose of raspberries, currants, red plum and background notes of coffee and anise. This youthful wine benefits from aeration, revealing a lush mouthfeel and beautiful ripeness of fruit on the mid-palate. The wine has a solid backbone, true to its Spring Mountain origins, complemented by long, sweet tannins and a velvety finish. Truly an age-worthy wine.” Picked in multiple small lots, from late September to mid-November, then fermented separately in those same small lots. 100% Merlot, 33% new French oak. 1710 cases made.
Merlot 2013, Estate Grown and Bottled, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
93 Points, Wine Advocate: “Exhibits plenty of plum, black cherry and blackcurrant fruit, mocha and coffee bean in a lush, delicious and opulently textured style. It is drinking beautifully already and will continue to evolve for another decade or more.” Merlot (85%) with a small amount of estate Cabernet Sauvignon (15%). Unlike Napa Valley floor vineyard sites, the late-ripening site at 2,000 feet allowed the Merlot to enjoy a cooler weather pattern, slowly ripening through the fall to develop complexity. 2881 cases.
Merlot 2012, Estate Grown and Bottled, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley
A nose of currants, cedar, grape must and molasses lead to an exceptionally silky and sensuous, easy and soft textured mouthfeel. The flavors seamlessly integrate dark cherry, black plum, milk chocolate, caramel and wood spice into a juicy, lightly fleshed wine with bright supportive acidity. Gentle on the palate, the finish holds all the flavors consistent with the nose mouth, with lingering richness for quite a long time. Bridges the stylistic gap between Bordeaux and Napa Valley. 2838 cases produced.