The sunlight streams past a knoll on the Baldacci Family Estate Vineyards, glinting off rows of grapes growing lustily in the Stags Leap soil of Napa Valley.
In photographs, the mood of mellow beauty and natural harmony evoke feelings of a day well lived, and expectation of a soothing sip of nectar, which in the case of the industrious family vineyard, is its prized Cabernet Sauvignon.
“As stewards of the land and keepers of the grape, we can cultivate, shape, caress and coax cooperation from the vines,” say owners Thomas, Brenda and Michael Baldacci, in a statement on the Baldacci Family Estate Vineyards website. “But ultimately, they are a wild thing, natural and independent and the joy comes from the awareness that we are beholden to nature’s timeless story.”
No surprise that the Baldacci family has a gift for the written words— they are related to world-famous author David Baldacci. But their artistry is strictly focused on the science, technology, and common sense of winemaking at its finest.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand’s blog Recipe for Success, Kellie Duckhorn, the “wearer of many hats,” including sales & marketing initiatives, discusses her own family roots in the winemaking business and the vineyard’s soon-to-be-opened wine cave, which has been bored into a knoll on the property.
Q: The vineyard is constructing a cave?
The “cave” is the super-cool result of a strategic decision made by the Baldacci family in 2016. They decided to do a massive property renovation, and because the property has a knoll, which is pretty rare in this part of California, they decided to create an amazing cave for winemaking and storage.
Q: What’s involved with making a vintner’s cave?
There’s a lot of regulation on this type of development, which involves making reports to and attending many use-permit meetings with the state. We had to pull a mining permit for cave storage and to bore out our facility in the knoll. The project also required many meetings with engineers who understand the very strict and specific guidelines of building a cave. For example, the cave requires a huge overhead clearance of 40 feet. And, there’s another requirement that the knoll be drilled into at ground level.
In Napa County there aren’t that many caves, so our property is really unique that we have a hillside that allows for this.
Q: How does having a vintner cave help the winery?
A cave is the ideal space to store wine because it maintains a constant temperature that you don’t need to heat or cool with an HVAC system. The cave will also allow us to do all our production below ground at the ideal temperature, and ferment the grapes in tanks.
We do 10,000 cases of wine production a year. And with a below-ground production facility, it will be a much more controlled and efficient environment. Because we naturally get huge temperature fluctuations—we have cold winters and warm summers—it’s nice to add a level of consistency without having to rely on HVAC and humidity systems.
It’s been a painstaking process, which we started in February of 2019. We hope to fling open our doors sometime in 2020.
Q: What’s your background in winemaking?
I was actually born into it. My family started Duckhorn Vineyards in the 70s, and I grew up participating in the family business. After my family sold the winery in 2007, I tried other industries before returning to winemaking. I was in the olive oil industry for a while, but it’s very rugged and a lot harder than wine. The food industry as a whole is very difficult because there are high fees with grocery stores, who we pay to “slot” a product on their shelves. It’s fiercely competitive. Grocery is just very different than alcohol and winery margins are much better.
Q: What advice do you have for someone entering the winemaking industry?
If you want to be in production it’s going to benefit you to have a solid education as well as hands-on experience. It’s hard to be an outstanding wine manager if you just do one thing. I’d recommend going to colleges that have strong specialties in winemaking. UC Davis and Cal State Fresno and Cal Poly have amazing enology programs and vita culture, which is the farming portion of the business.
There’s also hard science involved, so winemaking also requires a solid foundation in chemistry and fermentation science.
On the hospitality side of a vineyard, I think the biggest skill is just to be an outgoing, extroverted host or hostess. People come here for the experience. So, it’s important that client-facing servers have a knack for being around people.
Q: How are your Boxerbrand menu covers enhancing your brand?
Our menu covers have been amazing! We use them 100 percent outdoors, either on wooden tables or on stone. They are always in the sun and there has been no degradation at all. They look as good as the day we pulled them out of the box! Baldacci Family Estate Vineyards uses Boxerbrand menu cover line String Theory in their table presentation. Thank you!