There can’t be many family-owned wineries left in Napa, but three generations of Snowdens have been making wine in the hills east of Rutherford since they moved here in 1955. Their vineyards are even older; premium grapes have been harvested here since the ranch was homesteaded in 1878, during the Gold Rush. When the Snowdens took over, they wisely switched the Petit Sirah and Palomino over to Cabernet Sauvignon. In 2005, third-generation winemaker Diana Snowden Seysses took the reins, and brought an entirely new perspective; she is also the winemaker at Burgundy’s hyper-prestigious Domaine Dujac, and her Burgundian expertise informs everything she does in Napa.
Diana has been enchanted by the Burgundian approach to making a site-specific wine, which demands a vibrant ecosystem in the soil. This led her to the violently expensive decision to turn Snowden organic. Her family took some convincing, but in light of the results, they are now entirely on board. They use only native yeasts, and keep wine-making practices as non-invasive as possible. What is indisputable is that quality here has never been higher.
With the Snowden vineyards sitting just outside the confluence of 3 Napa appellations, the Ranch bottling captures something of them all; Rutherford leather, St. Helena perfume and the structure and depth of Howell Mountain fruit. A terroir-driven approach has also led to some single-vineyard bottlings; the Brothers’ Vineyard, on volcanic soils at the cusp of a plateau in the hills, is probably their top site. (NT 10/07/18)