Marketta Fourmeaux isn’t one to use her hands when she speaks.
Yet, in a remarkable career in wine that has spanned more than two decades, it’s her hands that do all the talking.
While she’s basically hands-off in the cellar, Marketta is in the forefront of handmade wines — hand-crafted from vineyard to bottle — including a label for a new brand that incorporates her hands, Hand Made by Marketta.
And for her third enological adventure, Marketta has set up shop in a hand-dug cellar underneath her home in Old Town Napa, one of a very few businesses permitted as a small city winery. That means no more than 200 cases can be produced in the naturally cooled wine cellar under her restored 1887 Coombs St. home. It opens onto an inviting water sculpture-appointed garden she shares with a trio of neighbors’ cats.
It’s a new day for Marketta, who, with former husband, Jean-Noel Fourmeaux, launched Chateau Potelle on Mount Veeder in the late 1980s. That business was truncated as the result of divorce, with the vineyards and winery purchased by Kendall-Jackson, the brand retained by her ex.
The Finland native moved to Paris as a young girl and eventually earned a masters degree in marketing and business administration. During her undergraduate years, she lived and studied in the United States as a foreign exchange student. Following formal studies, which included programs in enology, she wound up in the post of official judge for France’s foremost wine authority, Institut National des Appellations d’Origine.
INAO sent her to the United States in the early ’80s to research California winemaking and viticulture. Marketta readily relates the upshot of some six months of slogging through vineyards and cellars and more than 2,000 wine tastings. “I sent a report back — it read, ‘Looks good. We stay.’”
The 273-acre Chateau Potelle wine estate established on Mount Veeder by Marketta and her former husband proved a runaway success, particularly the series of Chateau Potelle’s VGS wines. Marketta made an indelible mark as both viticulturist and winemaker with both red and white wines, including cabernet sauvignon, syrah, zinfandel, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, grown in estate vineyards as well as in Pope Valley.
“There is an intellectual challenge of winemaking and working with the variables of nature that thrills me,” Marketta says of her life’s work. “I seek to understand what the wine wants to be and then employ methods based on my observation of the changes that occur as the vines grow, grapes ripen and the wine develops.”
The intense blonde vintner eagerly tells consumers how she blends each wine with a minimum of intervention, how she racks each barrel by gravity, avoiding filtration in order to retain intensity and integrity — resulting in wines with exceptional balance and finesse.
“Each barrel is its own world,” Marketta notes. “There’s no special trick, or any one thing that makes good wine. It’s like making a painting — you know you want green, but which green? It’s the simple work and details, the sum of every choice you make — big or small — that ultimately affects the wine.”
Losing Chateau Potelle was hard on Marketta. “But I’m not looking back,” she says from the sunny deck of her downtown Napa home, “just moving forward.”
The vineyards she knows are on Mount Veeder and in Pope Valley, and the wines Marketta has crafted and released to date reflect her broad knowledge of respective terroirs.
The Hand Made by Marketta sauvignon blanc wines will continue to come from Pope Valley, the red blends from a single vineyard on Mount Veeder.
Grapes from this fall’s harvest will be the first to be fermented and aged in the new city cellar. However, only 200 cases of wine can be processed there. Marketta makes use of a friend’s crush facility elsewhere for the balance of the production.
There are no cookie cutter wines in Marketta’s cellar. “I didn’t get into this business to be run-of-the-mill,” she hastily adds.
One of her distributors prompted Marketta to adopt Hand Made as a brand name when the representative used the term to describe what she puts in the bottle. He knew that she stays true to the fruit from sustainably farmed vineyards and uses only natural yeast in the fermentation process.
“I recently spent $30,000 for a label design but the one that seems to be most successful is the one we made by hand (using her hands as backdrop). “The wines are, indeed, handmade so it made sense (to use the term) for the new brand.”
When you talk shop with Marketta, her enthusiasm is so contagious the listener wants to get his or her hands dirty — or at the very least taste a glass of her wine.
“I love this business — it’s a combination of nature and human effort and nature wins every time,” she beams.
“I’m not interested in becoming a big wine producer. I just want to do something extraordinary ... to make people happy. I just want to make wines people enjoy.”
A recent tasting of the current releases revealed:
Hand Made 2007 Pope Valley Sauvignon Blanc, $22 — Grapes for this complex three-clone blend come from a single vineyard that Marketta planted more than a decade ago, in a region she identified in 1984 as ideal for sauvignon blanc because of its climate and loamy soils. About one-fifth of the wine was aged in French oak in order to provide added complexity. There’s slight herbaceousness in the nose, with both citrus and mangoes exploding on the palate. There’s a bit of spice in the creamy mouth feel, even a hint of pineapple on the lengthy finish. This one’s available by the glass at Celadon in Napa. Only 400 cases produced.
Hand Made 2006 Mount Veeder Blend, $49 — A blend of 59 percent cabernet sauvignon, 21 percent malbec and 20 percent merlot from the former Chateau Potelle estate on Mount Veeder. It was aged in French oak for two years and then another 20 months in bottle prior to release. A supple, concentrated Bordeaux blend, it shows off ripe black fruit and has a lovely, elegant finish. This is one to drink now or lay down for a few years as it can only improve with age. It’s poured by the glass at Cole’s Chop House in Napa. Only 350 cases produced.
Hand Made by Marketta wines are on the list at Angèle in Napa and available retail in Napa at Oxbow Wine Market and Genovi Deli, and in St. Helena at Sunshine Foods and St. Helena Wine Market. Information about the wines can be obtained at www.markettawinery.com or by phoning 226-5944.