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Wine Industry

Far Niente purchases 133 acres in Carneros AVA, dedicated to keeping Napa Valley Chardonnay alive

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Aug. 7, 2021 series
  • Updated
Far Niente in Spring

Far Niente just acquired 133 acres to help preserve the quality of their Chardonnay. 

For Far Niente’s vice president of winemaking Andrew Delos, control over product is everything.

“I come from a family of chefs, and I think of raising your own chickens or cattle,” he said. “You know how you treated the animal, and then if you are going to butcher it and serve it on the table, you control the quality from start to finish.”

So by trade as a winemaker, Delos’s ultimate goal is to have complete control over the quality of his grapes, and then his wine, right up until it is bottled and sent off to winos far and wide.

“Then, you’ve done absolutely everything to make sure that it is the best drop of wine for the consumer.”

Far Niente’s most recent empire expansion came in the form of a 133-acre vineyard located in the Carneros region of Napa, previously known and managed as the Gran Val vineyard. Far Niente’s search for land suitable for Chardonnay has been going on for about five years, but the wine conglomerate has been sourcing grapes from the region for much longer.

“There's a real great storied history there, especially when you think about the Hyde [Estate Winery] vineyard across the street,” says Delos. “Nickel & Nickel, and Far Niente before that, have been sourcing from Truchard Vineyards for well over 15 years, so we knew we loved it and we knew the consumers love the quality of the Chardonnay that is coming out of that area.”

Unfortunately, though, Chardonnay acreage has been on the decline in Napa Valley, with Carneros as one of the few remaining regions with the necessary cool climate.

Delos says the cool air coming off San Pablo Bay is ideal for Chardonnay and Pinot, and the unique topography is a huge investment for the brand and its sister wineries. For example, Post & Beam will be taking advantage of the thin, rocky soils in the peaks of the hills, which lends itself to Bordeaux grapes fit for the company’s Cabernet Sauvignon. But their mainstay? That Napa Valley Chardonnay.

“The plan right now is, first and foremost, to solidify the future of Far Niente Chardonnay, because the fact that the acreage for Chardonnay in Napa is dwindling is really quite concerning,” said Delos. “We really believe in Napa Chardonnay, and we wanted to make an investment in that area.”

An intentional business move on Far Niente’s part, the decline of Chardonnay in the area is likely tied to rising temperatures associated with climate change. In addition to drought and water shortages, the differences in climate and topography within the valley is becoming more and more clear to vineyard managers and winemakers.

According to the Napa Valley Vintners, the Los Carneros AVA sits anywhere from sea level to 700 feet, and has the lowest rainfall in the valley with typically shallow, clay-dominated soils. Since these clay soils retain water for longer, they are often known for cultivating bold wines.

Delos knows how special the area is, and he says he and his staff are committed to being “stewards to the land” while operating this new project.

“I think that with us, and the Hydes and the Truchards and the other families in that area, we think that we can really make that part of Carneros a shining star for a long time to come,” he said.

“We've been around 40 years, we know the neighborhood, we’ve been making Chardonnay for that long ... This one to us was an absolute no-brainer.”

Far Niente is planning on planting next spring, and Delos is ready to dive in headfirst to the operation. John McCarthy, Far Niente’s director of vineyard operations, joined the winery in 2021 and will manage the vineyard under the direction of Delos.

“Fundamentally, we believe at Far Niente that controlling the farming, controlling our own grape sourcing equals controlling quality. We think that if we own the vineyard, and we dictate the clone, the root stalk, the row orientation, the sustainable organic principles of farming, our fruit is going to be better by it,” he said.

“This was always about improving the quality of our wine … and as this fruit comes on vine over the next three, five, seven years, you will see the improved quality of our wine.”

Napa County’s wine industry crushed just under 100,000 tons of grapes in 2020, according to a preliminary crush report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, marking an almost 40% decline year over year.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and sjones@napanews.com

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Napa Valley wine industry reporter

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