On a hill looking out on the Bay, a winery straddles two worlds. Grown from Spanish roots in the foothills between Mount Veeder and the Carneros, that winery, Artesa, hosts the meeting place between centuries of Old World familial winemaking and the future.
In its latest chapter, Artesa today is in the throes of self-discovery, says President Susan Sueiro, and making a bid for relevance with the wine drinkers of tomorrow.
During an unveiling of sorts earlier this month, intimacy and a head-long embrace of the winery’s Spanish-American id were the obvious overtones of a tasting room remodeled this past year. Taking a page from the tapas and pintxos bars of Barcelona, the space comes complete with a cadre of new guest experiences and food pairings offered by reservation. A remodel of the winery’s front room is on deck for this winter.
“Instead of that classic belly up to the bar, too many deep at the bar on Saturday afternoon,” Sueiro said, visitors are intended to “by appointment, come, sit, have a food-and-wine experience, really get to learn who we are.”
In tandem with the renovations, a label re-launch has an updated logo sporting commissioned artwork based on street tiles of the Barcelona thoroughfare Passeig de Gràcia, while a redevelopment plan in the vineyards sees roughly 10 acres being replanted each year. An ‘experimental block’ of mixed soils and new clones serves as a staging ground of sorts for redevelopments to come.
The revolution all happens, of course, around Artesa’s center of gravity, the wines of Ana Diogo-Draper. A native of Portugal, Diogo-Draper took the reins of the estate’s winemaking in 2015 and now coaxes out its latest expressions, not the least of which is a wine meant to mark this, the next chapter in Artesa’s story.
Founded in the mid-1980s, with Napa Valley ascending the global wine stage, the winery is one of two New World satellites of Codorniu Raventos Group, Spain’s oldest family company and inventors of the sparkling wine cava. Dating to 1551, the company today is owned by the family’s 17th generation, the first to set roots in Napa and the New World.
Planting the estate mainly to the Carneros’ two staple grapes, pinot noir and chardonnay, the winery began as Codorniu Napa, naturally with sparkling wine ambitions. While estate fruit still goes into a brut wine made under the Codorniu Napa name, the property’s potential for small, potent grape clusters ideal for still wines, eventually won out.
In 1997, the name Artesa – Catalan for “hand-crafted” – was applied, and the winery is today “a pinot noir house, first and foremost.” The varietal makes up roughly 85 of the estate’s 150 acres of vineyard, and five bottlings of its wine, soon to be six, Sueiro said. Chardonnay plays a close second, complemented by small bottlings of Spanish varietals and vineyard designate cabernet sauvignon.
The foothills of the estate offer a soil profile at odds with the rest of the Carneros, said vineyard manager Jesus Hernandez. While much of the region is composed of heavy clay, the estate’s influence from Mount Veeder comes in the form of rocky slopes of sandstone, limestone and gravelly loam.
“It’s almost like an accordion,” Diogo-Draper said of the topography.
Despite some vines being more than 25 years old, she said, the terrain makes finding water a struggle, which comes as a boon to the wine. “What we get are extremely small clusters with very little berries and by that, incredible concentration and wonderful flavors.”
To say the estate had a close call with the area’s recent wildfires would be an understatement. Seen from cabernet sauvignon blocks at the highest point of the property, technically in the Mount Veeder AVA at 420 feet above sea level, the Partrick Fire’s path down the surrounding mountains is particularly chilling. Blackened earth stops abruptly at the estate’s vineyards, which, as in other hillside areas throughout the county, acted as breaks for the fire and halted its spread.
On a lower portion of the property, near the estate’s edge, sits the experimental block. In fact seven irrigation blocks carved from one previous 12-acre block, the site holds a variety of soils, Hernandez said. There’s an area of clay not far from a swath with “an extracurricular activity of rocks,” including sandstone with fossils.
“Then you move to the third section over here,” he gestured, “and it has a completely different type of rock structure. There’s no rhyme or reason.”
The mash-up of soils hosts new clones of pinot noir and chardonnay alongside varieties that had underperformed in other areas.
Among the experiments growing near the unoccupied Brown family house, home of the site’s former tenants, are great-great-granddaughter tempranillo vines from Codorniu property in Spain.
Sueiro traced the vines’ time in California from being sent as cuttings to UC Davis, then back to Spain, then back again to the Artesa property where they were planted in the shadow of a mountain and failed to prosper. Transplanted to a Duckhorn property in Alexander Valley, the vines bore Artesa fruit for years before being returned to the site where they grow now in an amply lit gravel portion of the experimental block.
Though yet to see its day in the winery, the tempranillo will one day lend itself to the new wine that perhaps most embodies Artesa’s sea change, the one Sueiro calls “our spirit animal”: Galatea.
A blend split almost equally between Atlas Peak cabernet sauvignon and (for now) Alexander Valley tempranillo, the wine was born in a blending room session between Diogo-Draper and Sueiro.
“It kind of started with the two of us sitting in the blending room and brains turning around it and deciding ‘Could we do this?’” Diogo-Draper recalled. “And this blend was done in an hour maybe.”
Calling on Greek mythology, the name references the story of Pygmalion, the sculptor who fell in love with the lifeless statue of a woman. Pitying the sculptor, Aphrodite brought the statue to life, with the name Galatea. Another famed muse to share the name was the wife of none other than Spain’s own Salvador Dali.
“This is a style of wine that no one but Artesa could really produce,” Sueiro leveled. “And no one but Ana would have the two sides of the brain to really do as well as she did.” Diogo-Draper insists on sharing the credit with Sueiro, dubbing the wine a “creative collaboration.”
Yet the concept extends beyond a single wine, giving shape and articulation to the idea of the winery’s renewal, Sueiro said, “Giving it some soul, giving it some flesh and blood and bringing the Artesa story to life.”
Through the winery renovations, a bit of rebranding, Diogo-Draper’s command of the winemaking and Hernandez’s charge in the vineyards, the team today drafts the new pages of that story, spurred by the Codorniu family.
“Napa Valley is known for having some of the greatest estates in the world and 25, 26 years ago, this family invested in making one of them,” Sueiro said. “And what they’re now challenging Ana and Jesus and I and the rest of the team to do, is make that estate relevant for the next 25 years.”
“It’s really been about the soul-searching experience of, ‘Who is Artesa, and who do we want to be when we grow up?’” she said.
“This is just the beginning.”