Bob Foley has been a consultant winemaker across Napa since the 70s and has witnessed a lot of changes in the valley, which he talks about in this interview from his own vineyard where he makes Robert Foley wines. Amanda Barnes also interviews him on the wines and wine regions of the mountain appellations in Napa (Howell Mountain AVA, Atlas Peak AVA, Mount Veeder AVA) and how they compare to the valley floor.
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Clip excerpt for the hearing impaired:
Amanda Barnes: So, Bob, we are up here on your Howell Mountain vineyard. And you have been making wines for 40 years in Napa, both on the valley floor and on the mountains. What would you say are the main differences between valley floor and mountain?
Bob Foley: Well, the obvious main difference is altitude! We are at 2000 ft or 700 m here versus virtually sea level down there, maybe 150 ft. The main differences are that the climate up here is a later climate for ripening and growing fruit. Everything starts later, ends later, so our fruit ripens in a Fall weather pattern on the mountain. Cooler nights, shorter days versus the valley floor where fruit ripens in the heat. There are greater stresses built into the mountain systems so soils are more weathered, they don’t hold water. Water perks through or runs off. So the vines must work harder to get water and nutrition. The struggle shifts the emphasis of their physiology into their fruiting bodies.
Amanda: Nice. And within the mountains there is also quite a lot of variation, can you give us a 101 on some of the mountains that you work on?
Bob Foley: So I work on three, I grow grapes on three of the mountains. Those being Howell Mountain, Mount Veeder and Atlas Peak. They all have their own personalities. The more southerly ones are closer to the maritime influence as opposed to the bays – San Pablo Bay and Sassoon Bay – so it’s cooler, the wines don’t develop as much muscle but they retain the acidity, which gives them nice brightness and cherry-like personality. Up here on Howell Mountain where we are now, we are more extreme, our weather during the ripening season gets quite cool, we are quite late but we don’t have as deep of dips because of the maritime influence which is lacking up here. There’s more of a warmth during the night up here. So we got the most muscular, most structured Cabernets up here on Howell Mountain.
Amanda: Super. And you are a Cab man, but you are also a Merlot man.
Bob Foley: That’s right, I am.
Amanda: What would you say, which is the variety that thrives most up here?
Bob Foley: Well Cabernet obviously. I think people have been scared off by the bad press that Merlot received ten or fifteen years ago because it was overplanted. It became such a popular grape that it was planted in soils that were probably more suitable for growing asparagus! That invites mediocrity as your bed fellow. I’ve never had bad Merlot vineyards that I’ve been working with, I’ve always been working with some great ones, and so my Merlot programs have persevered and they have prospered. I like my Cabernet with a good steak, and I like my Merlot with a great lamb!