Having enjoyed fifteen years of winemaking success in Europe, Bordeaux-based vigneron Stéphane Derenoncourt set out to make his first-ever American wine, Derenoncourt California. Stéphane was drawn to California because of its increasing potential to produce great wine. Exploratory trips to the area convinced Stéphane of the possibility of crafting high quality wines that are marked by Napa’s distinctive terroir but retain the balance and freshness for which he is known.
Made from small plots specifically chosen by Stéphane for their cool microclimates, high elevations, and volcanic soils, the 2006 Derenoncourt California wines exude a rich sensuality while possessing the sort of refinement you expect from an accomplished Bordeaux vintner. Expressing a pitch-perfect harmony between New World power and Old World elegance, each of these vineyard-designate wines offers not only a memorable drinking experience, but also a fresh perspective into the beauty and diversity of Northern California’s dynamic terroir.
Stéphane Derenoncourt has a profound commitment to terroir, the French term that invokes the subtlety, artistry and mystery of deeply respectful vine-tending. Stéphane’s devotion to the interaction between site, soil and climate that gives a wine its defining character is the touchstone of his quest to find authenticity in each wine he makes.
This quest always begins with singular vineyards, lovingly tended by skilled vineyard workers who share Stéphane’s passion for growing the purest fruit nature can offer. Stéphane seeks out parcels with ideal soil composition, ample sun exposure, high elevation and low yields. Uncompromising in his belief that he must be attentive to the land in order to make compelling wine, Stéphane spends countless hours among the vines becoming intimately familiar with each plot from which his grapes come. The result is intensely concentrated but delicately sophisticated fruit that reflects the soul of the vineyard.
After hand-sorting the harvested grapes with the utmost care, Stéphane employs only those vinification methods that ensure absolute respect for the fruit and do not interfere with nature’s ability to express itself. He believes that the more discrete the human influence, and the more pronounced the natural, the better. Stéphane thinks of the winemaking process as sculpting liquid – taking what nature provides and carefully shaping it into a pleasurable form that shows the inner beauty of the rough material. Accordingly, Stéphane adapts his winemaking to the demands of each vintage, using traditional techniques designed to preserve the grapes’ inherent freshness and elegance including slow whole-berry fermentation at cool temperatures and punch-down extraction.
Stéphane does not seek to imprint any particular “style” on his wines. Instead, by harvesting the highest quality fruit from the best sites and by using a sensitive hand in the cellar, Stéphane consistently crafts distinctive, terroir-driven wines that exhibit freshness, precision and balance while possessing a palate-pleasing sensuality.
Because of his dedication to care and quality, Stéphane has ensured that a trusted colleague and kindred spirit, Hélène Mingot, is on the ground full-time in Napa to oversee every detail in the vineyards and the cellar. Hélène collaborated with Stephane on projects in Europe after working as a winemaker in Bordeaux and Tuscany. Stéphane selected Hélène to be his hands and feet in Napa when his other responsibilities call him away because of their common commitment to the art of terroir expression.
Stéphane and Hélène are pleased to bring to Napa’s distinguished terroir their sensibility – a tireless pursuit of transparency that reminds us to stay humble before the complex work of nature.
The story of Stéphane Derenoncourt’s career is one of a man mastering his craft the right way – from the bottom up. Considered by many to be one of the greatest winemakers in France and Bordeaux’s most sensitive vintner, Stéphane comes from humble origins. Born the son of a steel worker in northern France, Stéphane developed a taste for manual labor and a love for nature early in life. In 1982 at the age of nineteen, he hitchhiked to Bordeaux on a whim, taking a job as a vineyard worker in Fronsac. For the next decade, Stéphane lived, worked, and breathed in the vineyards of Bordeaux’s Right Bank, becoming intimately familiar with the life of the vine and each plot of land’s capacity to stamp its unique qualities on its grapes.
Stéphane’s first opportunity to prove his mettle in the cellar came in the early 1990s at Saint- Émilion’s venerable Chateau Pavie Macquin. His success there – notably during the difficult 1993 vintage in which Stéphane made a highly regarded wine – drew attention to his skill. Soon thereafter he was recruited to be winemaker for La Mondotte, a new micro-cuvée from a tiny limestone plot near Pavie Macquin. La Mondotte’s first vintage, 1996, stunned the wine world, receiving unprecedented acclaim from critics and consumers alike. La Mondotte quickly became one of the most collectible Bordeaux on the market.
Today, Stéphane consults for over sixty wineries in ten different countries in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The consistent quality of his work, together with his keen ability to express through his wines the uniqueness of the land from which the grapes come, have earned him a reputation as one of the most sought-after winemakers in the world.
Stéphane credits his success to the many years he spent working in the vineyard, learning the subtleties of soil, vine and climate that are essential to crafting wine that is fresh, sensual and – above all – honest. An avid proponent of natural viticultural methods and minimal intervention in the cellar, Stéphane seeks through each of his wines to “draw out the identity of the locality and imprint it on the fruit,” in order to present the wine enthusiast with a pleasurable and profound terroir experience.
The 2006 vintage of Derenoncourt California – Stéphane’s own wine, not a consulting project – marks the first grapes-to-bottle wine he has ever made in the United States.
A flagship wine in every sense, this dark, brooding Napa Valley Cabernet reflects both the intensity of Napa terroir and the refinement of Old World winemaking. Dense but silky, potent but delicate, this hand-crafted wine possesses what Stéphane calls true power: the elusive balance between concentration and elegance. This ephemeral quality stems from decisions Stéphane made in the vineyard and the cellar, beginning with the selection of low-yielding old vines from Block 13 in Caldwell Vineyard. This tiny parcel’s cool climate enables a long growing season, its volcanic soils provide intense mineral influence, and its Cabernet Sauvignon clones – the product of decades of rigorous winnowing – capture the soul of the grape. Stephane’s non-interventionist winemaking allowed the fruit to fully express its terroir, and judicious treatment in new Saury barrels – lightly toasted so as to accent rather than dominate – helped craft a wine of stunning depth and freshness.
The Napa Valley Cabernet exudes a mysterious, profound aroma of juicy blackberries and currants with pencil lead and dusty leather notes. The palate offers even more complexity than the bouquet, exhibiting a driving core of sweet fruit, flavors of graphite, wild herbs and peppercorns, and a saturated, viscous texture buoyant with acidity. Smooth glycerin-wrapped tannins lead to toasty oak and grilled rosemary on the long, luxurious finish. Produced in miniscule quantities, this true boutique Cabernet flits seamlessly between regal elegance and hedonistic pleasure and promises to be a cellar centerpiece for years to come.
100 cases produced.
$220 per 750-ml bottle, available in sets of three only at derenoncourtcalifornia.com.
Stéphane has always had a passion for Cabernet Franc, a grape he includes in his Bordeaux blends whenever possible. The 2006 Derenoncourt Napa Valley Cabernet Franc represents Stéphane’s first opportunity to craft a wine entirely from this varietal – and he has made the most of it. Intent on using only the highest quality grapes, Stéphane selected Block 15, one of the oldest parcels in Caldwell Vineyard, because of its expressive Cab Franc clones, cool microclimate, and well-draining rocky clay soils. Block 15’s ideal natural environment – cool breezes from San Pablo Bay tempering the ample sun exposure that comes from sitting above the fog line – makes for even ripening and long hangtime, resulting in rich, concentrated fruit replete with refreshing acidity.
The Napa Valley Cabernet Franc’s premium raw material and unique terroir show in the wine’s blend of depth and finesse. Dark and opaque, the wine opens with an explosive bouquet of sweet black cherry layered with foresty aromas of tobacco leaf and flowers. Structured and powerful on the palate, the Cab Franc’s pedigree comes through as escalating waves of flavor coat the mouth with lush tannins, perfumed ripe fruit, and a resounding minerality. Finishing with gripping floral and dried herb tones, this singular interpretation of Napa terroir is New World Cabernet Franc at its finest.
225 cases produced.
$140 per 750-ml bottle, available in sets of three only at derenoncourtcalifornia.com.
In making his first Merlot in California, Stéphane sought to produce a wine that expressed Napa’s unique terroir, but that could match the quality of the Bordeaux Merlots on which he built his reputation. Because only the best fruit grown at the highest elevation would do, Stéphane selected a small, well-ventilated plot of vines in the legendary Stagecoach Vineyard, 1,968 feet up Atlas Peak. The Merlot from this parcel ripens slowly due to its northern exposure and cool climate, building heightened levels of flavor complexity and acidity in the grapes. Volcanic mountain soils imbue the berries with an intensity and mineral presence that – in the delicate hands of a vigneron with Stéphane’s extensive Merlot experience – create the conditions for a wine of power and grace.
The Napa Valley Merlot sports a piercing fragrance of ripe red fruit that leaps from the glass, laced with light mulling spices and caramelized aromas. Concentrated, fresh berry flavors saturate the palate with a crushed velvet texture framed by refreshing acidity. The wine’s powerful finish offers hints of dried cherry skins and dark chocolate shavings. The vibrant freshness that pervades the Merlot comes from coddling these naturally fragile grapes and employing a gentle, hand punch-down extraction. The result is a cool-toned elegance – rarely found in New World Merlot – that reflects Stéphane’s ability to express the nuances of great terroir.
100 cases produced.
$140 per 750-ml bottle, available in sets of three only at derenoncourtcalifornia.com.
This powerfully aromatic Syrah hails from the prestigious Hudson Vineyard in Carneros, Napa’s coolest microclimate. Its stunning floral quality stems from Stéphane’s delicate handling of the grapes’ natural freshness. Aware of California Syrah’s tendency toward overripe and hot flavors, Stéphane harvested fully-concentrated fruit, then guarded against over-extraction by gently pressing the grapes and slowly fermenting the whole berries at low temperatures. The result is a rich yet elegant wine that showcases Syrah’s intense sensuality while reflecting the subtlety of its cool-climate terroir.
The 2006 Derenoncourt Syrah’s seductive bouquet offers layers of gorgeous red-black fruit, hints of bacon fat and soft saddle leather, berry-tinged spice aromas, and – above all – a sultry perfume of freshly plucked peonies. Pure satin on the palate, the wine’s soft but rich attack grows seamlessly into a delicate dance between floral tones and sweet fruit flavors, framed by flecks of minerality and white pepper. Refined tannins coat the long, vibrant finish, presenting a uniquely fresh expression of Napa Syrah.
600 cases produced.
$60 per 750-ml bottle, available in sets of three only at derenoncourtcalifornia.com.
Lake County’s beautiful, rugged terrain expresses itself with exquisite precision in this classic Cabernet Sauvignon. Situated next to the ancient volcano Mount Konocti, the 56-acre Red Hills Vineyard enjoys well-drained, mineral-rich volcanic soils filled with black obsidian and gravel. This 2,200-feet elevation, mountainside vineyard benefits from its microclimate’s unusual diurnal temperature pattern. Fifty degree temperature swings between day and night help the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly, resulting in a wine of structure and complexity. Vigneron Stéphane Derenoncourt selected Red Hills Vineyard for his Lake County Cab because its top quality soils and climatic intensity create ideal conditions for growing Cabernet Sauvignon that – in the hands of a sensitive vintner – produce wines of great focus and finesse.
The wine boasts classic Cabernet tones of ripe crushed blackberries, currants, cedar and earth. Its soft, sweet tannins and balanced acidity give it a curvaceous texture and an enduring freshness on the palate. Made from low-yielding vines and harvested late so as to allow the berries maximum natural concentration, the 2006 Derenoncourt Cabernet represents the best expression of Lake County’s distinctive terroir.
575 cases produced.
$40 per 750-ml bottle, available in sets of three only at derenoncourtcalifornia.com.