The Secrets of Snowden's Success

     If you’d like to try a bottle of the highly acclaimed Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from Snowden Vineyards, be prepared to pay the price.

     The winery already was rated among Napa Valley’s elite by Wine Spectator magazine, but when “Wine Advocate” Robert Parker tasted a barrel sample of the 2007 vintage and gave it a rating in the 94-96 range, the wine suddenly went from popular to highly allocated.

     The Snowden Ranch has been growing winegrapes since at least the 1870s. There is no known record of the original extent of the vineyards, but there are several spots in what now are deep woods where the hillside rows of forgotten vineyards and orchards can be seen among massive tree trunks.

     Prohibition resulted in most Napa Valley vineyards being replanted to “traveling” varieties of grapes that were durable enough to be shipped to other parts of the country, where people could legally make them into wine in their homes. At Snowden Ranch, the vineyards moved from Zinfandel to Palomino, Petite Sirah and Carignane.

     When Wayne and Virginia Snowden acquired the property in 1955, there were fewer than seven acres of vineyards, along with about six acres of prunes, walnuts, plums and peaches. The grapes were sold to local cooperative wineries, where they went into the two great cuvees of the day: “mixed white” and “mixed black.”

     The Snowdens began to expand the vineyards in 1962. Cabernet Sauvignon was first planted on the property at that time, using cuttings from the Fay Vineyard in what later would become the Stags Leap District. The new plantings were “dry farmed,” except for a small amount of water transported up the hill in garbage cans tied into the backseat of a 1952 Oldsmobile two-door convertible.

     Wayne Snowden died in 1977, and grape production was minimal for the next few years. Scott and Randy Snowden – Wayne and Virginia’s sons – assumed responsibility for the vineyards in 1981. At that time, the vineyards and orchards were replanted to Cabernet Sauvignon. That vineyard is now called The Brothers Vineyard and was the first to acquire budwood from the new Jordan Vineyard near Healdsburg.

     For almost a decade, all of Snowden’s grapes were sold to Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. During that period, the family worked closely with Warren Winiarski, owner of Stag’s Leap, and his viticultural consultant Danny Schuester on the trellising, training and cropping of the vineyard – tracking cultural variables and correlating them to wine quality.

     The family produced its first vintage of Snowden-branded wine in 1993. Since then, they’ve continued to sell a portion of their grapes to Silver Oak Wine Cellars, Frank Family Vineyard, Viader, and most recently, to David Ramey, all of which produce wines that are highly allocated.

     Just like Snowden’s own Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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