In the Footsteps of a Legend

Trying to follow Joe Heitz in the wine business is a bit like trying to follow Babe Ruth in the Yankees’ lineup. Lou Gehrig managed to pull it off, but there aren’t many Lou Gehrigs out there.

For many years, the Heitz Cellar Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon bottling known far and wide as “Martha’s Vineyard” was among the top-ranked Cabs in the country. It was a big, bold, easily identifiable wine with a unique personality and, because of the demand for it, an ever-rising price tag.

It was a “cult wine” long before that phrase came into widespread use.

In 1997, France Champagne house Louis Roederer hosted a gathering to honor the Martha’s Vineyard Cab as one of the “World’s 30 Greatest Wines” — high praise in any context, but particularly so when offered by a French winery.

While making wine and building their business, Joe and Alice Heitz also were raising kids. They always welcomed the idea of their children joining the family business, but they also encouraged the kids to spread their wings before deciding to do so.

Kathleen Heitz Myers and David Heitz ultimately returned, and have kept Heitz Cellar at the forefront of Cabernet Sauvignon makers in the valley.

But their brother, Rollie, decided to go out on his own — in essence, to assume the role of Lou Gehrig. In 2000, he and wife Sally founded Midsummer Cellars with the goal of making small-lot, handcrafted wines of distinction that reflect the terroir and individuality of their vineyard sources.

Today, Midsummer Cellars produces only vineyard-designated Cabernet Sauvignon from three vineyards — its own Cañon Creek Vineyard, as well as the Tomasson and Fowler Vineyards, all of which show distinct characteristics in the wines created from their grapes.

The Cañon Creek Vineyard, which is considered the winery’s “home vineyard,” is located in the foothills just east of the town of St. Helena, at the base of Howell Mountain. It’s just below the beginning of the Howell Mountain appellation and above the St. Helena appellation.

The soils are volcanic in nature and well drained. The vineyard is planted entirely to Cabernet Sauvignon, using two clonal selections. A little over half of the vineyard is planted to Clone 6, while the balance is Clone 337. This combination of clones results in wines of deep concentration that also maintain balance and complex structure.

The vineyard is planted using dense spacing and a VSP training system, allowing for more light into the fruit zone to maximize varietal development. It comprises 1.4 acres and is located at an elevation of approximately 1,000 feet.

The Tomasson Vineyard is owned by Helgi and Marlene Tomasson. Helgi is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ballet. This vineyard is, by far, the smallest in Midsummer’s portfolio, producing just three barrels of wine per year.

The vineyard is located on the valley floor in an alluvial fan, with very well-drained, gravelly soils that help produce wines of deep intensity.

The Fowler Vineyard is owned by Don Fowler, and is located in the upper watershed of Knights Valley, just a stone’s throw from the Napa County line, in the hills between the towns of Calistoga and Santa Rosa.

The soils are composed of Forward and Bressa Dribble complexes, and the vineyard has the steepest slopes of the three utilized by Midsummer Cellars. Because of its location, the vineyard is exposed to strong afternoon breezes that result in thicker grape skins. Those skins help produce wines of intense color and tannin structure. The vineyard is planted exclusively with Clone 337, and its elevation is about 1,100 feet above sea level.

Rollie Heitz, as you might imagine, possesses a lifetime of winemaking experience. He learned how to make fine wines while working alongside his famous father. Today, he works in a very small space — Midsummer Cellars occupies less than 550 square feet — but to Rollie, small is beautiful.

“Within this small space,” he says, “we are able to produce true wines of distinction that we hope everyone will enjoy.”

Visitors are welcome at the winery by appointment, and they can expect Rollie Heitz to serve as their tour guide. “We usually offer a barrel sample as well as a couple of our current releases,” Rollie adds.

And here’s the best part of all: Midsummer Cellars does not charge for tasting. That makes it a true rarity in today’s Napa Valley.

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For available tour hours or to make an appointment to visit, call 707-967-0432.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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