The Wonders of Small-Lot Winemaking

In 1992, culinary entrepreneur Pat Kuleto assembled five parcels from cattle ranchers to create a 761-acre ranch of wild hillside land on the eastern edge of the Napa Valley.

Marrying the eye of a master designer and the heart of a vintner, Kuleto perceived the vast potential for a world-class vineyard on this mountainous land overlooking Lake Hennessey, Pritchard Hill and the towns of Rutherford and St. Helena.

The building of his rustically elegant Tuscan-style home, Villa Cucina, and the planting of the surrounding Kuleto Estate vineyards represented the next step in the evolution of a life committed to gracious living and excellence.

After decades of making wine for personal pleasure and the enjoyment of friends, the first planting of Kuleto Estate in 1993 was a culminating moment for Kuleto. Not surprisingly for a man who has designed some of North America’s most celebrated restaurants, the inspiration for Kuleto Estate was part of greater vision.

A passionate connoisseur of food and wine, Kuleto sought to craft a calm, sustainable retreat that reflected the robust yet refined lifestyle for which his restaurants and design had become famous. Central to this goal were the vineyards of Kuleto Estate, their permanence, and the legacy they represented for his son, Daniel.

Deemed unplantable by many due to the steep mountainous conditions, Kuleto was undeterred and applied his years of design, gardening and building experience to the challenging proposition of hillside farming. What he found as he began gently sculpting a small portion of the property only served to reinforce his assessment of the Hennessey Basin of Napa Valley. Underneath the Manzanita scrub, fragrant chaparral and Madrone saplings was a collage of distinct soil types and unique environments suited to a truly remarkable range of varietals.

Interpreting the land, Kuleto made bold site-specific planting decisions for each terraced virgin vineyard block, carefully choosing the rootstocks and clones that best suited each varietal. Working with the natural topography, the individually terraced lots are not oriented to one central direction, but instead are planted varietal specific to work in concert with the contours of the property.

Begun in 1993, the first wave of plantings included Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In the years that followed, Syrah, Zinfandel and Muscat, as well as several other small-lot blending varietals, were added, planted at elevations ranging from 800 to 1,450 feet.

With the ongoing cultivation of the vineyards underway, the next step for Kuleto Estate was clear: In order to meet his meticulous standards of quality and excellence, Kuleto knew that every aspect of the winemaking process needed to occur on the property.

In 1997, he committed to building a winery on site to complete the vineyard estate that had grown to include extensive orchards, gardens and a working ranch with sheep, fowl, cattle and fish from the property’s Lake Brunello. Construction of the state-of-the-art Kuleto-designed facility began in 1999 and was completed in 2001.

The 17,000-square-foot, gravity-flow facility is a showcase example of technology blended with Old World charm. The winery’s design integrates the best of both traditional and innovative techniques for the most efficient and gentle handling of ultra-premium fruit.

Central to the Kuleto philosophy is the ability to individually cultivate and craft the small vineyard blocks at every stage of their development right through the winemaking process. Under the guidance of winemaker Dave Lattin and long-time vineyard manager Alberto Ochoa, this artisan’s approach sometimes focuses on lots as small as half a ton.

With total case production below 8,000 and a full-time, 15-member vineyard and winery team, Kuleto Estate assures attention to detail at a level impossible to achieve in larger wineries.

That suits winemaker Dave Lattin just fine. For Lattin, making wine at Kuleto Estate is about quality of life and a deep relationship with a remarkable piece of land.

From his first memorable sip of Mosel at the age of 6, Lattin has been cultivating a keen palate and a passion for wine. Originally from Corvallis, Ore., he received his bachelor’s degree in microbiology from Oregon State University in 1981. Soon after, he took his first position in the industry, working for Acacia Winery.

Determined to gain experience, Lattin traveled to Europe where he developed a profound appreciation for German and French wines. From the vineyards of St. Emilion to the cellar at Troplong-Mondot, he worked and studied the art and craft of winemaking before returning to the United States.

Founded on a respect for the natural environment, Kuleto has created a place where viticulture and Lattin’s winemaking exist as part of a guiding and coherent philosophy that informs every step of the process. That’s how Kuleto Estate is crafting wines of distinction that reflect both the remarkable attributes of their unique terroir and the vision of Pat Kuleto.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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