The Sylk Cellars Secret: Location, Location, Location

Wineries get their names in any number of ways—most commonly, from the name of the owners.

But in the case of Sylk Cellars, it’s a bit more complicated. Each of the four letters in Sylk is tied to the winery’s geographic location in California’s Napa Valley.

The S and the L are the initials of Stags and Leap, as in Napa’s Stags Leap District. The Y stands for Yountville, as it the Yountville District of Napa Valley. And the K stands for Knoll, as in the Oak Knoll District of the valley.

The Sylk Cellars vineyard is situated along the Silverado Trail, where it meets the southern border of the Stags Leap District and the eastern border of the Yountville District. The Oak Knoll District is just a stone’s throw away.

It’s a prime location, indeed, and the key to the quality of Sylk Cellars’ wines.

Sylk’s roots can be traced to 2001, when Carl Thorsen met Stephen Blum. Thorsen, who had retired from PriceWaterhouseCoopers, and Blum, a Los Angeles real estate developer, owned adjoining Napa Valley properties—properties that would be ideal for growing Cabernet Sauvignon.

It turned out that the two also shared a love of wine. So, in 2002, they decided to pool their resources and plant a vineyard… knowing that it would be several years before it produced wine-quality grapes. And each year thereafter, most of the fruit would be cut from the vines to enhance cane and root structure development.

Waiting can be excruciating, but newly planted grapevines must experience several growing cycles before their fruit is wine-worthy. In the case of the Thorsen and Blum family venture, the first commercial vintage would be 2006.

That year, Bob Pepi and Jeff Booth were tasked with transforming the harvested grapes into wine. Today, Booth is in charge of the cellar, ably assisted by Thorsen, who successfully completed the winemaker program at the University of California at Davis.

With each passing year, as the vines mature, the Sylk-grown wines will become more and more complex. But the first two vintages (2006 and 2007) have been exceptional, a nod to the vineyard’s location.

Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible, has described the wines of the Stags Leap District as having “textural hedonism.” In an article for the Los Angeles Times, she wrote:

“When you taste a typical Stags Leap District wine, you understand what all the fuss is about. What’s harder to explain is precisely what it is about the soils and climate of Stags Leap that gives its Cabernets such characteristic softness and intensity.

“Yes, the coarse, eroded soils are, according to reports from U.C. Davis, unique. Yes, the bare rocks heat up the district quickly during the day. And yes, the heat drops off at night just as rapidly, as cool breezes are sucked in off the Pacific. But why this translates to textural hedonism remains a mystery.”

Then there’s the Yountville District which, geologically speaking, offers a diverse combination of soil characteristics within its boundaries.

On its eastern flank, the volcanic soils are similar to those found in Stags Leap. But there also are centuries-old coastal deposits (both sedimentary and alluvial), as well as sandy and gravelly loam and some clay. It’s a geomorphic combination unique in the Napa Valley.

And when the cool marine air currents from San Pablo Bay to the south reach the Yountville Mounts, they’re trapped7mdash;providing natural “air conditioning” even on the hottest of summer days. This helps extend the growing season, enabling the grapes to attain full flavor development.

As for the Oak Knoll District, it enjoys one of the longest growing seasons in Napa Valley, the result of a mix of factors: a unique assortment of soils from the Dry Creek alluvial fan, less annual rainfall than the rest of the valley, and (as in Yountville) cooling marine influences.

The Sylk vineyard reflects the characteristics of these three districts, resulting in very complex wines—now and for many years to come.

Sylk Cellars
5238 Silverado Trail, Napa, CA 94558

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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