binNotes | a food, wine & travel blog
by L.M. Archer, FWS | Bourgogne ML
Red Thread™ | Napa Narrative | Shypoke Vineyard
Stories about wine, the Red Thread™ that binds us all.
Welcome to the second in a three-part binNotes | Red Thread™ wine maker interview series:
Napa Narrative | Shypoke Vineyard | Calistoga, CA.
Fame requires maintenance. High Maintenance. Especially if you’re a wine region.
Especially if your name is Napa.
Napa today – a glossy, gilded lily adorned with elegant grounds, lavish chateaux, and high-priced tasting rooms, overshadows its en foule founding, one focused upon the land, the vines, and its people.
Many contend Napa’s fame comes at a price.
A steep cost to the soul, a cost some wine makers refuse to pay.
This secret strata of artisan wine makers – wine makers rooted generations deep in Napa’s history – value family and friends over image; wine as art, not business. Much like their ancestors who planted the vines they now tend. But today’s wine makers willingly hold ‘day’ jobs to fund their ‘passion’ projects. A passion palpable in each pour of their wines.
A tribe of proud renegades toiling to honor their past, savor the present, and preserve a legacy for future generations.
A tribe of wine makers with stories worth sharing.
Today the Red Thread™ talks terroir with one of this tribe, Peter Heitz of fifth-generation
Shypoke Vineyard in Calistoga.
b/N: Who or what brought you to Shypoke?
PH: My great-grandparents got it all going in 1904, with bonded winery #43.
b/N: Your family immigrated from Alsace to Northern Napa with the specific intent of crafting fine wines. Tell readers a bit about the history of Shypoke, and what makes it unique – including, perhaps, a little bit about the winery’s name.
PH: My ancestors left Alsace for opportunity in the new world- initially settling south of San Francisco in ‘Pneumonia Gulch.’ Suffering from the damp cool, they struck upon Calistoga with its mineral waters and Mediterranean climate . Early wineries were in the works (Schramsberg, Krug, Beringer) and they jumped in. The winery almost made it through prohibition, but they never stopped farming. The other half of the winemaking heritage comes from Lucca, Italy, and came to Calistoga for similar reasons.
NOTE: The name of the winery, Shypoke derives from the local name for a native species of heron prevalent in the region at that time.
The label derives from an image of Peter’s great-grandfather’s original pruning tool used on the first generation’s farm and vineyard.
b/N: Shypoke represents five (5) generations of winegrowers. What, if any, historical wine growing and making techniques or traditions does Shypoke still honor today?
PH: We farm for the future, the thought driving our actions is that this little slice of dirt should be making exceptional wine in another 110 years and future generations will be happy with our stewardship of the legacy.
b/N: Because your winery enjoys such a rich, unbroken history in the region – any particular memories that resonate for you while your are out working in the vineyard, during wine making, or when you open a vintage bottle of your wine?
PH: I certainly reminisce on growing up amongst the vines, and making wine as a family. We honor and carry these traditions on everyday and make future memories each day. We are truly blessed in being grounded to our craft.
b/N: Your family planted their first rootstock in 1904. You grow some interesting varietals, including Charbono. Are most of your vines heirloom?
PH: The Charbono is pretty close to an endangered species, our guiding light. We also grow Sangiovese, Grenache, Malbec (Cot) , Petit Verdot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah (Durif). A regular farm stand. Diversity keeps it interesting and gives us fun ingredients to work with.
b/N: Shypoke’s vineyards contain rich alluvial soils. How has your understanding of the nuances of the land and environment shaped your approach to crafting wines of such elegance, honesty, and sense of place?
PH: The old family ranch happily sits on a little alluvial fan of limestone that peters out into some lovely gravel and loam. Each little block has it’s own thing going on. All we try to do is capture that spirit.
b/N: Over the years, your family must have weathered some major storms, both literally and figuratively, including Prohibition. What has been the key to Shypoke’s success?
PH: Keep it simple. Make wine that we want to drink.
b/N: What are your greatest challenges at Shypoke?
PH: We pinch ourselves each day at our good fortune. Those pinches hurt a bit.
b/N: Anything else you care to share with readers that we haven’t touched on?
PH: Thanks for enjoying and supporting the small local farmers in your area. It really is a partnership.
b/N: Finally, “If wine making in Shypoke has taught me anything, it’s taught me…”
PH: You’ve got this on video! and I have no idea what I said… 🙂
Here’s what Peter has to say…
Care to share? Feel free to leave your comments below.
Copyrighted binNotes 2015. All Rights Reserved. | All photos courtesy of the author.
Peter and Meg Heitz* – Shypoke Vineyard
*Thanks from Lucca for free run of the farm!