To close out our Taste of Harvest series we sit down with Michael Eddy, Director of Winemaking at Louis M. Martini Winery, a cornerstone of Napa Valley offering an exceptional selection of Napa Valley’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon. Since his tenure with Martini began in 2005, Michael has flourished as a Cabernet Sauvignon craftsman, producing vintages that have consistently received praise from some of the world’s most recognized wine critics. We caught up with Michael to learn more about the process that goes into harvesting Louis M. Martini’s renowned wines.
What do you find to be the most interesting part of harvest?
Seeing the personality of the vintage come to life is something I look forward to every year. We begin to get an idea of how flavors and tannins may take form as we get out in the vineyards and taste berries leading up to harvest, but we don’t get a precise read on things until we start fermenting. It’s during fermentation when we truly see the vintage take shape as its personality becomes much more visible. We see the vintage come to life over the course of a couple of months which is truly fascinating to me year after year.
What makes the Louis M. Martini harvest process unique compared to other vineyards?
While I wouldn’t necessarily say we have a unique harvest process, one of the things that sets Louis M. Martini apart from others is Cellar No. 254. With a nod to our address, Cellar No. 254 is a state-of-the-art winery equipped with novel tools and resources dedicated to small-lot production. It gives us a range of choices when crafting wines, including determining how each vineyard block is vinified. It is equipped with micro-fermenters ranging in capacity, tank design that optimizes skin-to-juice ratios, submerged cap fermentation capability and pneumatic punch-down equipment and all wine movement relies on gravity for the most tender handling. I like to think of it as my “artist studio.”
With COVID-19 reshaping the way most businesses operate, how has the harvest process differed this season than in years past?
Our top priority continues to be the health and safety of our team members both in the winery and in the vineyard. We are following all COVID-19 protocols for California Vineyards and Wineries developed by the Wine Institute, California Association of Winegrape Growers and California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance. Just as it has in our personal lives, it’s taken some time to get used to, but we are adjusting well in these new habits and do so willingly to protect ourselves and each other.
Do you have any special celebratory harvest traditions?
In years past, I have participated in the “harvest beard” tradition where we don’t shave until the final grapes from harvest are brought in, however I didn’t commit to it this year.
What’s something wine lovers might not know about how their wine gets from the vine to their glass?
The team here actually did a really neat exercise that tracked how many times wine is touched from vine to bottle, from vineyard passes, sampling fruit, lab analysis, cellar hands performing numerous activities to the wine, winemaker evaluations and so on. It was a laborious task that resulted in impressive numbers over 1,000.
How do you know when you have a good vintage on your hands?
Going into harvest, I have my thoughts and predictions in regard to potential output and quality based on a variety of weather and environmental indicators such as the amount of rain we get in the spring, early heat, time of bud break, berry size and cluster size. It isn’t until the wine starts fermenting that the notion becomes much more precise.
How do you approach the picking decisions for your Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Sauvignon is a late ripening variety and is one of the last to be harvested in any growing region. For us in Napa Valley, this often means it requires staying on the vine to ripen as inclement weather approaches. Therefore, we must balance the chemistry of the grape in any given block with weather and other logistical factors in the cellar and ultimately decide to pick for optimal quality and flavor in the grape while weighing the other factors.
Tell us about a wine you are particularly excited about coming out of this harvest season.
It’s no secret that Monte Rosso is one of my favorite vineyards, so my answer to this may not be a surprise. This year, I’m particularly excited to see how our Monte Rosso Gnarly Vine Zinfandel takes form.
What complications has your team faced as a direct result of the Northern California wildfires?
Year after year, Mother Nature presents us with unique conditions that affect harvest. This year, the unfortunate reality was more devastating wildfires. I am thankful to report that our team and winery were not directly impacted by the fires. The entire Louis M. Martini family and I cannot say thank you enough to the selfless firefighters and first responders that so bravely fought to protect us, along with our neighbors, friends and community. Through it all, we remain dedicated to ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of our team as we continue our 85-year legacy of crafting an exceptional collection of Napa Valley wine.
How can consumers best support wineries and families affected during these difficult times? Are there any specific relief organizations or resources that you’d like to share?
Napa Valley is open for business. Many wineries, including Louis M. Martini, are following COVID guidelines and are open to the public for outdoor tastings by reservation. If you are unable to visit in person, you can check out a variety of available offerings directly from the winery’s website. I must say, the continued support we have received over the course of the year has been so generous and we are so thankful.
For more information on how to support those affected by the California wildfires, click here.