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Interview with winemaker Sam Baxter of Terra Valentine, Napa Valley, CA

As he grew up in a family surrounded by wine, Sam Baxter was at his father’s side learning about the intricacies of wine production in Napa Valley.  He later went on to study viticulture at UC

Napa Valley, Californai

Napa Valley, California

Davis, the premier enology school in the United States.  After working in Australia, Sam landed at Terra Valentine and has been the winemaker for nearly a decade, helping the winery secure a place as one of Napa’s premier estates, located specifically in the Spring Mountain sub-appelation.  On his recent visit to New York, I chatted him up about the happenings in Napa Valley.

DA:  Which grapes do you grow on your estate?

SB:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Riesling, and Petit Verdot.

DA:  What are the major factors that affect the weather in your area?

SB:  The vineyards are located on the coastal side of Napa Valley at about 2,000 feet above sea level.  This puts us over the fog line, and so we get a good amount of sunshine in the morning as opposed to the valley floor where the fog must dissipate before the sun can reach the grapes.

DA:  What do you typically pair with your wines?

SB:  Heavier foods are ideal, such as a bone-in ribeye steak.  Nicely seared with just a little sea salt and oil; it’s a pretty perfect experience.

Sam in the cellar; enjoying the fruits of his labor

Sam in the cellar; enjoying the fruits of his labor

DA:  Are there differences in soil, climate, and aspect throughout the Napa Valley?

SB:  It’s a pretty diverse area with a few different soil types.  In the west, grapes grow in a white sedimentary soil and most wines are lean and aromatic, but still have a good tannin structure.  In the east, towards Howell Mountain, the soil is based more on volcanic sediment which is a darker colored soil.  The wines are typically richer and bigger.

DA:  Napa Valley is most famous for Cabernet Sauvignon, but what are some other wines worth trying?

SB:  Despite the bad press, Merlot is actually a wonderful grape and makes pretty outstanding wines.  It’s one of the more under-appreciated and under-valued grapes.  In some parts of the valley, the cooler climate is ideal for Merlot and also Cabernet Franc.

3 comments to Interview with winemaker Sam Baxter of Terra Valentine, Napa Valley, CA

  • Marc Armato

    Dan, I have not heard of the winery. I know the area well as Pride Mountian is on Spring Mountian. In any event I agree Merlot has a bad rap, but in my opinion, I haven’t enjoyed very much Merlot from the US. Italy and France do a much better job with the varital. But I do like Pride Merlot in some of the better vintages. But all in all, Cabernet is really outstanding in this volcanic soil. See you soon.

  • winefor1

    I’d like to try his Sangiovese wine. I’ve yet to taste a Sangiovese from outside of Italy that I deem worthy.

  • Mike McPherson

    Spring Mtn has much more to offer than just Pride! Be sure and stop by Sam’s place on the way up. It’s worth the stop, he is making some terrific wines from some of best mtn vineyards in the Valley. Sam’s sangiovese is outstanding and you will be impressed. You might also try Guilliams for great merlot as well as Keenan.

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