June 2009

Approach the Bench

by Stuart Harrison on June 3, 2009

flowergirl_blog44There’s a lot of talk about “benches” in the Napa Valley. Oakville and Rutherford are perhaps the best known. St. Helena has one and Stag’s Leap has an area that resembles a ‘bench’, but does not use the term. The notation is loosely used in Napa Valley and often misunderstood.
In the simplest of terms, a “bench” is a viticultural “sweet spot”, like that spot on your tennis racket where you can’t miss. As a viitcultural descriptor, it’s that ‘elbow’ that forms at the base of both the Myacamas Foothills on the West and the Vaca Foothills in the east. It formed over Millenniums as the soil from those hillsides gradually eroded and merged with the richer, fertile soils of the valley floor. A gentle slope or plateau forms where the two soil types collide. It’s normally a band no more than 400 yards wide. It creates “a best of both worlds” scenario and a no-fault grape growing environment.
The Bench in St. Helena (where grapes for Trivium are grown) is no exception. The Myacamas Foothills drop down onto the edge of the Lewelling Estate Vineyard creating the aforementioned ideal conditions. The soils are rocky and well drained, yielding in the best of years only three to four tons an acre. The tannins from bench land vineyards tend to be softer and the flavors more concentrated.