International Wine Report Review – Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon
As seen in International Wine Report, May 2022
By J. D’Angelo
“The 2019 ‘Expedition’ Cabernet Sauvignon from Seven Apart is sensational. The wine itself opens to a seductive nose with inviting aromatics of ripe black currants, black cherries, mocha, graphite, toasted spices, violets and hints of scorched loam that all emerge beautifully from the glass. On the palate this possesses a gorgeous full-bodied texture and fantastic overall structure. It continues to impress with its wonderful freshness, along with excellent concentration and depth, as layers of ripe dark fruits, exotic spices graphite and mocha flavors continue to build through the long polished finish. This is a marvelous release from Seven Apart that is already extremely impressive upon release, however it also has the characteristics to age for decades.”
Behind the Blend | Our Seven Apart Blending Session Explained
Join Seven Apart behind the scenes at the most recent blending session for our Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon to learn how our wine is made.
The art of winemaking is not a flash in the pan occasion. Rather, it is a slow burn. Every hillside, elevation, and aspect offers us a different micro-cru or lot. This is the essence of terroir. Each micro-cru is harvested and fermented separately, then aged in French Oak barrels of various custom toasts. The result is a mosaic of barrels from the same vineyard that display different characteristics and flavors. Here, Winemaker Andy Erickson and the team’s true skill shine as they use a palette of aromatics, flavors, textures, and structural elements to craft each unique Seven Apart wine. In April of this year, the Seven Apart team gathered for a blending session– for another precious step in the long journey to their final product.
What is a Wine Blending Session?
Wine blending is the act of mixing wines of different grape varieties, or wines released in different years, to produce a wine with superior flavor and balance to its base ingredients. At Seven Apart, we use the process to evaluate all the single lot barrels individually before creating the final Expedition blend. Expedition is the only blend in the Seven Apart portfolio, consisting of a majority Cabernet Sauvignon and then Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, or Petite Sirah depending on the vintage
What makes the sessions meaningful is that the entire team is involved. This includes our founder Don Dady, Winemaker Andy Erickson, Assistant Winemaker Patrick Nyeholt, Vineyard Manager Mike Wolf, Estate Manager Yannick Girardo, Controller Lee Ann Kerr and Hospitality host Jan Silberstein. The process takes a few hours, with everyone coming prepared with notes and referencing a detailed sheet that outlines all the information about each lot.
What happened at the latest blending session?
At the moment, the team is working on the upcoming 2020 vintage. For this particular session, they tasted Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petite Sirah, and Petit Verdot barrels. According to our Estate Manager Yannick, the team worked on four different blend iterations until everyone felt comfortable with the final result. Officially, the latest limited edition 2020 Expedition consists of the following components aged in 61% new French oak:
85% Cabernet Sauvignon
6% Petite Sirah
Unlike the 2019 blend, the 2020 Expedition does not feature any Petit Verdot or Cabernet Franc. Instead, the team opted to introduce the deeply-colored French grape Petit Sirah.
“The purpose is to craft something that will hold up to what we’ve done from the previous vintages. It’s not an easy task as Mother Nature changes everything. Consistency is key, and we fine-tune each blend meticulously. This process is a true labor of love,” explains Yannick.
While Winemaker Andy and Assistant Winemaker Patrick guide the approach to the blending thought process, Yannick also shares that everyone has a chance to voice their opinion:
“All opinions are welcome and respected. It is a great learning experience for all of us. It’s also an opportunity to understand the winemaking nuances better,” adds Yannick.
It’s Not A Recipe – It’s an Instinct
While some may think that the winemaking process is finished as soon as harvest comes to a close, the truth is that harvest is just the beginning. The art of blending is comparable to that of a Michelin-starred chef. While the source of the ingredients is essential, the way the elements are brought together is equally key to a successful serving. To be truly proficient in wine blending and make the best blends from the grapes available to them, winemakers need years of experience. At Seven Apart, we’re grateful to have highly-acclaimed Andy Erickson lead the team, bringing his decades of skill and practiced palate to the cellar:
“The blending process is one of my favorite parts of winemaking. It’s the middle of winter, quiet in the winery, and we sit down with all the wines we had made in 2020. We had about 15 different components to taste. It is a remarkable point in the process that gives us an opportunity to take a step back and deconstruct the objective of each wine and how to get there,” explains Andy.
For Andy and the Seven Apart team, winemaking is not a recipe or a protocol; it’s an instinct that drives us to create the final blend you enjoy in your glass.
“There’s that point where you look around the table, and everybody’s got a smile on their face or their eyes light up because all of a sudden, you’ve got it. You’ve found the perfect blend. It’s a wonderful moment,” ends Andy.
How do I buy the final Seven Apart Expedition Blend?
In September 2020, fierce wildfires devastated Napa Valley. At Seven Apart, we were fortunate enough to harvest our valley-floor Base Camp grapes prior to the fire, which resulted in exceptional quality wine. However, our high elevation Stag’s Ridge Vineyard was not yet ready for harvest and was unfortunately impacted by smoke taint.
As a result, Seven Apart will only be releasing our 2020 Expedition crafted from our Base Camp vineyard. This fruit was picked at optimal conditions and is of an extremely high caliber. As the Expedition was produced in smaller quantities due to the limited fruit, it is available exclusively by allocation. The 2020 vintage will be released in Fall 2022 to active Allocation list members. You can join the list by purchasing your first allocation, which is the 98+ point 2019 vintage of Expedition here.
Behind The Bottle #1 | Expedition
“Award-winning Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson takes you Behind the Bottle to introduce Seven Apart Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon. The latest Expedition vintage 2019 is now available.”
Seven Apart was established in late 2019. The brainchild of founder Don Dady, this world-class winery is a dream realized. With ambitions as high as the peaks of the surrounding Vaca mountains, Don enrolled none other than Napa Valley winemaking luminary Andy Erickson. The vision? To produce extreme mountain-grown Cabernet Sauvignon that expresses the best of the lauded Atlas Peak appellation.
Under Andy’s stewardship, four distinct Seven Apart Cabernet Sauvignon wines have come to fruition: Expedition, Shale, Basalt, and Summit. In this four-part journal series, Andy goes behind the bottle of each wine to share the full story. Whether you’re new to Seven Apart or a devoted aficionado, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Seven Apart Expedition.
Behind the Name
Meaning: ‘A journey undertaken with a particular purpose, especially that of exploration.’
For those just starting their journey with Seven Apart, Expedition is really where it all begins. To make this wine, Andy and the winegrowing team head out to explore the Atlas Peak mountain from top to bottom in search of the best fruit. This Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of grapes harvested from both our Base Camp vineyard and Stags Ridge mountain vineyard.
“I love the name ‘Expedition’ as it really shines a light on how wine is a journey. When you see how steep and rugged Stags Ridge vineyard is, you’ll realize that nothing in our winemaking process is a coincidence. Much like the goal of an expedition, every grape in the bottle serves a particular purpose,” opens Andy.
As a mixture of vineyards, the purpose of Expedition is to offer an accessible broad spectrum of flavors and textures that provide the perfect springboard into the world of Seven Apart.
Behind the Vines
Our Expedition bottling highlights the quality of the vintage as a whole, with fruit from our estate vineyards—Stags Ridge and Base Camp—and our partner growers. To craft the best possible expression of the vineyard, we are relentlessly making improvements to both Stags Ridge and Base Camp.
“Stags Ridge vineyard is made up of mostly solid red volcanic rock. It’s remarkable that vines even manage to grow here! As a result, the root system doesn’t go as deep as it should, so we are busy setting up a double irrigation system to ensure that any vines that were previously lacking in water can now be properly irrigated,” adds Andy.
Meanwhile, Base Camp is being wholly reimagined and replanted. Both vineyards adhere to strict organic farming practices and will be certified within three years. These projects represent serious endeavors, and we feel the wines we produce each vintage offer a snapshot of where we are at the time.
Behind the Barrel
While all Seven Apart wines are predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, the Expedition draws a little outside the lines. A blend of 91% Cabernet Sauvignon, the remainder is complemented by 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot to bring complexity, structure, and spice.
“People may read 1% Petit Verdot and question whether it contributes to the blend in any real way. But Petit Verdot is a fascinating variety in that even 1% can completely change the character of the wine. It’s as dark as ink and adds an alluring deep color to the wine. It also has a pencil lead, earthy tone that helps add nuance to an otherwise fruit-driven wine,” explains Andy.
Described as bright, polished, and high-powered, the 2019 vintage is a fine-tuned blend that is rich and accessible all at once.
“One of my favorite things about the Expedition is that it is made of so many different components. It’s a very exciting time when we start to blend and sit around with the team to try to figure out what the end product is going to be. As we blend and taste, there’s that point where you look around the table and everybody’s got a smile on their face. All of a sudden, you’ve got it!” smiles Andy.
After a controlled fermentation and long maceration on the skins, the Expedition was aged for eighteen months in French oak, 80% of the barrels being new. This process rounded the tannins, and gave the wine a velvety texture.
“I like to think of Expedition as the Seven Apart ambassador wine. It’s a great all-rounder that also showcases what the winery can do. With a name like that, it also gives us the freedom to explore and try different things,” ends Andy.
The 2019 Expedition boasts a red-purple hue that hints at the freshness and intensity of the aromas. In the glass, you’ll be treated to swirls of red cherry, raspberry, and fresh tobacco, as well as notes of cinnamon, vanilla, and graphite. There is a rush of red fruits on the palate, which continues to build in intensity as the wine is savored. The texture is incredibly fine-grained and silky, while the fruit at the wine’s core expands and lengthens on the finish. This youthful wine is very intense—though accessible—right now, and will only gain in complexity and depth with time in the bottle. We think the wine’s true potential will be reached between 2024 and 2034.
Join our Allocation
With only 60 barrels crafted, the 2019 Expedition Cabernet Sauvignon is now available exclusively by allocation. Join us on this journey as we climb the mountain, push ourselves to the limits, and craft exceptional Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Sign up here if you’re ready to become a member of our allocation list and savor Napa at its peak.
Behind The Bottle #2 | Shale Cabernet Sauvignon
“Award-winning Napa Valley winemaker Andy Erickson takes you Behind the Bottle to introduce Seven Apart Shale Cabernet Sauvignon. The latest Shale vintage 2018 is now available on allocation only.”
Millions of years ago, Mount Saint Helena erupted spewing lava and ash across what today is called Napa Valley. Since then, much of the land has been cultivated, but certain hard-to-reach areas remained covered in volcanic rock. In 1999, one brave vintner decided to excavate the top of Atlas Peak, approximately 1,475ft above the valley floor. The volcanic rocks were the size of small cars, but determination paid off, and the land was finally cleared and planted with grapevines. The vineyard was named Stags Ridge and quickly flourished.
Seven Apart proprietor Don Dady is a long-time lover of world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. His passion eventually led him to the summit of Atlas Peak in Napa. In 2018 he purchased Stags Ridge Vineyard. He got to work and assembled a team including acclaimed winemaker Andy Erickson.
Under Andy’s stewardship, four distinct Seven Apart Cabernet Sauvignon wines have come to fruition: Expedition, Shale, Basalt, and Summit. In the second of our four-part journal series, Andy goes behind the bottle of each wine to share the full story. Whether you’re new to Seven Apart or a devoted aficionado, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about Seven Apart Shale.
Behind the Name
Meaning: ‘A soft finely stratified sedimentary rock formed from consolidated mud or clay and can be split easily into fragile plates.’
Shale takes its name straight from the fine-grained, laminated soil and rock in Stags Ridge vineyard. As the name suggests, “Shale” represents the finer, more detailed side of Seven Apart winemaking.
“Shale is beautifully layered,” opens Andy. “It is simultaneously hard, yet also easily pliable rock. This dichotomy of texture is really what we want the namesake wine to capture. It’s layered, but in a soft, gentle way that means you can dig into it easily.”
Behind the Vines
At 1,400 feet up in the air, the Stags Ridge vines grow above the fog line, meaning the vineyard gets generous sun exposure. It also faces the Pritchard Gap, an opening to San Francisco Bay. Like clockwork, every afternoon around 3pm, a breeze blows in on the San Francisco Bay to cool down the vineyard. This breeze also helps balance the sugar levels and acidity of the grapes. While all these elements factor into creating prime Cabernet Sauvignon terroir, the secret ingredient is the soil.
“The soil is more like a cobblestone street. There are giant rocks scattered throughout—some so large that we couldn’t install trellising into the ground!” shares Andy. According to him, the soil contributes big, round tannins and concentration to the Shale wine.
Seven Apart produces three other Cabernet Sauvignons from the Stags Ridge vineyard – Shale, Basalt, and Summit. Same vineyard, same variety. That means that the true art of winemaking is determined by the style selected by the winemakers and created during the blending process.
“While it may seem odd to craft three Cabernet Sauvignons from the same vineyard, that’s also the challenge for me. Even within one vineyard, you might have one section that gives you one unique element and another section that gives you something completely different. I view it as my mission to create unique expressions of our dramatic vineyard site on Atlas Peak,” says Andy.
Behind the Barrel
While at first sip, the two may seem at odds, Shale and Basalt form part of a complementary duo. Like yin and yang, where Basalt is bolder, Shale is more delicate. Andy describes the Shale as being crafted with softer tannins and a subtler aromatic profile.
“In truth, it’s not like I head into the vineyard during harvest and state that ‘this part is the shale this year!’”, smiles Andy. “Rather, we harvest the grapes and make individual components. Then we let them age for a year separately, and only after this does the craft of blending start.”
According to Andy, this is when he and the winemaking team taste for specific components that have the elegance and finesse best suited to the Shale style and start forming a blend. Once the envisioned Shale blend is composed, the wine is aged 24 months in the finest French oak.
“When the wine is aging, we rack the wine. Racking is moving wine from one vessel to another to remove sediment. Every time we do this, it allows us to taste every barrel for quality control,” explains Andy.
During this process, Andy and the winemaking team make little chalk notes on the barrel to communicate and comment on which component should go into the final wine. Here, the softer Shale expressions can be sorted from the more rugged variations reserved for the Basalt.
“It’s pretty interesting that the barrels will still be different even if it’s the same variety, vineyard, and fermentation. That’s the beauty of winemaking if you ask me,” ends Andy.
For the 2018 Shale 2018, Andy and the Seven Apart team selected only 9 barrels to be worthy of this final bottling.Described as graceful yet powerful, the latest 2018 vintage is produced from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Stags Ridge vineyard. At first sight, it shows a notable black-purple hue and great density. On the nose are intense aromas of black licorice and cassis, along with savory tones of teak oil, sage, baked bread, and chaparral. The wine brims with intense berry flavors, as well as soy, thyme, and orange blossoms.
Along with the voluminous palate impression, the tannins are highly polished, making for a long, velvety finish. The silky impression means that the wine is delightful now, in its youth, but with all of the structure and concentration, it will undoubtedly age for decades.
Join our Allocation
With only 9 barrels crafted, the 2018 Shale Cabernet Sauvignon is now available exclusively by allocation. Join us on this journey as we climb the mountain, push ourselves to the limits, and craft exceptional Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Sign up here if you’re ready to become a member of our allocation list and savor Napa at its peak.
VOL 16: Our Next Adventure: Seven Apart acquires a New Vineyard
“Seven Apart is located in the mountainous area of Napa Valley, where prized vineyards are rarely listed for sale. So it was to the delight and surprise of the Seven Apart team when the neighboring property called Orange Grove came onto the market in August 2019. A verdant green 5-acre plot, it was mostly empty and full of potential – particularly for planting vines.”
The Journal | Vol. 16
Welcome to Orange Grove
For the time being, Orange Grove takes its name from the street it is on – Orange Grove Lane. This new vineyard is a literal stone’s throw from our newly built Base Camp on Silverado Trail. Some three acres of vines are currently being prepared for planting.
According to Yannick Girardo, Estate Manager of Seven Apart, the motivation for purchasing Orange Grove was not only as an investment but as an opportunity to grow Seven Apart’s production capacity.
“Rather than buy grapes, we want to cultivate all our fruit to control every step of the process. Between Stags Ridge Vineyard, Base Camp, and Orange Grove, we will now have about 16 acres of vines. The goal is to have all the Bordeaux varietals across our three sites,” Yannick explains.
The team is busy planting one acre of Sauvignon Blanc, one acre of Cabernet Sauvignon, and one acre of Merlot.
Everything is Connected
Geologists took several soil samples to review the soil before the property was purchased. The results were promising. The soil quality was similar to that of Base Camp with only one issue reported:
“There was a drainage problem,” reports Yannick. “Base Camp is on a hill, and the property slants down towards the valley floor and river bed. The water goes straight through Base Camp and settles in Orange Grove whenever it rains. When we retrieved soil samples, the water was just three feet deep beneath the soil!”
The Seven Apart team installed a drainage system to capture and redirect water into the river to resolve this problem. Contractors needed to dig across the property and install a mainline with lateral lines to capture the water in a big, natural well. A pump was then connected to extract the water and connect it to the irrigation tanks to be reused down the road.
“The Seven Apart philosophy is to be as sustainable as possible – everything is connected. While the installation was a costly endeavor, we can now sustain ourselves using recycled rainwater. This is a huge plus, as Napa is an area with an extreme climate. We experience droughts and a terrible fire season, as well as occasional flooding. So it’s great to be prepared for as many outcomes as possible,” adds Yannick.
The drainage system was put straight to the test. A heavy rainstorm brought eight inches of rain in 36 hours a month after it was completed. Yannick is happy to report that the system passed the test with flying colors.
The Best is Yet to Come
What’s next for Orange Grove? According to Yannick, now that the drainage and irrigation systems are set up, the real fun can begin:
“We will be planting the rootstalk for our Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon this month. Then, in the fall, we will graft this rootstock.”
At this point, the Seven Apart is just three years away from achieving their goal to be 100% estate-grown. From controlling the irrigation to nurturing the vines, every step will be carefully monitored. This mirrors founder Don Dady’s belief system of making “one thousand perfect decisions”. In Don’s opinion, to make quality wine, everything matters:
“Your brand is a sum of all your impressions, and so everything you do has an impact. If you make a thousand good decisions, and Mother Nature cooperates, you end up making a world-class wine.”
Planting the vines at Orange Grove correctly is also an essential step since a vineyard can enjoy a lifespan of over 20 years (if not more). After that, patience is key. It can take between three to five years for the first full harvest.
“If we’re lucky, we might get a little bit of fruit in 2024, but the first proper harvest will only be in 2025. But it’s all part of the process – and when done correctly, we’ll reap the rewards in continuing to improve the quality of our wine with each vintage,” ends Yannick.
The team is busy with final measurements to ensure that the rows of vines are as perfectly straight as possible. This allows for easier harvesting later on. For the time being, with a lot of hard work – and a bit of luck – Orange Grove is certainly Seven Apart’s next greatest adventure.
VOL 15: Organic All The Way | Seven Apart Organic Farming
“At Seven Apart, we are purists at heart. We believe in achieving the highest quality wine while staying true to the fruit’s inherent integrity.”
The Journal | Vol. 15
In a world with so many options at your disposal, it’s not always easy to determine the best choice. Wine is no different. For decades, wines have been made from grapes grown using a plethora of artificial chemicals and fertilizers. Over time, these practices have detrimental effects on the environment – particularly as climate change becomes a reality. With the pandemic at the forefront of everyone’s mind, how we treat our world and ourselves has become a priority. Perhaps now is the time to consider an alternative approach.
Here at Seven Apart, we are purists at heart. We believe in achieving the highest quality wine while staying true to the fruit’s inherent integrity. In keeping with our mission to bring you only the best, we are making the slow but advantageous transition to farming all of our grapes organically. Our goal is to preserve the natural simplicity of the fruit just like nature intended.
Wine Made with Organically Grown Grapes
Organic wine sold in the United States falls into two categories of USDA certifications:
1) Wine Made with Organically Grown Grapes
2) Organic Wines
The primary difference between the two is in the use of sulfites. While both categories of wine are made with 100% USDA Certified Organically Grown Grapes, ‘Organic Wines’ have no sulfites added. ‘Made with Organic Grapes’ is exactly what the name suggests. Grapes are farmed on vineyards that restrict synthetic chemicals and non-organic fertilizers, genetic engineering or ionizing radiation. Instead, all agricultural ingredients used in the wine must be grown and produced using natural methods such as the use of predatory insects (ladybugs and lacewings) and a systematic approach that promotes healthy vines and minimizes the vineyards’ susceptibility to insect and disease attacks.
At Seven Apart, our focus is to produce wine ‘Made with Organically Grown Grapes’. The legal maximum for combining natural and added sulfites in wines labeled as “Made With Organic Grapes” is 100 parts per million (ppm) vs. the limit of 350 ppm in conventional wines. To meet the strict USDA criteria, we use the lowest level of sulfites possible to prevent spoilage and bacterial contamination.
Adopting Andy Erickson’s Approach
Organically-farmed wine is far more than doing away with chemicals or substituting with natural alternatives. Organic farmers implement various strategies to develop and maintain biological diversity and replenish soil fertility. Some of the techniques employed were first used thousands of years ago, such as crop rotation and composted animal manure. These practices are both environmentally and economically sustainable – a big win for both you and the planet.
This motivation is the driving force behind Seven Apart’s winemaker Andy Erickson’s decision to go organic. Yannick Girado, Seven Apart General Manager, shares:
“Andy is a big proponent of organic farming. His winemaking philosophy is centered around mutual respect for the land. It’s simple for him: give back to the land what you take out. This falls in line with Seven Apart’s approach of expressing the terroir, so it was an easy decision to switch to organic.”
For wine drinkers, the good news is that organic farming allows a range of plants to grow in and around the vineyard, which attracts beneficial insects and pollinators. Over time, organic vineyards develop a natural resistance to adverse weather and insects without the need for artificial chemicals. In turn, they tend to produce better quality and more robust grapes that can withstand more adverse conditions. Higher quality grapes mean higher quality wine.
A Slow but Steady Shift
There’s no two ways about it: organic farming is a long-term investment. Yannick explains:
“In truth, conventional farming is faster and easier but it’s a short-term solution. It doesn’t give you a lot of control over the vineyard. At Seven Apart, we’re in it for the long run. By adopting organic farming practices we’re able to fulfill the true potential of the land and nurture it for the next 20 years – if not more.”
The transition to organic vineyards began in August 2019 – just one year after the property was purchased. The team was presented with a unique opportunity with the Base Camp vineyard, as it required complete replanting.
“When we purchased the Base Camp vineyard, there was a mix of varietals with uneven spacing. We also had no idea as to the clone or rootstock we were dealing with. So we decided to pull out the existing vines and hit the reset button on this vineyard – meaning it could be organic from the start,” explains Yannick.
It takes three years to harvest a new vineyard, meaning the first batch of fully organically farmed grapes from Base Camp will be available in 2022.
“Going organic allows us to plan for the future and also gives us the opportunity to make sure we have things set up just right to make the most of every element of organic farming,” adds Yannick.
Up on Stags Ridge Vineyard, our team is busy overhauling our methods to protect the existing grapes rather than replanting. Traditional pesticides and chemicals have been replaced with organic sprays that do not erode the soil and still preserve the fruit. According to Yannick, the difference is already evident:
“We only use approved organic materials in our Stags Ridge Vineyard and have seen the positive impact on soil health. But it is a slow game. Before we can even receive our 100% USDA Certified Organically Grown Grapes certification, we will need to farm all our grapes organically for three consistent years. The reality is that we will only receive our certification in 2023, but the intention is most certainly there!”
Though it sounds arduous, it is a worthwhile investment: “Going organic is labor-intensive. You triple your workforce, and it takes a lot of time. But the benefits triple too as everyone wins in the end: the environment, the winery, and the wine lover,” ends Yannick.
Organic farming certainly doesn’t come easy. This said, Seven Apart is dedicated to crafting extreme mountain-grown Cabernet from the best fruit possible. If that means taking the road less traveled, for us, each step will be well worth it.
VOL 14: Building A Base Camp In Napa Valley
“The Base Camp hospitality facility has been considerably fitted with materials ranging from red velvet and brass to connect the cellar to the connoisseur.”
The Journal | Vol. 14
The Seven Apart hospitality facility officially opened on October 1, 2021! This is a momentous milestone for our burgeoning winery, which first opened its cellar doors in February 2020. Seven Apart founder Don Dady engaged the help of award-winning interior designers Damon and Julie Savoia of Shawback Design to bring his vision to life. Together with architect James Jeffery, landscape architect Eric Blasen and the builders from Wright Contracting, the team has realized a world-class hospitality facility on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail. While the winery is not open to the general public, active members of our allocation list have exclusive access to visit.
A Site-Specific Design
The newly completed Base Camp hospitality facility is a tangible reflection of the land and cellar itself. It has been considerably fitted with materials ranging from red velvet and brass to connect the cellar to the connoisseur.
“We literally took rocks from the vineyards and brought them back to our office, just to get a sense for the textures and colors that are on the land. We explored the vineyards and tasted the wine. The goal was to bring this sense of place and the winemaking experience through our design elements,” says Damon.
Upon entering, visitors will note that there is hand-troweled plaster across all the interior walls. If you look up, the ceiling is a Cypress-wood that underwent a very special Japanese process of burning called shoshugibon to bring out the grain. Some of the walls are wrapped in stone, feature glass, and steel, or even concrete. According to Julie, every surface offers a texture and all these materials talk to each other to offer a layered experience – much like the wine.
“Our goal was to extract Don’s vision and make it a reality. Following several meetings together, our process involved visiting the site regularly. This is where we gained a lot of inspiration for the project. In our studio, we compiled material and color palettes and presented them to Don until we were all on the same page,” she explains.
In a move away from a more traditional Napa Valley tasting room, the design duo wanted the Seven Apart hospitality space to feel like a warm and elegant living room. Their time and effort are visible – quite literally. The space offers an earthy palette of color and beckons visitors through the doors. With the wine cellar as the centerpiece, there is an open-plan lounge on one side and a private tasting room on the other. The pièce de résistance are two magnificent, hand-blown chandeliers.
“Lighting is integral to our design. That’s why we own a lighting company and custom-designed the chandeliers for the main and private rooms. We worked with Vita Pehar who is a lighting designer and was integral to the project. When you walk into the space, the lighting will softly get your attention,” adds Damon.
The Best of American Craftsmanship
The space is also a jewel box of all-American, high-end talent. Almost all the contractors and artists hail from California:
“Every piece in this room is American-made. It was all made by hand, and that’s something we’re very proud of,” reflects Julie.
One of the most impressive pieces is to be found in the private tasting room. It’s an ancient Redwood slab table, pulled out from the Mendocino River. The story is that this thousand-year-old tree was cut down sometime before 1780, and sunk to the bottom of Greenwood Creek deep in the forests of Mendocino County. It remained there for centuries, developing dark mineral streaking in the grain. Eventually, it was pulled out of the river by the city to make way for a bridge. In California, all Redwood trees are protected. It is illegal to cut them down or to remove ‘sinkers’ out the river. So it was particularly fortuitous when a local Mendocino wood supplier was granted permission by the city to make use of this ancient wood. Damon and Julie met with him several times to select the perfect slab. The one they selected features the original ax cut corner, which was intentionally left in place. The result is a private tasting room that offers visitors a true sense of place.
“I think this one-of-a-kind item mirrors the level of intent in every facet of the facility,” adds Damon.
Where Everything Matters
Damon and Julie have been involved with Seven Apart’s development since its inception. A chance meeting at a Christmas party in 2018 laid the groundwork for a fruitful partnership with Don and the team.
“Both Julie and I immediately felt so good about the energy that Don had, and where he wanted to take the brand. We hit it off, and became involved from the get-go,” opens Damon.
By early 2019, Damon and Julie had begun work on the new Seven Apart production facility. This was duly completed within a year. Next, the construction of a second building on the property to welcome members to and host wine tastings could begin. During the cellar construction Damon and Julie used their time to conceptualize the new guest-facing side with the key players:
“Our design process is very collaborative. Our best projects are a result of a great team, and we basically had the Napa A-team for this process! When everyone strives for excellence, the decisions and final product work out so well,” shares Damon.
Despite a global pandemic and shelter-at-home orders over the past 18 months, the Seven Apart Base Camp hit the October 2021 completion deadline. This is a testament to the level of dedication from all team players.
It should come as no surprise that this collaborative approach is much akin to Seven Apart’s winemaking philosophy. Guided by Don’s belief that everything matters, no detail is too small in the pursuit of world-class Cabernet Sauvignon. The same can be said of the attention to detail that went into every element of the Base Camp.
“The space may be subtle in design, but it’s unparalleled. The end result is a home that tells the Seven Apart story in a tactile way and elevates the wine to another level,” ends Damon.