Vol 9: A Solid Base | The Story of Base Camp Vineyard
“Base Camp is where everything starts – and it goes all the way up to the very summit.“
~ Yannick Girardo, General Manager
The Journal | Vol. 9
The thing about great wine is that it necessitates constant innovation and tenacity. Seven Apart knows how to balance traditional winemaking with a penchant for innovation.
Nowhere is this philosophy more evident than in the story of our Base Camp Vineyard – the second property alongside our esteemed Stags Ridge Vineyard. Base Camp Vineyard thrives in the majestic, rolling foothills where Silverado Trail meets Soda Canyon Road in Napa Valley.
In our ongoing efforts to achieve the best expression of our terroir, one of Seven Apart’s most recent undertakings has been replanting the vines grown in Base Camp. Currently underway, this is a demanding project that requires meticulous attention to detail and good timing.
A Winemaking Expedition Begins
Inspired by the rigorous journey of winemaking, Base Camp refers to where our winemaking expedition starts and honors the unique geology of this prime vineyard’s location. Located in the sought-after Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, the vineyard consists of sand, silt, clay, and gravel soils. It is almost 8 acres in total, with 5.25 acres currently planted under the vine. At present, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and some Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Semillon are grown here at an elevation ranging between 55 and 75 feet.
General Manager Yannick Girardo explains the story of Base Camp:
“For us, Base Camp is where everything starts – and it goes all the way up to the very summit. The name is a testament to our tireless dedication to achieving the highest potential from our wine.”
A Fresh Start
In keeping with the vineyard’s promise of new beginnings, the vine replanting project heralds a new era for the land. A key reason for this initiative was the keen desire to streamline the growth and production of fruit, ensuring that the land was being utilized most effectively to achieve our goals. Historically, the vineyard has been home to varieties such as Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Sémillon but Seven Apart has chosen to focus exclusively on Cabernet Sauvignon as its champion varietal. The team saw the opportunity to harness the space with more intention.
After the purchase of Seven Apart in 2018, the property began to be reinvigorated. This includes altering the vineyards and adding a new structure for an onsite tasting room.
“When starting this process, we thought deeply about what we wanted to achieve from it to make the best wine possible. Ultimately, we want to make sure we can have a fresh start,” says Yannick.
The Circle of Vines
Ushering in this fresh start is by no means an easy process. The first step involves removing existing wiring in place for each vine’s canopy and all existing irrigation connections. Once this is completed, the vine itself is reaped out and subsequently burned.
For a vineyard of this scale, this arduous operation is undoubtedly a lengthy undertaking, and timing is crucial. There is a brief window every year from mid-October until April when vine burning occurs while strictly regulated by a county permit. This window also falls over the area’s rainy season, adding even more time pressure to the project. By the end of April, all fires in the area must cease, ostensibly to avoid the risk of summer wildfires.
The health of the root and, eventually, the fruit is paramount. Yannick explains:
“You have to make sure you have everything in place on a set timeline. Once you start heading towards the dryer months, it gets scorching. You also don’t want to plant a rootstalk in dry dirt and risk it not taking over, and then possibly make the mistake of overwatering to offset that error. It’s very time-sensitive and requires extensive oversight.”
After this, the real work begins. A vineyard management team of up to 40 people works around the clock on this project, including a range of highly specialized experts to consult along the way. Several geologists are brought on-site to analyze the nature and quality of the soil and advise on what type of roots would be most suited to being planted per block. They took samples from 3 to 5 feet below the soil surface.
Yannick describes the invaluable contribution of the geologists, saying:
“They provide us with the recommended coordinates for the best position to plant the vines so we can harness everything that Mother Nature has to offer. Right now, we’re looking at the 50° north positioning of the property. This effectively dictates all of the work that needs to be implemented for us to reap those vines and then replant them, and is essential to determine the optimal row positioning of each vine.”
It is valuable to note that as much effort is given to the vines, the soil is equally as important. After all – your plant is only as good as the soil. Therefore, our team rotates the soil (a process called tilling) to remove any excess roots that may be left behind from the uprooted vineyard. Then we compost and make any amendments necessary prior to marking the positioning for future rows.
Finally, after much consideration and no small amount of hard labor, the process comes full circle. Once the correct row positioning has been established, stakes, wiring, and irrigation connections are constructed so that the rootstalk can be planted, and a new vine canopy can eventually flourish.
The timing of this replanting could not be more perfect. It coincides with the introduction of producing wines made from grapes that are organically farmed at both Base Camp and Stags Ridge Vineyards and also sees Seven Apart introducing Sauvignon Blanc.
“We are planting primarily Cabernet Sauvignon. There will be a little bit of Merlot and about half an acre of Sauvignon Blanc as well since we don’t have any white wine but want to introduce an exceptional, light offering for guests that visit our winery,” confirms Yannick.
Though the vineyard is currently closed as replanting operations are underway, the team is excited to welcome visitors with a renewed sense of vigor and hospitality.
“There is something to be said for the taste of wine from a younger vine,” shares Yannick. “ You can’t expect the same extractions from differently aged vines. Older vines have a heavier fruit characteristic, yet younger vines are more innovative and take the drinker in a new direction.”
The average lifespan of a Napa Valley vineyard is typically 17 to 20 years. Seven Apart is working on extending that lifespan by another 15 to 20 years. This is an ambitious undertaking, but one that is possible provided that the vines are appropriately cared for, and the risk of disease is mitigated effectively.
In keeping with Seven Apart’s initiative for farming organic grapes, the team has implemented diligent vineyard management practices to ensure the continued excellence and world-class quality of their wines. This includes keeping a tight handle on trellising and pruning to ensure that the fruit remains as perfect as possible.
Protecting the integrity of the vine is also of the utmost importance, and Seven Apart is certainly not averse to the labor that this requires. “There is undoubtedly a lot more labor implementation involved, but the impact on the vine is phenomenal,” enthuses Yannick.
This strenuous, detail-driven endeavor illustrates Seven Apart’s commitment to excellence and exceptional quality wine. Though it requires tireless dedication and some risk, it is a bold move that pays off in multitudes. Come and taste it for yourself.