Sixty-year-old, dry farmed Riesling vines at Stony Hill Vineyards, Napa Valley.
Photo via top US wine blogger Dr. Vino (click here to read Dr. Vino’s profile of Stony Hill).
When Fred and Eleanor McCrea fell in love with and bought a 160-acre goat ranch on the northeast slope of Spring Mountain in 1943, little did they envision a “Stony Hill Vineyard…visitors by appointment only” sign at the bend in the road. Yet sixty years later, the sign hangs there as a testament to their passionate dedication to producing the quality wines that Stony Hill still proudly offers.
The property sits on the western slope of the Napa Valley between Richie Creek to the north and Lyman Creek to the south. Moderating climatic influences such as northeast-facing slopes and an elevation between 700 and 1200 feet above the valley floor make this mild microclimate an ideal location for growing premium Chardonnay grapes.
Vineyard planting began in 1947, when the McCreas located a used tractor to purchase and people to clear and cultivate the land. They wanted to plant Chardonnay exclusively, because they loved the white wine of Burgundy and believed that Stony Hill offered the potential for growing fine quality white Burgundy grapes. At least they wanted to experiment. But the University of California viticulturists encouraged them to diversify for several reasons. Only 200 acres of Chardonnay grapes were planted in California at that time. It was a shy-bearing grape, disease-prone, and not well-known to the wine-drinking public. They suggested planting Pinot Blanc and White Riesling. Instead, Eleanor and Fred followed their own intuition and planted most of their vineyards to Chardonnay. The makeup of the vineyards today reflects their determination, with twenty-five acres of Chardonnay, ten acres of White Riesling, three acres of Gewurztraminer, and one acre of Semillon.
1952 Fred and Eleanor completed a small winery on the property and produced their first vintage of Chardonnay. After allowing the wine to age for two years, they began marketing Stony Hill Chardonnay through a personal letter to Bay Area friends to an encouragingly positive response. Fifty-four years later this annual September mailer is still Stony Hill’s primary mode of marketing, albeit less than half now are sent via the postal service as more and more customers opt for email newsletters. Stony Hill wines are also available at select restaurants in the Napa Valley, San Francisco, Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas across the United States.
If we had to pick one word to characterize our Stony Hill wines it would be balance. We aim to achieve a balance between the intensely flavored fruit from our hillside vineyards and the notable acidity that gives the wine structure and the aging potential for which it’s been known for more than five decades. Our goal is simply to translate the intense fruitiness of our grapes into elegant, food friendly wines. To that end we crush and press the grapes with minimum skin contact and ferment in neutral oak cooperage. When fermentation is complete, we rack the wine off the lees, or dead yeast cells, in order to avoid the development of a yeasty flavor in the wine. We then age it in the neutral oak barrels, most of which are over ten years old, allowing the wine to develop and mature without absorbing an oak flavor component that could mask the natural fruit flavors. In addition, we avoid a secondary or malolactic fermentation in order to maintain the original acid structure of the wine and protect the citrus and apple flavor components inherent in the Wente clone Chardonnay grapes we grow.
Over the years we have remained true to this original style, which we think is the most appropriate for our particular hillside grown grapes.