Welcome to the Backroads Insider. This week, our guest podcast Forks and Corks will take the lead, keeping our focus on the beautiful Napa Valley.
Brasswood Estate is more than a winery. It’s a destination. The vast property is located along the Silverado Trail, just south of St. Helena. There’s a full bar, restaurant, bottle shop, bakery, and of course, the winery.
Stacia Dowdell is the winemaker who dreamt of making her own high-end Cabernets at a winery that would showcase the harmony of winemaking and food. She says she likes her “Cabernets rich and intense. Not a lot of residual sugar on mine. Just balanced I think. The intoxicating aroma. The soft supple tannins. Some of the wines will age for a very long time.”
Dowdell’s ideas were big, so she needed to build a team, and she started with Marcus Marquez who is now the general manager. Marquez says they kept bumping into each other at events throughout the Valley and they kept talking about Stacia’s dream to build a magnificent winery that would rival France.
The wines are produced inside the caves. Dowdell takes us inside the caves to get to the library. We enter the caves and head down the cavernous tube toward the library. The caves are 17,000 square feet. As you walk inside, you will notice racks of wine barrels of vintages by well-known winemakers: Russell Bevins, Philippe Melka, Rosemary Cakebread and consulting winemaker Angelina Mondavi.
Marquez is the matchmaker. Marquez describes his relationship with Dowdell and Mondavi, “When it came down to the winemaking techniques and styles, I really thought, wow, Angelina’s history, and her schooling and her talent, and Stacia’s history, schooling and talent. You can’t find a better marriage for Cabernet in Napa Valley. Legacy family taught. Stacia’s an over achiever, family taught. I want the world to see as they interact making wine.”
“Well I started this project back in 2010 and I had just gotten out of Fresno State with a degree in Enology,” Dowdell explained. “I studied viticulture while there and I came to the Napa Valley to make the best Cabernet Sauvignon I could. That’s always been my passion. Cabernet Sauvignon. And I had the experience, you know, the background to make the wine. And we brought in Angelina Mondavi as our consulting winemaker to help us, you know, bring it to the next level.
Mondavi’s “philosophy on winemaking is really hands off,” she says. “When I’m walking through the vineyards, I really let the grapes kind of talk to me. And I use the flavors and the palate to kind of dictate how I’m going to work for that harvest, if I need to manipulate and do more pump overs or punch downs more aggressively than previous years. But for the most part I’m pretty much hands off so I don’t do a lot of additives. I’m very mellow and really just let the grapes kind of talk to themselves.”
The two winemakers often walk the vineyards together and talk about what they’re seeing and tasting. The winemaking is a meeting of the minds, or palates. After they walk the vineyards, the talk through their findings and how they think they should approach the vintage.
Dowdell has usually flown solo, but she’s really enjoying working closely with Mondavi. “You only get one chance during harvest to make it right. And so you’re sitting there and you’re thinking OK I have to I have to talk out this issue I’m having and try to figure out what’s the best solution and to have someone I can depend on depend on and trust and trust your palate and trust her experience and everything is quite a relief.”