“It is by far the steepest vineyard I have ever worked in, and also the most visually spectacular,” says vineyard manager Sam Turner, referring to Paratus. This dramatic slope only begins to tell the story of what makes the Jennings family's Mount Veeder vineyards — made up of a mere 12 acres of cabernet sauvignon in a county with tens of thousands under vine — a standout.
Paratus lies on a terraced hillside, surrounded by forests of giant redwood, oak and madrone trees. With its slopes angling up to 30 degrees-plus and an east-facing orientation, the vineyard is often bathed in sunshine, even in the mornings when the valley below is blanketed in fog. The elevation, ranging from 1,100 to 1,400 feet above sea level, serves to keep temperatures in check. The fact that afternoon highs are often 10 to 15 degrees below those in the valley stretches out the growing season and greatly enhances the flavor of the grapes grown there.
Three million years ago, the earth’s geological forces piled up seabed soils and volcanic rock to form the Mayacamas Range, of which Mount Veeder is a part. Over time, some of that soil has slid down, spreading over the mountain’s slopes in patches. The vines at Paratus, on rootstock planted in the early 1980s, reach deep into this spare soil that makes up the mountain’s crust, seeking moisture from an underground aquafer that stores Napa’s lashing winter rains in its reservoirs. Pipes, drippers and electric-powered pumps are thus rendered unnecessary. This dry-farming method, a rare practice in Napa, produces small, dark berries of great intensity, a hallmark of Paratus.
In 2001, Jennings T-budded the vineyards over from chardonnay to cabernet sauvignon, a process he still regards as a “beautiful miracle of nature.” Master craftsman Salvador Preciado grafted the vines to four Bordeaux clones of cabernet sauvignon budwood: 15, 191, 337 and 338. The vines are cordon trained and spur pruned, and yields average approximately two-plus tons per acre.
Rob acknowledges that harvest time can be a juggling act, working with multiple clones, sheer slope, lack of irrigation, and a growing season that stretches well into fall when rain historically threatens, but, for him, making Paratus is not about easy. It is about creating a superior wine that captures the nuances of a terroir well worth the extra toil.
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