Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Using Sustainable Vineyard Practices to Produce Luxury Blends
Joseph Phelps Vineyards, an independent, estate-based winery located outside of St. Helena, Ca., is a nominee for best domestic red wine.
Thirty-eight years ago, Joseph Phelps, established the business and built the winery which bears his name. Phelps pioneered a number of "firsts" in the early years of the winery. The 1974 Insignia, which was released in spring 1978, was the first Bordeaux-style blend produced in California under a proprietary label. The release of the 1974 Syrah in 1977 sparked industry-wide interest in a remarkable French varietal whose plantings in California had disappeared and been virtually forgotten for over half a century. In 1990, after years of research, a new line of Rhone-style wines was introduced, which today includes Syrah, Viognier and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend called Le Mistral.
The winery's estate-owned vineyards are found in the premiere growing regions of Stag's Leap, Rutherford, Oakville, Oak Knoll and the eastern foothills of Napa. Joseph Phelps also owns 80 acres of Pinot Noir and 20 acres of Chardonnay planted in Freestone. Additional varietals produced annually at Phelps include Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Backus Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, several Rhone-style wines and a dessert wine made from Scheurebe. Its Insignia wines are one of California's most successful first growth luxury blends.
Gallery: Joseph Phelps Vineyards
Joseph Phelps' philosophy is to maintain, preserve and, whenever possible and appropriate, ecologically enhance the natural vineyard environment.
Since the 1980's, it has used sustainable vineyard practices, referred to as biodynamic agriculture. The winery incorporates farm animals by using sheep to graze in the vineyard during vine dormancy. As many as 640 ewes and their lambs roam from one vineyard block to another grazing on cover crops and grasses and fertilizing over 120 acres of vineyard soil. "We strongly believe that wine is not only made in the vineyards, but it is also a natural and unique expression of the soil, vine, and climate continuum known as terroir," says Philippe Pessereau, Phelps' Director of Vineyard Operations. "In line with the core concept of biodynamic farming, we are trying to recreate a farm environment here on the St. Helena ranch."
Today, Joseph Phelps Vineyards is identified as one of the most respected players in the California wine industry. Its annual production fluctuates between 65,000 and 80,000 cases with 90% of all wine produced coming from estate-owned vineyards.
Tastings and appoints are by appointment only. For more information, call (707) 963-2745.
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