Anti-modern mountain wines unchanged over 40 years
Warning: Looking for a rich buttery Chardonnay? Please don't buy this wine.
Mayacamas is a quietly famous winery located at a soaring 2000 feet atop Mt. Veeder in the Napa Valley. At the end of a steep gravel road you’ll find the small stone winery where some of the best wines in California have been (and continue to be) made. Mayacamas has operated as a winery since 1889 and was purchased by Bob Travers and his wife Elinor in 1968. Bob Travers has been the man behind these legendary wines for the last four decades, known for his unwavering minimal-intervention philosophy. The vineyards are dry-farmed, which keeps the yields low, providing small and concentrated berries at harvest. The exquisite juice that gets pressed off these grapes goes largely untouched in the cellar — the wines are unfined, unfiltered, and are aged in decades-old large neutral oak barrels. In fact, a couple of the barrels used for Chardonnay production during the 1959 vintage (the year Philip Togni was winemaker!) are still in use. Mayacamas is something of a hipster winery, never succumbing to trends in a place where (arguably more than anywhere) trends matter. Travers' Cabernets were never over-extracted, his Chardonnays never buttery.
In 2013, Mayacamas Vineyards was purchased by former Screaming Eagle co-owner Charles Banks, in partnership with the Schottenstein family. Banks assures us that he has every intention of keeping with Mayacamas’s long-established house style. Esteemed husband and wife team Andy Erickson and Annie Favia has taken over management of the vineyards and winery. The two initially struggled with the notion of regressing in their modern techniques —green harvesting, canopy thinning, etc.— to which influential sommelier Rajat Parr countered, ‘then it won’t be Mayacamas. All of that variability is the reason the wine is what it is, wild and gamey and totally alive’ (Decanter).
Moving forward, with an aligned vision and goal to preserve the terroir-driven wines of this magical place, we can expect great things. Necessary investment has already gone into the vineyards (some vines have been damaged or killed by Phylloxera) and the winery to ensure consistency of quality. The 40-plus years of Bob Travers' craftsmanship together with Charles Banks’ expertise and capital should allow the Mayacamas legacy to live on for decades.
Read the full Decanter interview with Charles Banks here.