STORYBOOK MOUNTAIN, Calistoga, Napa
Jerry Seps worked as a sommelier before becoming a professor of European history; a tenured position he gave up in 1976 to make wine at the ‘first estate in Napa’ — Storybook being the first vineyard encountered when crossing into Napa from Knight’s Valley-Sonoma, north-west of Calistoga.
Originally known as Grimm Vineyards & Wine Vaults, owned by Adam & Jacob Grimm (yes, the Brothers Grimm!) – the Seps' renamed it Storybook Mountain to acknowledge it's fairytale beauty and honour the Grimm brothers. The burned-out winery, with caves dating to 1883, were restored by Jerry & Sigrid Seps, who released their first commercial vintage exactly 100 years after the Grimms established the original winery.
On a 100-acre estate, 40 acres of east/north-east facing vineyards at 600-1200 feet, are home to 105 blocks of 28-35 year-old vines. This is the coolest microclimate in Northern Napa (10º cooler than St. Helena), and the aspect (and red clay-loam soil) provides a longer, more even growing day, leading to Storybook’s signature style — intensity without weight.
Dr. Seps is winemaker, and his daughter Colleen assists. The same family has worked the vineyards and harvest for almost 40 years. Herbicides and fungicides have never been used, and the vineyard is certified organic. All the wines are produced from grapes grown at this site.
Optimal ripeness in this cool site is managed by cordon trellising, pruning, thinning, removing leaves from the morning side of the vines, and sometimes removing the shoulders of grape clusters to ensure full, even ripening. One to two acres of vineyard are replanted every year to maintain an average vine age that Dr. Seps feels is optimal (as well as fiscally responsible in a family-owned, independent estate). In a ‘normal’ vintage 5-6,000 cases are produced, primarily interpretations of Zinfandel, but also small quantities of Cabernet and Viognier. These are absolutely glorious wines.
In October 2017, wildfires threatened Storybook Mountain for a second time – having destroyed the vineyards and winery in 1964 – Dr. Seps defied the evacuation order (and his family), and remained on site, saving the winery and Colleen's home, but losing his tractor, outbuildings, some vineyard, and much of the ancient redwood grove. Note the picture on the right of the new growth sprouting from the base of one of these redwoods.
In 1990, Jerry Seps founded ZAP, a movement devoted to the preservation and recognition of Zinfandel, which Dr. Seps likens to “playing flute in a string quartet” in Napa.