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.
A burned out winery, its caves dating to 1883 were restored by Jerry & Sigrid Seps, who released their first commercial vintage exactly 100 years later. 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 looks after admin. The same family has assisted the vineyards and harvest for 36 years. Herbicides and fungicides have never been used, and the vineyard is certified organic. 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. 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 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.