NEW CAVES, WINERY AND TASTING ROOM ON THE HORIZON
After a three-year-long permitting process, I finally received a permit to build a 40,000-gallon winery adjacent to Kitoko Vineyards on Atlas Peak. The original plan was to have approximately 14,000 square feet of caves with an outside building to house the offices and a tasting room. However, after losing almost everything to fire in 2017 and last year’s fire burning 2 miles from my property, I decided to enlarge the cave and move everything underground. The new plans incorporate skylights in a new tunnel segment where offices and the tasting room will be.
For the past ten years, I have been improving the vineyards, and although they will never be 100% where I like them, I can now say that they are 90% of the way there. With the improvements to the vineyard came more precise wines and the scores to back them up. Having the capacity to pick partial rows at the right time and immediately fermenting them in concrete tanks and oak barrels on site will allow me to take my wines to the next level. Also, walking a hundred yards to check on and manage the process will enable more precision and refinement of my wines.
The caves and winery will be constructed with sustainability in mind and, of course, be fireproof. Like many things in life, this will not happen overnight, but I expect it to be completed by the spring of 2024. Having a functioning winery on the estate will pave the way for obtaining a tasting room permit so that visitors can enjoy tasting my wine within the caves where they were fermented and aged.
Philippe Langner, 54, is the son of a German father and a Parisian mother, and who grew up in Zaire and Colombia. He studied wine in Bordeaux, and has a master’s degree in agronomy and agricultural economics from UC Davis, arriving in Napa Valley in 2001. His is a worldview borne in agriculture, philosophy and languages.
Born in El Salvador, he lived in Bangladesh – backpacking alone in Nepal and India after college — before moving to Colombia where his mother had a hog farm. But it was the city of Kinshasa, Zaire where he spent his formative years from 6-to-16 years old and from where he says, “for me, it was home”. It was on the family farm – reached by speedboat six hours on the Congo River, and another two by car, Langner (LANG ner) grew up on a cattle ranch where, “I was in touch with the land. I always hoped the Jeep would break down so we’d get stuck. I collected butterflies, beetles, and snakes (anything that wasn’t fast enough to run or fly away) he loved so much. “It was freedom. I’d take off and walk; and the smells of the bush, and wild life” seeing ants and termites migrating, captured his imagination. In 1986 when he came to the States to study agronomy and agricultural economics at Davis “because I always loved plants and animals. I love that bush life.”
As a result of his nomadic life across five continents, Langner speaks five languages, including French, Italian, Spanish, and German (“under duress”). However, Langner says, “I’m more French than anything else, but I don’t have typical French reactions.”
Philippe began taking an interest in wine when he worked for four years as a stagiaire (intern) at the Rothschild-owned Chateau Clarke in Listrac where he worked with consultants Jacques Boissenot and Michel Rolland. “I wasn’t attracted to the world of wine (at first),” he says. “I thought you just squeezed the grapes and put in a bottle.”
As he started working in both the vineyard and the cellar, he became fascinated by the complexities and the different techniques one can apply to achieve different results and to adapt to each vintage. However, having learned the ropes in depth he now says he doesn’t follow a recipe, he adapts to what the fruit is telling him. He finds that if one has done the job right, in the vineyards, “your wines are better.”
He was fascinated by the cellar from where he says, “It was like cooking.” He says of the way he makes his own wines now, “I don’t follow recipes and I do it the same way with making my wine. I find if you’ve done your job right, in the vineyards, your wines are better. I find there’s more clarity in the wine when you don’t manipulate it.”
In 2000, he worked in South Africa, at the Fredericksburg Winery (Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons) winery. (Langner’s sister Ariane is married to Benjamin Rothschild, a son of Edmond Rothschild.)
Before he began Hesperian, from 2002 to ’10, he was the viticulturalist and winemaker at Napa Valley’s Sullivan Vineyards in Rutherford. While at Sullivan, he began making his own wines in ’04 for Hesperian.
THE VINEYARDS OF HESPERIAN WINES
For Hesperian, Philippe Langner sources his Cabernet Sauvignon fruit from three vineyards, across a trio of Napa Valley sub-AVAs.
Atlas Peak AVA
Hesperian’s estate vineyard is Kitoko, a 14.2-acre parcel, planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 2000 and ‘03. It sits at 1,400-foot elevation on Atlas Peak above the city of Napa where the soils are extremely rocky and porous, resulting in yields that are 2 tons per acre, or less; which results in perfumed wines with higher pH’s because of a smaller range of diurnal temperatures. Kitoko (KEE toe ko), in Lingala, the language of Zaire, means “beautiful”. The terroir of Kitoko is similar to that of nearby Pritchard Hill, though it is closer to San Pablo Bay, and therefore it receives more and colder winds.
Soils are defined as Hambright and Aiken rocky outcrop. Hambright are found on hillslopes of plateaus and basalt flows. Slopes are 2- to 75-percent. The soils are formed in material weathered from basic igneous rocks, mainly basalt.
On Kitoko, it’s generally cooler than the valley floor but perhaps the most important aspect, is the difference in thermal amplitude. During the growing season the nights are less cool, but the daytime highs are lower than on the valley floor.
The first vintage produced from Kitoko was 2011 but due to the rainy and cool vintage Langner felt the wines did not have the density and power he looks for thus, he didn’t bottle it under the Hesperian name. It made for a very good Anatomy as an alternative. The first vintage under the Hesperian label was bottled with the 2012 vintage.
Upstream is a 2-acre leased site in the hills of Coombsville, whose Cabernet Sauvignon is the 50 percent base for the Witha-labeled wines.
This vineyard is formed mainly by three soil types: Yolo: 85%, Bale: 5 %, Cole: 5%. The Yolo series consists of very deep, well drained soils. Yolo soils are on alluvial fans and flood plains. Slopes range from 0-to-20 percent. Yolo soils are on nearly level to moderately sloping alluvial fans and flood plains. The soils formed in alluvium derived from sedimentary, metamorphic and volcanic rocks.
There are two blocks on this vineyard. One flat and the other on a steep slope. The upper part of the slope is covered in Tuff soil which is basically compacted white volcanic ash.
Vine Profile: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 337 on Rootstock 110R.
EAGLES NEST VINEYARD
Oak Knoll District AVA
The Eagles Nest Vineyard of grower Robert Didier, is a 4-acre Cabernet Sauvignon parcel on Monticello Road, north of the city of Napa planted in 2002. Eagles Nest has a west-facing aspect, with Coombs soils.
The Coombs soils are well-drained, moderately slowly permeable soils on gravelly terraces. They formed in gravelly alluvium from mixed sources. Slopes are nearly level to gently sloping. This soil type is not extensive.
Vine Profile: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Clone 337 on Rootstock 110R.
HESPERIAN’S CURRENT PORTFOLIO OF WINES
Owner/winemaker/viticulturalist Philippe Langner produces less than 4,000 cases per year – all Cabernet Sauvignon from his estate vineyard, Kitoko on Atlas Peak, the Upstream Vineyard in Coombsville, and from the Eagles Nest Vineyard on Monticello Road in the Oak Knoll District. The Kitoko Vineyard comprises the Cabernets under the Hesperian label, while two other Cabernets from Upstream and Monticello make up a blend, also under the Hesperian label. Approximately 3,000 cases – also from the Upstream and Eagles Nest vineyards, go into a second label, Anatomy.
The Hesperian wines are built for the long haul. They are dense, opaque, and most of all, they are balanced, in the Bordeaux style. Does Langner consciously makes Bordeaux-like wines? “No, it’s just the database I have in my head,” he explains.
And How It Got That Way
After Philippe started making more wines for Sullivan Vineyards in 2006, he decided to create a label in the same spirit as the Red Ink second label he fashioned for Sullivan. When he went out on his own and founded Hesperian, he created Anatomy.
He says he initially wanted to call it Antidote but the TTB “had a very strong negative reaction to it and told me over three pages why I couldn’t do it.” Thus, he called it Anatomy because “we sometimes use anatomical descriptors like legs, backbone … to describe wines.
Langner wanted to make a wine that was delicious, ready to drink rapidly, was varietally correct, and more importantly – affordable. “I much prefer people drink my wines then collect them”, he says.
At the moment Philippe is only making a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon but he plans to introduce more varieties in subsequent vintages.
CURRENT RELEASE TECH SHEETS
2018 Anatomy #1
Variety: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon
Barrel aging: 20 months
Optimal Aging: 2021-2030
Alcohol level: 14.2%
2020 Anatomy #3
Variety: 100% Pinot Noir
Barrel aging: 9 months
Production: 950 cases
Optimal Aging: 2021-2025
Alcohol level: 13.8%