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Dalla Valle: Napa Valley Royalty
By Ed McCarthy
May 15, 2018
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Dalla Valle Vineyards has been making one of Napa Valley’s finest Cabernet Sauvignons, including its premium wine, Maya, since the early 1990s.  It is among the elite Napa Valley’s wineries that consistently receive great praise and high ratings.  And it is totally family-run.

Dalla Valle’s back-story is fascinating.  The winery was founded in 1982 by Italian-born Gustav Dalla Valle and his Japanese-born wife, Naoko Dalla Valle.   Naoko met Gustave Dalla Valle in the late 1970s.  They married and moved to Napa Valley, where they intended to open a resort and a restaurant.   Gustave’s family had long traditions of winemaking in Italy and Naoko’s family had been sake makers.  The couple quickly realized that the land they purchased, on a westward-facing hillside east of Oakville, was ideally suited for planting wine grapes.  They purchased 10 additional acres of contiguous land in 1986 and planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.

Dalla Valle’s vineyards reach up to 450 feet on the winery’s hillside.  The vineyards have mineral-rich, volcanic soils with decomposing granite rocks and excellent drainage.  The consistent breezes from the San Pablo Bay bring the necessary cooling influence that helps the grapes retain their natural acidity.  Dalla Valle’s vineyards have been organically farmed since 2007.

Today, Dalla Valle’s Estate has 26 acres , planted in 18 separate blocks: 12 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 5 acres of Cabernet Franc, and one acre of Petit Verdot.  A new winery was built on the estate in 1986, and the Dalla Valles made their first vintages.  In 1987, Gustave and Naoko planted a special, 5-acre Cabernet Sauvignon Vineyard, and named it after their newborn daughter, Maya.  By the 1990s, Dalla Valle really started making great wines.

Gustave Della Valle passed away in 1995.  Everyone thought that Naoko would sell the winery.  But the 1995 release of Dalla Vall  wines included a super vintage of their 1992 premium wine, Maya (a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc), which was sourced mainly from the Maya Vineyard.  The noted wine critic Robert Parker gave the 1992 Maya 100 points (only the second California wine to which Parker had awarded 100 points at that time).  Naoko Dalla Valle thought about selling the winery for a year, and then decided to run it herself.  Naoko became a “hands-on” owner and farmer, and re-planted and cultivated the vineyards, along with her vineyard manager Edgar Alfaro.

Dalla Valle has had some extraordinary winemakers over the years, including Heidi Barrett, Tony Soter, Mia Klein, and Philippe Melka.  For the past ten years, Andy Erickson has been winemaker, along with the renowned Michel Rolland as consulting winemaker.  Rolland spends a month at Dalla Valle every year, a remarkably long time for this busy man.

Daughter Maya Dalla Valle was bitten by the wine bug, studied enology at Cornell University, and added a Masters’ Degree in vineyard and winery management from Bordeaux’s Sciences Agro University.  She worked in sales for Kermit Lynch, then worked at five great wineries in Italy, Argentina, and Bordeaux (including Château Latour and Château Petrus).

Maya was ready.  In 2017, Maya returned to Napa Valley to run the family business with her mother.  Maya Dalla Valle is now Director of Dalla Valle Vineyards.

Dalla Valle makes only three wines:

Collina Dalla Valle Napa Valley Red Wine (a blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon).  This is its smallest production wine, only 250 cases of 6 bottles produced.  $85

Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon (mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, with some Cabernet Franc and a little Petit Verdot).  This is Dalla Valle’s main wine.  3,000 cases produced.  $200.

Dalla Valle Maya (a blend of the winery’s finest Cabernet Sauvignon, 55%; Cabernet Franc 45%).  Not a single-vineyard wine, but based on Maya Block grapes.  400 cases produced. $425.

Dalla Valle produces between 2,000 and 2,500 cases annually.  Naoko states, “The maximum we will ever produce is 3500 cases; that’s what our property can make.”

I tasted four Dalla Valle wines with Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle recently:

--2015 Collina Dalla Valle Napa Valley Red Wine:  Floral, pretty aromas; elegant, complex, black fruit flavors, excellent depth, great acidity, harmonious and smooth; not a dense wine, can be consumed soon.  Normally, the Collina (65 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 35 percent Cabernet Franc) can be enjoyed upon release, but 2015 was a very dry year, with low yields.  In short, the 2015 is very concentrated.  And very impressive.  93

--2014 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon:  This current vintage of Dalla Valle is a beauty.  With at least 75 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, it is rich, ripe, and concentrated, with soft edges of smooth tannin; very dark fruit, great texture and length on the palate.  It is so easy to drink right now that frankly, it was the wine I went back to the most to drink; it is spicy and firm, with lots of natural acidity.  Naoko described it as “subtly hedonistic.”  The 2014 is so well-made that it will be great in 15 to 20 years, but it definitely is enjoyable right now.  97

--2014 Dalla Valle Maya:  This current vintage of Maya, 60 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 40 percent Cabernet Franc, is a huge wine, dense and muscular, but refined.  Quite tannic at the moment, but with intense fruit.  Its cedar and lead pencil aromas are reminiscent of a young Bordeaux, but it has greater depth than most Bordeaux wines.  Right now it is lean and firm; I would hold on to this wine for many years before consuming it.  The 2014 has great length on the palate.  It can easily age for several decades.  95 right now (potentially, 98)

--2008 Dalla Valle Maya:  Because Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle realize how impenetrable new vintages of Maya can be, they brought along their 2008 Maya  so that I could experience an older Maya.  The 2008 Maya is certainly more approachable than the 2014 Maya, but for my palate at least, it still has some years of maturing ahead of it.  The 2008 Maya is predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon  (80 percent), with 20 per cent Cabernet Franc.  It is softer, gentler, and creamier than the 2014, with great length on the palate.  The extra years of aging give you a look into the soul of this extraordinary wine.  Like the 2014 Maya, the 2008 can age for many decades.  97

Both Maya wines should be decanted for aeration before drinking them. Right now, the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Collina are the wines to enjoy.  A word about the pricing:  I do not find the cost of the Dalla Valles--wines of this quality--overly expensive, especially when you compare them to the prices of other high-status Napa Valley red wines that can be priced up to $1,000.  In my view, the $200 price of Dalla Valle’s Cabernet Sauvignon is a real value.  You can find Dalla Valle wines online, including older vintages.  Or sign up on the winery’s waiting list.  For me, Dalla Valle is one of California’s greatest wineries.