HALL Napa Valley
HALL’s 100 point Winemaker
Behind Closed Doors
Napa Valley is known for its breathtaking views, scenic roads, and of course, a wide array of spectacular restaurants and wineries to choose from. With over 550 wineries in the 2nd most popular California tourist attraction, trailing Disneyland, guests visiting the Valley have many options to choose from when selecting particular properties to visit. One producer in particular, HALL family of Wines owned by Craig & Kathryn Hall, has Winemaker Steve Leveque at the helm, spearheading three luxury wine brands including HALL (Cabernet), WALT (Pinot Noir) and the newly launched BACA (California Zinfandel). A native to Napa Valley and graduate of Justin-Siena High School, Leveque is known throughout the region as being one of the most competitive and tech savvy, but also extremely knowledgeable about Napa’s Mediterranean climate. His background combines a unique approach to winemaking style that focuses on a combination of minimalism and micro managing which varies from the vineyards to production, while marrying high end technology with old world technique. He is highly respected by winemakers from all over the world, Vintners and colleagues alike and has proven to be the ultimate game changer in winemaking philosophy and with his style.
We had the rare opportunity to sit down with the renowned winemaker who has earned over 350 90+ point ratings from the industries most respected critics, including four 100 point scores which puts him in good company alongside other cult producers.
WCTW: What moment in your life did you get the calling to be a winemaker?
SL: After studying genetics and graduating from college, the reality of spending my days in a laboratory seemed unspeakably boring (apologies to the scientists out there). I returned home to Napa and realized that winemaking was such a better path for me – working with vineyards, blending, and creating something as unique, meaningful and artistic as wine is not a bad way to pass the time
WCTW: As Vice President of Winemaking, you oversee three very different varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel. Do you have a favorite child?
SL: I enjoy all three for different reasons. My winemaking and vineyard teams are seriously extraordinary and they do the heavy lifting. I have spent ten years with this core group: Don Munk (Director of Vineyards); Megan Gunderson Winemaker of WALT Wines, and Alison Frichtl, Winemaker of BACA Wines. Their unique expertise and perspective with modern winemaking is exciting to watch unfold.
WCTW: How would you describe your winemaking style?
SL: To make wines at the highest level you must do everything right in the vineyard—both technically and intuitively. Don Munk and I work in concert to ensure our vineyards are in a place of perfect balance throughout every step of the growing season. Farming vine by vine, organically and responsively, we are rewarded with fruit that achieves perfect ripeness with a complex, balanced, and singular site expression.
WCTW: What else from a stylistic stand point?
SL: As cliché as it sounds, I strive to let the vineyard tell its story. Easier said than done. Here are but a few winemaking tenets that enhance vineyard expression… Organic and sustainable farming, low vigor vines with low yielding fruit, extreme gentle handling, native fermentation, no fining or filtration of the wine. Most importantly, no excuses and absolutely short cuts.
WCTW: What do you do in the vineyards that is unique?
SL: I am an early adopter of technology in all forms, not only industry specific, but other industries. I love experimenting – as it allows.
We have robotic optical sorting equipment, use advanced mapping and GPS technology in the vineyard, and have a long list of annual trials and experiments, some of which are way outside the box. I like to be creative and take risks.
WCTW: What is the best wine you have every had?
SL: Too many to assign a “best,” but undoubtedly a red Burgundy.
WCTW: Describe the moment when you found out about your first 100 point score?
SL: Just as harvest was winding down, I got to work early, the first to arrive. Knowing the reviews were imminent, I went on-line and saw the “100”. I honestly didn’t believe it and called our President, Mike Reynolds, so he could verify. It was very special to earn that distinction and be in such good company with other producers and winemakers.
WCTW: You recently introduced a high end Cabernet series called The Platinum Collection – why is this so special to you?
SL: The Platinum Collection, a series of three wines, is a statement about our commitment to doing things at the highest level. Napa Valley has by far some of the best vineyards in the world and the wines are meant to showcase that fact. These 2015 wines retail for $350 per bottle and are available through a member list only – the wines are named Rainin, Sacrashe and The Bishop, which is my last name, Leveque, translated from French. We select grapes from our favorite blocks of our most exclusive vineyard sources and keep production to no more than 12 barrels of each wine. The limited production enables us to present the finest wines of each vintage, representing the apex of our cellar.
WCTW: Who is your role model / mentor that you have always looked up too?
SL: My father. Although not in the wine business, his work ethic, honesty and selflessness go unmatched. That translates in any field of work.
WCTW: HALL is lucky to have you. Why do you enjoy working with the modern, luxury wine brand?
SL: As a winemaker and as a native of this valley, I am blessed to work with seriously great vineyards, craft wines in the most innovative facilities and work with passionate people who like to take risks. And, Craig and Kathryn Hall are amazing people who are committed to the land, their employees and the Napa Valley. It doesn’t get any better than that.
WCTW: How do you unwind?
SL: Watch the Warriors and Giants win championships. Giants Manager, Bruce Bochy, has been to the winery before. He’s a great guy. Go Giants!
WCTW: What’s next for you, Steve?
SL: A new wine is coming soon which I’m excited about, and I always have a few things up my sleeve.